Media @ McGill

“Immigrant Artists in the New Multicultural Italy: The Experience of Migration Expressed in Visual and Performing Art”

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“Immigrant Artists in the New Multicultural Italy: The Experience of Migration Expressed in Visual and Performing Art”

Debarah Galante


Short Description of my Thesis Project


My research interests focus on the complexity of the experiences of migration to Italy seen through the eyes of artists, many of whom who have immigrated into Italian contemporary society. This complex perspective, on the one hand, has grown out of a negative image of migrants as invaders who grab jobs that rightfully belong to "pure" Italian citizens, or who contaminate established and time-honoured Italian traditions, with odd customs, languages and foods. On the other hand, other artistic expressions of the immigrant experience, while acknowledging the difficulties of facing a new culture, language and possibly religion, bear witness to enrichment and opportunities to settle, to integrate without giving up one’s identity of origin, and eventually making economic and cultural contributions to an adopted “homeland.”

I was born in Italy; both of my parents immigrated to Italy from different countries and for different reasons.  I grew up in a multicultural environment speaking three languages regularly. Following my undergraduate degree, I pursued my graduate studies in Sydney, Australia (Arts Curatorship) and Paris, France (Contemporary Art Exposition).  The idea of changing country seems natural to me and yet, I observe how displacement, alienation and a sense of exile go hand in hand with adaptation to a new geography, language and culture. I am interested in exploring how “transplanted” artists (particularly in Italy) approach these themes and how they use traditional and newer forms of visual representation, including the use of the human body as a medium, to communicate and even interact with the spectator. Conversely, I would like to study how exhibition visitors react to varied forms of contemporary expression of immigrant artists.

Have these artists, who now reside Italy, left their countries of origin because of war and deprivation to search for a better life or, in better circumstances, to pursue their studies and artistic production in Italy? I am interested in how immigrant artists preserve their identities and the memory of their origins, and express themes of displacement, trauma, but also adaptation and the construction of a new identity in the Italian context. Sociologists, politicians, psychologists, historians and philosophers have dealt with the immigration issue in Italy, especially during the past decade, which saw a rapid increase of the foreign presence in this country; however; there is very little literature from art historians and few immigrant artists focus on such vital themes. Why is that? In my research project, I plan to explore the world of foreign artists in Italy, on how they express their immigrant experience, how “transplantation” has influenced their development as artists and who represents and promotes them.