First published: Spring 2022
Based in Sicily, Osservatorio Outsider Art is the only Italian-language journal on the subject. Colin Rhodes talks to founder, Eva di Stefano
CR: What led you to deciding to set up Osservatorio twelve years ago, and has the journey been easy?
EdS: I believe it is a true miracle that we have reached this point. It was mainly due to the enormous passion for the subject of everyone involved. It hasn’t been easy, as our chequered publishing history shows. Initially, I also chose to link my teaching of History of Contemporary Art at the University of Palermo to the theme of outsider art, which I believe constitutes an important chapter in the history of twentieth-century visual culture, and which has been neglected above all in Italy. My passion for these creations began after some chance meetings with “unclassifiable” artists and an exciting visit to Lausanne’s Collection de l’Art Brut.
My students and I conducted research in the field. We also committed to the protection of works otherwise destined to be lost or destroyed. The journal was a result of the activities of these young explorers of art on the margins. It started in 2010 as a bi-annual online journal on the university website, born of the desire to create a tool for bringing material together and disseminating critical knowledge in the field.
Covers and inside pages of Osservatorio
The trust and collaboration of the Collection de l’Art Brut was fundamental for its growth, first with then-director, Lucienne Peiry, and now with the current director, Sarah Lombardi. The support of great and generous scholars, like the late Roger Cardinal and Laurent Danchin, has also been important.However, the university world has not shown a lot of interest. When I retired in 2013, there was no chance of institutional continuity, so two ex-students founded a small publishing company, called Glifo, to keep the journal alive, including moving to a print version and covering its costs. This adventure lasted two years and four issues, but was not financially viable.
Traditional Sicilian puppets at the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum, co-publisher, photo: Chiara Vaglica
Subsequently, I had the good fortune to find support in Palermo at the International Marionette Museum, a prestigious institution that originally came into being from a magnificent private collection of traditional puppets. It enjoys public funding and has its own publishing arm, and we have been co-publishing since 2015. It is a good solution that I hope will allow us to continue for the next twelve years!
Filippo Bentivegna, detail of the Enchanted Castle (possibly The Mother Goddess), in Sciacca, 1920–1955, photo: Enzo Cucchiara
Why “outsider art” rather than “art brut”? Were you tempted to invent an Italian language equivalent?
The main reason is that in the Italian language the term “brut” echoes “brutto” which means “ugly”. This affects its reception and, in the past, has certainly been an obstacle to its spread. Besides, I find that the term “outsider art”, though today much debated, has a more contemporary flexibility and more immediate comprehensibility, in addition to being an international concept. Not to mention the fact that Italians generally love English terms!
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #110