Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver


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All’Italiana: Italian fashion in the spotlight

The knit pom poms on these two outfits hark back to clowns, a popular stock character in Italian opera. Italy has a long history and strong heritage in professional theatre with Commedia dell’arte (“Italian comedy”). One of the most famous Italian operas is Pagliacci (Italian for “clowns” or “players”). Photos courtesy of the Italian Cultural Centre

New exhibit at the Italian Cultural Centre

All’Italiana
Italian Cultural Centre
3075 Slocan Street, Vancouver
http://www.italianculturalcentre.ca
Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm

BY DEANNA CHENG

The latest exhibition at the Italian Cultural Centre focuses on the highlights of Italian fashion in the 20th century, featuring garments by Pucci, Schiaparelli and Fortuny.

Guest curator Ivan Sayers wanted to focus on Italian fashion because the spotlight is usually on French, American or British fashion. “Italy is extremely important, especially in leather goods and accessories but also with mainstream garments.”

The show is an opportunity to admire Italian ingenuity, wit, craftsmanship and quality, he said.

On display until April 25, All’Italiana (“in the Italian style”) is part of a celebration of craftsmanship by the Craft Council of BC. The theme of this year is “voices of craft.”

Sayers said, “Craft usually means handwork.” And handwork is visible in the handmade raffia lace of the Fortuny dress, he said, and in the decoration on the Schiaparelli coat. “It’s beading. It’s eccentric. It’s still labour intensive.”

He added, “When you look at the Prada suit, initially, it seems banal but when you start to look at the seaming and the skirt, you start to appreciate what’s gone into it, lifting it from boring to intriguing.”

There’s construction, decoration, ratio and proportion that people tend to ignore, but it still has value, he said.

Museum curator Angela Clarke said the exhibit explores craft because it often gets a bad name. “Craft is often looked at as something that you often find in your grandmother’s place. You know, doilies.”

It’s often seen as surface design without much in terms of artistic integrity, originality, a voice of the artist or social commentary, she said. “Craft is often recreating a tradition. There are often patterns incorporated into craft that have been used almost like a stencil.”

When you knit, you base it on a pattern, Clarke said. If you embroider, you base it on a pattern. “And that is sort of a counter to this notion that all art creation is individual and it’s a one-off. So craft gets a bad name for that.”

Garments are considered like that because they have a pattern. The world of fashion is changing because it’s the name of the designer that we come to for and that often separates craft from art, she said.

Historically, there were some names that were developing such as Schiaparelli through the 1930s and Christian Dior in the late 40s and 50s. It’s not to the same degree as today, she said, where the name is everything. “We now have celebrities with clothing lines and certainly, they’re not the ones designing and making the garments at all.”

She said, “Today, everyone wants to be a designer but no one wants to be a tailor.”

“The fact is that craft often represents underrepresented voices,” added Clarke.

Guest curator Ivan Sayers said Italy is the birthplace of lace. Italian lace comes from the fishing culture in small Italian towns, drawing inspiration from fishing nets.

For example, textiles and embroidery were considered the realm of women’s history, she said. “And for the most part, that’s all we’ve got of women’s history for the middle and lower classes. Anything out of the household, the domestic space, it’s all about women.”

Italian fashion also constantly refers to its own history from the materials to the construction. For example, Clarke said, Italian lace arises from fishing culture as an improvisation of the fishing net.

The fishing net has become part of the cultural consciousness of Italian villages because it’s the major industry. “You get these towns, these whole towns, that are in Italy that are devoted to certain craft industries such as Venetian glass and ceramics.”

It’s partially so they can share resources, she said. The other part is due to technology used for the flammable arts.

If you were to make anything glass or ceramic in Rome, Venice or Milan, the whole city would go up in flames in half an hour if there was an accident because buildings were made of wood, Clarke said.

Legislation was created, stating these industries had to be 10 miles outside of a major city centre.

Another sign of Italian heritage is the knit pom poms on the Paoli dress. The colourful fluffy attachments refer to the clown, popular in Italian opera, she said. The significance of this character spread across Europe by travelling Italian troupes.

“Clowns show up repeatedly because it’s the stock character of a figure that can say anything, do anything, and you feel compassion for them,” Clarke said. “It’s like the joker in Shakespeare. He’s the one who entertains the king but he’s the only one that can actually speak the truth.”

