Abstracts: Postcolonial Italy


Kaha Mohamed Aden  ‘Getting Changed’ – Cambio d’abito

Ubah Cristina Ali Farah  Come un acrobata sull’acqua: fiumi e fili nella diaspora somala


Gabriele Abbondanza  (University of Sydney)

Postcolonial Italy, between Europe and Africa

Following the end of World War II, the debate on the destiny of the African colonies became one of the most pressing issues on the international political agenda. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris, on 10 February 1947, Italy formally renounced its colonial empire and was also forced to return all of the territories acquired in the nineteenth century, before the advent of fascism. This burdensome legacy, the result of a defeated great power, was further worsened by the need of the Western Bloc to limit the influence of the Soviet Union over former fascist colonies, territories that had become newly unstable after the end of WWII. This represented the historical context in which, from the beginning of Italian colonialism in 1882, Italy’s interests and influence in Africa reached their lowest point. Despite this, Italy developed new post-war relations with its former colonies. These varied in their relevance, witnessing a drastic reduction in priority in the case of Ethiopia and Eritrea, a moderate commitment together with allied countries in the case of Somalia and reaching a peak in the long and controversial relationship with Libya. The latter, in particular, would represent a new pivot of Italy’s strategic interests in Africa. On the eve of the Arab Springs, Italy was Europe’s first trading power in Mediterranean Africa, as well as one of the main trading partners in the Horn of Africa. The current scenario, on the other hand, exhibits a long list of critical issues, many of which could involve Italy both politically and militarily, a condition that underlines the country’s fundamental and yet still controversial role in Africa.

Linetto Basilone   (University of Auckland)

Italian travelogues on China from the Fascist Ventennio: Alterity and Distance for the representation of the Fascist Self

During the Fascist Ventennio, prominent writers and journalists, such as Mario Appelius, Roberto Suster, Arnaldo Cipolla, Arnaldo Fraccaroli, Cesco Tommaselli and Raffaele Calzini, reported from China for Il popolo d’Italia, Corriere della Sera and La Stampa. Their travel narratives were crucial for the creation and diffusion in Italy of the dominant representation of pre-revolutionary China as a remote, decadent and exotic society never fully definable and understandable. After the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, this Fascist representation was gradually obliterated by a new, positive discourse on Maoist China, promoted by Italian leftist Intellectuals such as Ferruccio Parri, Velio Spano, Franco Fortini, Carlo Cassola, and Carlo Bernari.

The narrativization of China in Italian travelogues from the fascist ventennio was part of a widespread discursive practice operated by Italian intellectuals willing to subscribe to, and actively disseminate the guiding principles of fascism. When emphasising China’s irreconcilable difference from fascist Italy, those intellectuals extolled Italian race and culture, praised Mussolini, justified Italy’s position in geopolitical dynamics, and propagandised the exceptionally of the fascist ideology to the Italian readership.

The present paper provides for a comparative analysis of the most representative travelogues on China written during the fascist Ventennio. It aims at pointing out that the fascist representation of China resulted from a dichotomic process of Self-Identification, implying the theorisation of China as the Other through its difference from the Fascist Self. Secondly, it describes the functional construction of distance and alterity as an omnipresent discursive device for the representation of China. Thirdly, it outlines the process of obliteration of the fascist representation of China in favour of a positive representation of post-revolutionary China.

Simone Brioni   (State University of New York at Stony Brook)

The ‘True’ Story of Samia Yusuf Omar

My paper analyses Giuseppe Catozzella’s Non dirmi che hai paura [Don’t Tell Me You Are Afraid] (2014), a novel that deals with a recent event in Somali and Italian history, the death of Samia Yosuf Omar while she was trying to reach the Italian shores from Libya by boat. Non dirmi che hai paura is examined through what Catozzella considers the two constitutive dimensions of the novel: documentation and identification. In particular, I will compare the representation of Somalia that is present in the book with that which is depicted in historical and socio-political essays about Somalia during and after the Civil War. My paper will also analyse the representation of the Olympic games as seen from the first-person and homodiegetic narrator of the story in light of the protests for more diversity in international sports events. Drawing on Stefano Jossa’s reflections on the construction of literary heroes, this paper challenges Catozzella’s claim to portray a ‘true story’. The paper also argues that the main character of this novel is depicted as a heroine and a role model for the emancipation of Muslim women. Although showing the atrocities of the borders of Fortress Europe, Non dirmi che hai paura depicts Somalia as an amorphous background for a tragic story, rather than addressing the specific cultural, linguistic and historical issues that are specific to the Somali context. Although very different from Orientalist literature, this novel creates a similar dichotomic distinction between European and African countries.

Stefania Capogreco   (Macquarie University)

O Sole Mio, Aya Habibi: Reconfiguring Neapolitan belongings in John Turturro’s Passione

I propose that the Neapolitan film genre is a locus through which particular elements of the myth of ‘Italiani Brava Gente’—denouncing Italian imperial histories and responsibilities—find representational form. The genre is haunted by two particular recurring tropes: firstly, Naples as ‘terra d’amore/land of love’ and secondly, the ‘filone napoletano/Neapolitan Formula’. Pervasively represented through Hollywood depictions, Naples as terra d’amore, functions as a sort of ‘cine city’ with its own ‘geopsychic terms’ (Bruno, 2002). The filone napoletano, on the other hand, perpetuates a web of popular clichés: local productions illicit predictable narrative structures of napolitanità as a positive, idealised identity. This paper posits that these two tropes form particular expressions of the national myth of Italiani Brava Gente, which function to foreclose representations of Italy’s post-colonial present.

However, three recent films have moved past terra d’amore and napolitanità tropes. This paper focuses on one of these films—John Turturro’s Passione: Un’avventura musicale (2010)—and its incorporation of artists and narratives from the global South. Passione reinscribes traditional Neapolitan music to create a ‘dense cloud of significance, linking past and present’ (Gaudiosi, 2014). I consider how Passione also engages the trope of ‘Italiani Brave Gente’ by analysing two particular performances in the film: 1) North African born M’Barka ben Taleb’s performance of O sole mio / Aya Habibi, 2) her role in the performance of Tammuriata Nera as narrated against the backdrop of the story of James Senese, a Neapolitan musician born bi-racial musician. A critical reading of these performances reveals that Passione perpetuates and interrogates Italian colonialisms in particular ways. This begs the question of critical representations from the South of Italy—a saturated locus of clichéd representation—in disrupting national myths and opening up post-colonial dialogue.

 Piera Carroli   (Australian National University)

“Perché eroina non è il femminile di eroe”: Italiane ‘nere’, canone e nazione

Ormai è risaputo che il colonialismo è stato relegato nel dimenticatoio dalla storia italiana, e che tante eroine del passato italiano sono state escluse dalla storiografia letteraria e dal canone. In modo simile, negli ultimi trent’anni, le istituzioni letterarie, escludendo testi scritti da italiani neri, italiani e neri, continuano a rimuovere la memoria post/coloniale nonché a sommergere la contemporaneità della nazione. L’Europa non ci fa sognare diceva Braidotti anni fa, riferendosi alla metaforica e politica ‘Fortezza Europa’. Ora chilometri di barriere di separazione sono state costruite aumentando l’irrazionale paura dell’altro in Italia ed Europa e rafforzando l’idea di necessarie misure autodifensive contro non solo rifugiati ma anche italiani immigrati o di seconda generazione.

L’ambito teorico in cui si inserisce il mio intervento è quello di intersezione tra la filosofia nomade femminista di Rosi Braidotti, oltre l’assimilazione o l’integrazione (nonostante appaiano addirittura utopiche nell’attuale panorama), gli studi sulla nazione e il canone e le ricerche sulla letteratura postcoloniale (Carroli, 2010) e nomade italiana scritta da donne (Carroli e Gerrand, 2014). Insomma, si assume una prospettiva teorica che invece del conflitto e del cinismo, propone orizzonti di speranza (Arendt). Non si tratta di proponimenti ingenui e facili, ma di teorie e proposte pratiche radicate in un materialismo femminista: una soggettività nomade che pone al centro il corpo (fisico, filosofico, narrante) e il genere. Come la letteratura, anche il corpo e il genere sono caratterizzati da continue transizioni e trasformazioni, viaggi epici intrapresi attraverso continenti e tradotti sulla carta.

Esiste un’epica femminile formata da personagge e scrittore (Società Italiana delle Letterate, 2009)? Mi propongo di collegare questo audace quesito nell’attuale contesto ‘postcoloniale’ collegandomi a questioni di canone e nazione. Innanzitutto, è riduttivo il termine ‘postcoloniale’? Possiamo inserire questo ‘corpo’ letterario in una nuova epoca al femminile, e /o nella nuova letteratura del mondo, soprattutto in quanto portatore di un’epica ‘nomade’, fortemente al femminile, che oltrepassa confini identitari, geografici, culturali, storici e sociali?

