Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo

From the Inside, 2020, mixed media on paper, aoo 12 x 8 inches (29.7cm x 21 cm)

Callipari-Marcuzzo: Tracciando fili del passato (Tracing threads of the past)

My grandparents from both sides immigrated to Australia from Calabria in the 1950s. My paternal grandfather, Michele Callipari, left Italy in 1950; my grandmother, Elena Pipicelli, followed in 1951 with their five children: Giuseppe, Antonio (my father), Caterina, Bruno, and Damiano. Two more children, Josephina and Michele, would be born after their arrival. My maternal grandfather, Francesco Cufari, arrived in 1951; my grandmother, Domenica Vaticano, their daughter, Anna (my mother), and son, Bruno, followed in 1954. (Uncle Antonio had arrived earlier in the same year). They left behind their two eldest married children, Giuseppe and Maria.

Like other recently arrived immigrants, my grandparents immersed themselves in the familiar and clung to the customs of their homeland. They placed importance on maintaining traditions because of the belief that back in their place of origin, the same thing was happening. Their new settlements defined their sense of Italianess, as they maintained contact with other paesani, Calabresi and Italiani. Clinging to their culture was their way of preserving it. 

Braiding, sewing, crocheting: Video still from Tracciando fili del passato: Fatto a mano (Tracing threads of the past: Made by hand), 2017

My arts practice is inspired by my Italian heritage. The work investigates, interprets, and translates the experiences of Calabrian settlers to North West Victoria, actively engaging with my familial and feminine history. My research feeds my performances by inspiring the imagined histories embedded within my psyche— imagined because they are partly my concocted version of the realities lived by my grandparents, relatives, and their families.

For example, Tracciando fili del passato (Tracing threads of the past), an ongoing series of live art performances and installations, incorporates my self- transformation into my nonne. During these enactments, I make artefacts using traditional women’s modes of making: sewing, embroidery, and crochet. These activities highlight the significance of women’s handwork, an important aspect of family relationships, passed from mother to daughter. The work is a manifestation of the hopes, dreams, and desires of migrant women, and also, their lived realities. It strives to honour their voices which were often silenced by the dominant gender roles within the Italian Calabrian diaspora.

Tracciando Fili del Passato: cucire (Tracing Threads of the Past: sewing), a live art performance and installation, occupied the window space of The Art Vault gallery in Mildura, Victoria. Dressed in character, I created a wardrobe similar to those my own mother and grandmother made soon after their arrival in Australia. The items were sewn at my mother’s treadle-powered Singer sewing machine. She used the machine to make most of her own and my grandmother’s clothes. To remain authentic, I consulted my mother on some of the things that she and my grandmother made when they first arrived: mutande (underpants), reggipetti (bras), sottovesti (petticoats), grembiuli (aprons, called fardale in Calabrese), camicie (shirts), gonne (skirts), and muccaturi (headscarfs).

Preparation (Preparati), 2007, Domenica (nee Vaticano) Cufari's dress c. 1956, and various vintage and antique personal objects. Photo: Fleur Ruddick

The Sewing Room (La Stanza del cucito), 2017, Singer sewing machine with Tracing Threads of the Past: apron (Tracciando fili del passato: grembiule) and Migrants' Wardrobe (Abiti migranti). Photo: Fleur Ruddick

In a live art performance, the artist, dressed in character, created a wardrobe--here, in calico--similar to what her mother and grandmother would have made soon after their arrival in Australia

During another enactment of Tracciando Fili del Passato, I made an apron (an essential piece of clothing favored by my paternal grandmother, Elena). The apron was created from items collected from relatives in Italy and Australia: my great-aunt Palma, cousins Maria, Erminia, Maria, Teresa, and Carmela, and my mother Anna. All of these elements were combined in my live performance, in which I wore the dress that once belonged to my grandmother, Domenica. I sat at a vintage Singer sewing machine. One long piece of red embroidery cotton completed the apron and linked the two hand-embroidered maps of Italy and Australia. 

Tracing threads of the past: apron, live-art performance, 2016, at Beyond Borders, Transnational Italy exhibition, curated by Viviana Gravano and Giulia Grechi. The British School, Rome

Below: detail view of the apron with Italy and Australia connected by a red thread

My arts practice  integrates elements of co-creation. Tracciando fili del passato combined a piece of my mother Anna’s hand embroidered biancheria (linen), crafted during her pre-teen years in Calabria for her corredo (dowry) before migrating to Australia. My mother began receiving instruction in embroidery from the age of nine in her hometown of Platì, Reggio Calabria. It was the expectation that all girls learn needlework from a young age. The vintage cotton fabric has become very fragile and is now literally threadbare from years of use as a pillowcase. The threads, my own and my mother’s, link us to Calabria and North-West Victoria. The work ties my mother and me together, forming a dialogue between us, further weaving our lives together in a contemporary visual form, and has also reinstated the chain of passing down traditions from mother to daughter .

Anna Callipari and Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo, Vita [life] and eredità [heritage], the artist embroidered (2018) on her mother's linens (1960)

Calabrian Proverb Drawings

These drawings, from a larger series, are based on the proverbs Callipari-Marcuzzo heard her grandparents say.

A fami caccia 'u lupu d'u vòscu (Hunger will get the wolf out of the woods); Saccu vacanti non staci a dritta! (An empty sack will not stand on its own!)

Faggiola 'nto piattu, merici i chiattu! (Baked beans on the plate, keeps the doctor away!);

Quando canta a gajina (gadina), 'u gaju (gadu) staci ccittu (When the hen crows, the rooster is silent)

Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo

For Collective Crochet (Collettivo Uncinetto) a communal group action, the artist invited people to crochet chains of red embroidery thread, a symbol of the chain migration in which many immigrants were participants. Collective Crochet has so far engaged participants in Australia, Italy, and the United States