Rich Nguyen, an attendee, visited Italy last year and the selection of Schiaparelli and Pucci within the exhibit speaks to him the most as “Italian.”

This collection features garments from the collection of fashion historian Ivan Sayers, the Museum of Vancouver and the Society for the Museum of Original Costume.

Deanna Cheng is a freelance journalist and copy editor. Her work has been published in New Canadian Media and Vancouver Courier. She has also been a resident for the last 15 years. Contact: dmwcheng7@gmail.com.


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Common Voices: The Cultural Legacy of Italian and Cantonese Opera in Vancouver

Exhibit at Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo runs until July 15

Chinese-Opera-Common-Voices

Rosa Cheng, Vancouver Cantonese Opera, 2016. Photos courtesy of the Italian Cultural Centre

BY ANGELA CLARKE

Spanning May and June, which are Asian and Italian heritage months, the Italian Cultural Centre mounted an exhibition on the history of Cantonese and Italian opera in Vancouver. While these two art forms evolved independently from two diverse musical traditions, they share significant commonalities as major performance genres spanning the cultural history of the Chinese and Italian communities in Vancouver.

Both art forms have been practised in Vancouver since the beginning of immigration to this area, around 1885. They are known for their elaborate costuming and make-up, as well as the immense skill required of the artists who devote their lives to interpreting these musical genres.

While both musical forms are viewed as an acquired taste, often requiring some knowledge of the music and its history before they can be appreciated, historically, they have contributed significantly over the last century to the cultural landscape of Vancouver. Both genres have enabled both the Chinese and Italian communities to remain connected with their cultures of origin as they have negotiated their way in their new home of Canada.

Art, opera and cultural discrimination

Vancouver-Opera-Common-Voices

Vancouver Opera, Norma, starring Joan Sutherland, 1963.

The story of Italian and Cantonese opera also tells the story of discrimination and isolation. For both Italian and Cantonese communities in Vancouver these musical genres were often performed as a means to create community and connection in times of duress.

The exhibition tells the story of the Italian men interned in the work camps of Kananaskis in Alberta and Petawawa in Ontario, who created a camp choir of internees. These men, surrounded by armed guards, travelled around the countryside performing scheduled appearances. Despite being under heavy surveillance they were in demand among the civilian communities around Petawawa. There was even a professional opera singer, Piero Orsatti, among them.

For the Cantonese-speaking men living in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Cantonese opera and its performance was a means to create a haven for men who could not speak English, and due to the laws of exclusion, where banned from bringing family to Canada. Cantonese opera was a means of creating a foundation of familiarity in an unfamiliar and hostile environment.

For the Chinese men who immigrated to Vancouver for work on the railway, Cantonese opera was compelling not only because of the language but also for the many female performers who travelled from China in theatrical troupes. Certainly the story of Cantonese opera in Vancouver is an important and unique vignette offering scholars important insight into the history of women in Vancouver performance history. Women performers drew large audiences in Vancouver in the 1920s and ’30s, a full decade before women were even allowed to perform in their native China. As well, despite the traditionalism of the art form, these female artists, performing along the West Coast of the United States and Canada, became renowned for their alluring sense of style and the adoption of North American silver-screen aesthetics.

Currently Cantonese opera in Vancouver still continues to be relevant largely due to the female performers. In the Chinese community, women train as interpreters of this genre later in life, desiring to reconnect with their culture in retirement. Women train to interpret both the male and female roles.

Today Italian opera continues to emerge from its Eurocentric origins, finding contemporary relevance in plot lines located in post-colonial environments. As part of the repertoire for the Push Festival in 2017, Third World Bunfight produced a modern retelling of Verdi’s opera Macbeth. This full-length opera relocated the traditional plotline from medieval Scotland and placed it into the current political realities of the Congo in territories governed by military dictatorships. This production was supported by Vancouver Opera and the Italian Cultural Centre.

This exhibition on the history of Cantonese and Italian opera in Vancouver features historic costuming and interactive video to animate this story. The exhibition runs until Saturday, July 15, 2017.

Angela Clarke is the museum director and curator at the Italian Cultural Centre Museum. The Common Voices exhibit has been supported by Canada Heritage, the Museum of Migration and the Italian Cultural Centre.

Copyright (c) 2017 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News