L’intervento si propone di esaminare presupposti tramite alcune figure di scrittore e personagge nella letteratura corrente, ambientata tra periodo coloniale, postcolonialismo e anni 2.0. L’intento è di proporre una riflessione sulle diverse voci, scritture e prospettive di donne che attraversano la storia e che stanno cambiando in profondità il contesto letterario, sociale e politico italiano. Sono queste scrittore e personagge che ci fanno sognare un’ Altra Europa, un’ altra Italia, un’ Altra epica.

 Josh Carter   (University of Melbourne)

Trinkets of Memory: Testimonial Objects in Timira: romanzo meticcio.

Memories of Italy’s colonial past largely vanished from the public domain in the wake of the Second World War. But where did they disappear to? Wu Ming 2 and Antar Mohamed’s 2012 text Timira: romanzo meticcio offers one possible answer, namely into objects. The text follows the incredible life of protagonist Isabella Marincola as she criss-crosses between Italy and Somalia in an effort to escape violence, persecution and hardship. On her multiple journeys between Empire and colony Isabella carries a select few items. Notably, these include photographs and a doll curiously called Timira, her Somali name. While these trinkets appear prosaic they are in fact suffused with memories. This paper posits that the protagonist undergoes a form of psychic splitting due to the trauma of colonisation and dislocation and examines Isabella’s use of what Marianne Hirsch terms testimonial objects to cope with cultural and maternal loss. It then reviews the protagonist’s strategy to use objects as containers of memory, questioning whether this approach sheltered her from further traumatisation or in fact prolonged its effects. It goes on to contrast these objects that act as traces of the colonial past with the lack of official monuments in Italy dedicated to the victims of colonisation. Finally, drawing on Stephanie Neu’s notion of forensic literature this paper analyses the reproduction of photographs, letters and official documents in the text as mediums for the transmission of memory to an Italian readership. It interrogates how these objects serve to establish a dialogue between the reader and the past, and questions what these objects mean for a contemporary Italian audience.

 Luciana d’Arcangeli   (Flinders University)

Il Bianco e il Nero: representation of female characters in contemporary Italian Cinema

The Italian colonial aggression in Africa was accompanied by the elaboration of a colonial imaginary, however, after the Second World War and the fall of Fascism, Africa virtually disappeared from public representation. Nowadays, though, recent migration waves have forced Italian cinema to deal with Africans and African-Italians thus playing a pivotal role in shaping the national imaginary by either reinforcing a racialized and clichéd idea of the Others, often represented as stereotyped subaltern subjects, or by promoting their equality and inclusion. This paper will analyse the representation of the Other in Comencini’s Il bianco e il nero, starting from the comparison of Fellini’s “Venere bianca” in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, in La dolce vita’s famous scene, and its re-enactment/substitution by Comencini’s “Venere nera”.

Matteo Dutto   (Monash University)

Reframing Australian Indigenous Activism in Ningla A-Na (1972): Alessandro Cavadini at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

On 26 January 1972, a group of young Indigenous activists established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawn of the Australian parliament in Canberra. What started as nothing more than a beach umbrella and a bunch of chairs soon became a permanent camp and the political centre of Indigenous land rights activism in Australia. While many Australian TV channels covered the rallies and the protests that sparkled from the Embassy, it was an Italian filmmaker that directed the only documentary that framed the protests from the point of view of the Indigenous activists. The 1972 film was called Ningla A-Na, Hungry for Land, and first gave voice and international resonance to the new generation of Indigenous activists that had brought the protest to the doorstep of the Australian parliament. In this presentation I argue that Cavadini’s agit-prop documentary contains at its core many of the elements that would characterise his later works, such as Protected (1975) and Two Laws (1982). It is therefore not only a film that sets out to document the emergence of new forms of Indigenous activism, but rather a documentary that seeks to reframe the way in which the protests were framed in mainstream Australian media.

