Post-terrona. A drawing project about an imaginative reconfiguration of the southern Italian woman.
Terrone is a pejorative term used by northern Italians to address and describe southern Italians. The English words “hick”, “hayseed”, or “redneck” function as rough translations. Yet these words do not capture the specificity of terrone, its unique connection to geography—the south of Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. Rooted in the world “terra”, which means ground, terrone suggests the action of working the land by a poor and uneducated person. The reference to the ground is also connected with the color brown as a way to address the fact that people from the south of Italy have darker skin than people from the north.
The term “terrona”, the female form of “terrone”, refers to the southern Italian woman. My drawings represent the southern Italian woman according to how she has been traditionally represented—even caricatured—in a variety of media as loud, uneducated, impulsive, possessive, maternal, buxom, and attractive. By adopting a simple and minimalist drawing style I isolate, appropriate, and focus on these features of the terrona in order to shift the dialogue. With these drawings, my goal is to transform the meaning that traditional culture assigned to her. I do this by adopting a reductive drawing style to challenge the conventional representations of the terrona’s body where I emphasize the use of ink and line to allow the terrona’s gesture, pose, and facial expression to become primary. By embracing black and white my drawings suggest the design of a new type font that I use to create an unconventional language to describe the terrona.
Famous twentieth-century movies, such as Marriage Italian Style (1964) with Sophia Loren and Mamma Roma (1962) with Anna Magnani, created the stereotype of the terrona, propelling her into celebrity while also making her charming and lovable. These depictions thus serve only to reinforce the idea that the terrona is a chaotic person lacking intellectual and political agency. From this perspective she is cartoonish and unreal, bereft of the power to affect the world in serious and positive ways. According to these representations, the terrona makes guiding decisions and has authority only in the confinement of her domestic space. Her seductive body is a source of pleasure exclusively for the heterosexual male needs: she is largely a subject of the male gaze. She leads a cloistered existence as it is only her close family members that benefit from her finely-honed skills to care for and protect the beloved.
Unique from this depiction, my drawings encourage the viewer to deconstruct the stereotype of terrona: to fantasize about a different and imaginative way to signify her. According to this reconfiguration, the terrona’s aggressive and fiery temperament allows her to act ecologically: to govern the Mediterranean territory and to cultivate its natural elements. My drawings reveal how the terrona’s attractive and provocative body exceeds the enjoyment she is supposed to provide to the heterosexual male. This excess folds back into itself, as she feels exceptional sensorial pleasure qua herself: just as she is and for herself alone. She becomes an autonomous agent of self-love that extends to the world around her. Her bond with the richness of the Mediterranean environment activates this ecstasy and joie de vivre. In addition to this, her talents of hospitality, usually kept for her family alone, invest her with the political and social authority to protect and preserve the natural resources of her environment.