Other Worlds in a World of Othering. Institutional Critique in Italian Visual Countercultures

Martina Caruso, Ph.D.

In the Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead) in Italy, from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, a desire to explore Otherness and, arguably, escape ‘Italianacity’ in the form of mystical experiences, whether through drugs, the sexual revolution, meditation or music, defined the counterculture that gripped the Italian underground scene. In Rome, an extreme left-wing political faction, the Indiani Metropolitani (Metropolitan Indians) sought to imitate Native People’s dress and ways of life as a form of protest. With twenty-first century decolonial hindsight, the imitation of Native Cultures can be considered an unrefined form of cultural appropriation. However, the reality of these ‘voyages’ (few were able to afford actual trips abroad) is one that deserves to be explored in detail, even as a form of institutional critique, in particular from an art historical angle.
Arte Povera has been marketed as a naturally ‘Italian’ movement, even rooted in Catholicism with the influence of Saint Francis of Assisi. And yet, Gilberto Zorio was developing star javelins and canoes, Mario Merz built igloos, Alighiero Boetti travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to have patterned rugs made, Superstudio made films on nomadic living, Renato Mambor experimented with photographs of facial tattoos, Luigi Ontani took photographs of himself performing as Krishna, Pablo Echaurren created graphic stories inspired by the Indiani Metropolitani, Ettore Sottsass’ designs would be influenced by his journeys to Asia.
Otherness represented an anti-capitalist utopia via Native Cultures through periodicals such as Pablo Echaurren’s (Maledetti) Indiani Metropolitani as well as Apache, Indian Paria, Indiani in Città, Pianeta Fresco, Rajneesh and Guru-Cola. How can the appropriation of archetypal constructs of Otherness be fruitfully read ‘against the grain’ today? A close analysis of the illustrations and graphic designs of selected periodicals help gain a better understanding of the motivations behind the reproduction of Native People and other cultures and traditions.

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