Vivian Gerrand   (University of Melbourne)

Engrammatic Belongings? Imaging Somali Identities in Rome

In Italy, Somali literary and visual fragments illuminate Italy’s repressed colonial past. In this paper, I read these texts for their “engrammatic” potential insofar as they are capable of triggering memories by imaging repressed histories that persist, often invisibly, in dominant ideologies. W.J.T. Mitchell has argued that images are “a complex interplay between visuality, apparatus, institutions, bodies and figurality”, and I am attentive to the ways these mediatised documentary images open the way for cultural citizenship, shifting the limits of existing narratives and intervening in conversations about what it is to be Italian. In particular, I examine the feature film: Good Morning Aman (2009), which includes a Somali protagonist and is set in Rome. Directed by Claudio Noce, an award-winning producer of documentaries and short films, Good Morning Aman is the first Italian film with a black protagonist. Critically appraised as part of the heavily stylized “noir” genre, the film narrative follows the footsteps of Aman (Said Sabrie), a nineteen year old Italian Somali man who has been living in Rome since he was four and is struggling to make ends meet in the city. Aman’s insomnia and lack of residential stability, in addition to a precarious job at a car yard where he is treated with contempt by his boss, suggest an existential crisis that has everything to do with his status as a subject out of place. Aman’s interactions with spectral figures, who share a lack of connectedness, affirm a widespread sense of displacement that is in no way limited to the trajectories of Somalis in Italy. Aman’s friends, relatives and love interest are all unsettled, living at the limits of a harsh and unforgiving urban environment that poorly accommodates them. I consider Good Morning Aman in terms of its potential as an “engram”, that illuminates Italy’s colonial past, which leads to the recovery of a deeper sense of place for Somalis in Italy.

Tullia Giardina   (Independent scholar)

Ragusa: Porta della Fortress Europa

Se Lampedusa costituisce simbolicamente il confine estremo della Fortress Europa, il sogno e la speranza di migliaia di migranti che attraversano il Mediterraneo, la provincia di Ragusa, in Sicilia, con l’hotspot di Pozzallo, ne rappresenta l’approdo, la porta di un intero continente. Ma la Provincia di Ragusa non è solo il luogo dello sbarco, dei centri di accoglienza, dei 13 SPRAR voluti dal Ministero dell’Interno, delle cooperative di assistenza, dei centri di volontariato delle Chiese cattolica e valdese. Per tutto il corso del Novecento, infatti, la Provincia di Ragusa ha fatto i conti con il fenomeno dell’emigrazione sia in uscita sia in ingresso. A partire dall’ultimo decennio del XIX secolo, migliaia di emigranti iblei si sono diretti verso la Tunisia, l’Algeria, l’Egitto, la Libia, successivamente verso il Nord Europa, verso le Americhe, verso l’Australia, dando vita, nei luoghi d’arrivo, a comunità derivate, a carattere mutualistico, con forti legami con le comunità di appartenenza. Avendo conosciuto poi, a partire dagli anni sessanta, un notevole sviluppo economico, ha finito per attrarre al suo interno migliaia di immigrati che, in un arco temporale di circa trentacinque anni, si sono stabilmente insediati nel territorio contribuendo, con il loro lavoro, alla crescita complessiva dell’economia locale, non senza tensioni con i residenti locali a causa della concorrenza di una forte disponibilità di mano d’opera a basso costo, spesso prestata in nero. Sono attualmente 26.420 gli immigrati presenti in provincia di Ragusa, pari nel 9% della popolazione complessiva (Rapporto Caritas 2015), provenienti da Tunisia, Algeria, Marocco, Albania, Polonia, Romania, Cina, India, Eritrea e Ucraina. Trentacinque anni in cui le seconde e terze generazioni, quelle nate in Italia, grazie anche all’inserimento nella scuola, all’attività di associazioni di volontariato, del sindacato, degli enti locali, hanno potuto avviare e in parte realizzare un significativo processo di integrazione anche di genere, nonostante punte drammatiche di criticità (come nel caso portato alla luce nel 2015 di numerose lavoratrici rumene ridotte a schiave del sesso nelle zone serricole del ragusano), che hanno fatto di questo lembo estremo dell’Europa un autentico laboratorio, un ponte culturale in cui si stanno attivando e testando buone pratiche inclusive, tese a sviluppare modelli multiculturali positivi, propri di una società plurale.

 Giulia Golla Tunno   (IMT School for Advanced Studies, Lucca)

An Italian Colonial Art? The First and Second International Colonial Art Exhibition (Rome, 1931; Naples, 1934)

The relationship between Colonialism and Italian visual culture is still largely unexplored. In after the end of WW2, the interrelation of Italian visual art with the colonial enterprise has been concealed, minimized and disavowed. The Fascist regime had however strongly encouraged the visual celebration of Italian Colonialism through the arts, as an element of a wider propaganda project. This is demonstrated by the organization of two important art events: the First and Second International Colonial Art Exhibition (Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 1931 and Castelnuovo, Naples, 1934). These exhibitions, which have later been forgotten by historiography, are the first and only international exhibitions in Europe solely dedicated to colonial art. In this paper I will firstly explore the reasons and dynamics that brought to the creation of this hybrid exhibition format, and how these motivations are reflected in the curatorial and political choices of the two exhibitions’ committees. By focusing on the Italian contemporary art sections, I will investigate, on one side the propagandist intent of the Fascist regime to create what has been ambiguously termed as an Italian “colonial art”; and on the other, the multiple reasons and declinations of Italian artists’ association with this concept. I will argue that the relation of the participant Italian artists with the colonies during the interwar period cannot be classified as a homogeneous artistic genre. Rather, it can be described as a complex set of entanglements and visual influences, spanning from politically enthusiastic aestheticization of the colonial enterprises (e.g. Futurists, Romano Dazzi); to a late orientalist interest in exotic subjects (e.g. Giorgio Oprandi, Luigi Brignoli); and primitivist formal experimentations (e.g. Giuseppe Biasi, Moses Levy).

Abdi Hassan   (University of Western Australia)

From Empire to Administration: A Postcolonial Critique of the Italian Somaliland Trusteeship Agreement

Between 1950 and 1960, the former Italian Somaliland was placed under trusteeship through the United Nations International Trusteeship System, with Italy as the Administrating Authority. The Trusteeship Agreement for the Territory of Somaliland eventuated out of negotiations between the Allied powers followed by the UN Trusteeship Council. The system of trusteeship was hailed as a milestone in the movement towards decolonisation, particularly in Africa. Whilst much has been written concerning Italian colonial history in Somaliland, significantly less exists for the trusteeship era. Moreover, a large segment of this literature employs outdated, Eurocentric modes of knowledge production and is often couched in the colonial project. This paper will seek to reorient the Trusteeship Agreement through an account of local opposition towards its implementation, its reception at both the national and international levels and the importance of historicising the Agreement within this context. My research will focus on the period from initial discussions of Italian trusteeship in 1947, through to key moments of Somali dissent in the mid-1950’s. In doing so, a history of local responses to the Agreement will be extracted. This is an area that has largely remained ignored by seminal works and scholars. In applying postcolonial theory to the Trusteeship Agreement, I aim to interrogate the merits of this model, thereby illuminating its colonial origins. Somali political mobilisation around independence and nationalism is presented as running in parallel to the initial resistance against the Agreement. Consequently, I will provide a critique of the longstanding assumption of trusteeship as a mechanism for decolonisation and raise important questions about the validity of endorsing Italy as the Administrating Authority. This research further contributes to critical discourses around state formation and postcoloniality in Somalia.

 Grazia Lapenna  (EOLO – Etnolaboratorio per il Patrimonio Culturale Immateriale Antropologa)

Essere italosomali. I figli dimenticati della decolonizzazione

Il presente contributo intende portare alla luce una pagina sconosciuta del passato coloniale italiano nel Corno d’Africa per sottoporla all’attenzione della comunità scientifica e non, attraverso l’analisi di una delle tante identità indotte dal connubio tra antropologia e colonialismo: l’identità italosomala. La comunità italosomala costituisce attualmente una minoranza che conta circa cinquecento individui residenti in Italia, ma nati in Somalia da madre somala e padre italiano (militari o funzionari del governo) tra il 1950 e il 1960, decade dell’Amministrazione fiduciaria italiana della sua ex-colonia. Nati in una società patronimica da unioni illegittime tra colonizzatori e colonizzati, gli italosomali furono strappati alle loro giovanissime madri musulmane e cresciuti in istituzioni religiose cristiane con il fine di essere “italianizzati” per poi essere portati in Italia dove vissero la condizione di apolidi. Sin da piccolissimi si videro obbligati a rifiutare la cultura materna e assumere che la loro identità sociale e culturale è iscritta principalmente in un periodo storico breve, violento e rinnegato: la decolonizzazione. Emerge in loro la coscienza di un’identità che non è nè bianca nè nera, bensì meticcia, e collocata in uno terzo spazio, nè italiano nè somalo: uno “spazio di frontiera”. Il concetto di meticciato come categoria di classificazione sociale trova il suo fondamento scientifico nell’antropologia e si erige su relazioni asimmetriche tra genere (uomo/donna), razza (bianco/nero) e potere (dominante/dominato) in un contesto storico e ideologico ben definito. In tal senso verrà messo in rilievo il ruolo che l’antropologia italiana ha assunto nella vicenda per riflettere sulle ripercussioni che la conoscenza scientifica ha sulla vita delle persone quando si sottomette all’ideologia e al potere politico.

Laura Lori   (ACIS, ACU)

Patria and Matria: fatherhood and belonging in postcolonial Somali literature

Questo intervento desidera affrontare il tema delle relazioni generazionali così come vengono rappresentate nei testi narrativi somali contemporanei. Partendo dal romanzo di formazione “Il Comandante del fiume” di Cristina Ali Farah e passando per i racconti della raccolta “Fra-intendimenti” di Kaha Mohamed Aden, questo studio analizza non solo i rapporti, spesso conflittuali, fra genitori e figli all’interno della sfera privata e domestica, ma intende esaminarli e contestualizzarli nell’ambito più vasto della Diaspora e del successivo insediamento nei nuovi Paesi di residenza. L’analisi offre un parallelismo fra la creazione di nuovi ruoli familiari e sociali e il passaggio dalla Patria, caratterizzato spesso da un’alterazione dei legami patriarcali, alla nuova Matria, in cui il ruolo delle donne e i legami con le proprie madri appaiono rinnovati e enfatizzati. Cogliendo il nuovo punto di vista offerto nelle opere somale contemporanee dall’evoluzione dei rapporti familiari, questa ricerca intende estendere la riflessione ai moderni rapporti clanici e alle loro ripercussioni sociali e politiche.

 Gianmarco Mancosu   (University of Warwick)

Geographies of memories and mobilities: colonial legacies in documentaries of migration

The Italian identity has been historically defined through a vast array of visual representations: the broad concept of mobility is emerging as a valid theoretical tool to investigate the processes that have displayed the borders of citizenship and multi-layered discourses on the national identities. In this context, mobilities from and to Italy can be conceived as two sides of the same coin, which generated visual archives that, in turn, contribute to mapping Italianness and related belongings in their historical evolution. My paper analyses some documentaries that connect current migrant and multicultural issues with a reflection on the amnesia about the Italian colonial past. The peculiarity of the Italian colonial past, the unusual process of decolonization, and the lack of public awareness of colonial crimes make Italy an interesting case in rethinking mobility as a pivotal concept to envision the character of national identity. Furthermore, the history of migration from and to Italy, and current refugees’ issues require a deep analysis of the roots of related discourses and representations. The suppression/re-elaboration of the legacies of the colonial past and the representations of multiple identities in contemporary Italy will be approached by analysing three documentaries: Hotel Abissinie (Plattner, Le Houerou, 1996), on the Italians who still lived in former colonies at the end of ’90; Aulò. Roma Postcoloniale (Brioni, Chiscuzzu, Giuda, 2012), which centres on the history of the Eritrean-born writer Ribka Sibhatu, and Asmarina (Maglio, Paolos, 2015), on the Ethio-Eritrean community living in Milan. The Italian postcolonial landscape that the films describe does not appear as a closed vacuum of fixed trajectories of both people, cultures, memoirs; rather, within the geographies of memories and mobilities they describe, the documentaries trespass different types of borders in terms of identities and belongings, social positionality according to the experience of mobility, narratives and counter-narratives emerging from the memories of the colonial past

Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli   (Deakin University)

Colonialism, Postcolonialism and/or Decolonisation: Italian Migrants and Indigenous People in Australia

This paper will explore Italian migrants in Australia as a colonial, decolonising and/or postcolonial presence and process. This is part of a larger research project which will explore the life stories and family histories of “Wogarigines”, a term often used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people with Southern European (SE: Greek, Italian, Maltese, Portuguese and Spanish) migrant heritages. This paper and the larger research will explore 1. the intersections, conflicts and connections between ATSI and Italians; and 2. how these relations were framed/constrained by colonial, racist and multicultural national and state policies, and colonial, racist and multicultural socio-cultural perspectives and practices. For example, White Australia’s historical perspective of Southern Italian migrants was based on their supposed racial ambiguity, referring to them as “Black Italians” due to their ‘negroid’ appearance. The project also aims to document and honour strategies of resistance, re-definition and re-clamation that remain buried in colonial, racist and multicultural versions of Australian history.

Via the few available theoretical, fictional, biographical and autoethnographic accounts, this paper will address themes such as: the ramifications of the White Australia Policy on ATSI and Italian migrant relations; the role of Italian migrants in influencing and condoning, as well as questioning and confronting, racist and colonialist ideologies on national, community, familial and interpersonal levels; how ATSI perceived, understood, resisted or connected with Italian migrants on national, community, familial and interpersonal levels; and whether Italian migrants ‘imported’ colonial and racial attitudes from their homelands and colonies (such as Italian colonies in North Africa), and/or learned these from Australian employers, neighbours, churches, schools and media.


Marcello Messina  (Universidale Federal do Acre) and Stefania Capogreco  (Macquarie University)

Black Babies/White Sovereignties: Tammurriata Nera as perverse mechanism of U.S. and Italian colonialisms

Ontologies of Italian nationhood have a double colonial articulation: external post-colonies configure as absolute other, whilst internal Southern Peninsula and Islands configure as incorporable other (Pugliese). Post World War II and the fall of Fascism, this colonial heritage practically disappeared from Italian public discourse. Concurrently, the Neapolitan song Tammurriata Nera (1944) became popular throughout Italy. Tammurriata Nera is a racist song that celebrates Neapolitans’ ability to cope with the situation wherein young women were giving birth to African-American soldiers’ babies. Importantly, Tammurriata Nera underscored Italy’s whiteness by imagining two rather different parallel histories as unified under the exclusive attention to the colour of the newborn as a problem, and in fact the only problem: that of consensual relationships with occupying soldiers, and that of mass rapes of Southern Italian women by soldiers of various nationalities.

This paper focuses on Peppe Barra’s performance of Tammurriata Nera in John Turturro’s film, Passione (2010), accompanied by Arabic cross-overs from M’Barka ben Taleb and a Pistol Packin’ Mama thread from Max Cassella. The choice of these three performers is, we argue, “post-Italian,” as it involves three racialised, othered identities (namely, the North-African immigrant, the Southern Italian and the diasporic Southern Italian), all of which deny the construction of the Italian white nation, embodied by the dominant, Aryan and European Northern Italian subject, and proposes horizons that transcend received notions of national unity. Accompanying dialogue—which only selectively includes James Senese, himself a post World War II “black baby”—however, points to a more or less conscious erasure in operation, whereby both the US and Italian nations silence this black subject. Italian post-colonialism must interrogate broader, intersecting transnational imperial—such as U.S. military—expansionisms, and as such a serious deliberation of the “post-Italian” intersection of North African, Southern Italian and TransMediterrAtlantic colonial roots/routes is required.

 Aurora Perego  (Utrecht University) and Clara Casagrande  (Utrecht University)

The ‘black Venus’ and the ‘orangutan’: On the intersection of race, beauty, and Italianness

In current times, Italian media have tended to portrait non-white women in the framework of a series of stereotypical images that range from the ‘exotic and hypersexualised femme fatale’ to the ‘wild animal’ (Gundle 2005). In this regard, despite the multiple shapes such representations have assumed, the hidden and often neglected Italian colonial past still permeates the popular imaginary of Italian beauty (Ponzanesi 2016). By comparing the media turmoil caused by Denny Mendez’ victory as first black Miss Italia in 1996, with Cécile Kyenge’s designation as first black Minister in 2013, this paper proposes an enquiry into the intersection between gender, racialisation, beauty standards in relation to national identification. While Mendez was often addressed as ‘the black Venus’, Kyenge received racist insults by several right-wing politicians, being called, and even depicted as, an ‘orangutan’. In a paradoxical twofold move, these cases may show that black women are represented as non-Italians, hence non-representative of the Italian nation. Thus, through the lenses of Postcolonial and Cultural studies, this essay aims at investigating to what extent sexualisation and racialisation are entangled in practices of representation that deem non-white women to belong to the domain of the ‘other’ (Hall 1997) and ‘outsider’ (Gundle 2005) that cannot even aspire to belong to Italianness.