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Italian Institute of Culture

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by Rita Price (subscribe)
Writer, editor, minimalist
Published November 14th 2011
For more than 37 years the Italian Institute of Culture (IIC) has opened its doors in South Yarra to create a greater awareness of Italian culture to the general public. Housed in an elegant former mansion built in 1857, the IIC is often the first point of reference for people seeking information on studying Italian in Australia or in Italy. However, the IIC is also a great place to see a diverse range of individual artists and groups that reflect the Italian culture through their works, performances or Italian background.

Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam (Wikipedia)


Art, music, sculpture, poetry, singing, writing, indeed anything of a cultural nature with an Italian flavour will have most likely been launched at the IIC. After a long hiatus of several years, I decided to visit the IIC over a number of months this year and was truly impressed by the quality and diversity of events presented. I had the pleasure of seeing the work of established artists from Italy such as acclaimed guitarist, Massimo Scattolin as well as new or emerging artists based in Australia like mixed-media artist, Rosetta Pavone.

Painting by Elaine Tzimokas

In a program entitled The Visual Language of Sicily, the IIC featured two diverse interpretations of Sicily by Australian artists. The paintings of Billy Doolan, an Aboriginal artist from Palm Island, depicted various Sicilian landmarks such as Mount Etna using indigenous motifs such as X-ray style and dot painting. On the same program, Greek-Australian architect and artist, Elaine Tzimokas, displayed and discussed her ethereal and evocative paintings of towns and buildings that were inspired by her trip to Sicily on a university scholarship.

What I particularly like about the IIC is the range of artists and works that are represented; some of whom may be considered controversial or may challenge our perceptions of Italy. A talk by author and columnist, Kate Holden on her book, The Romantic, Italian Nights and Days, which is an account of her salacious journey through Italy following her life as a heroin addict and prostitute, provided a frank, if somewhat, uncomfortable experience for the mainly conservative audience. The IIC also hosted a talk by Roland Rocchiccioli as part of Midsumma, Melbourne's Lesbian and Gay Summer Festival, and received complaints for doing so. I say more power to the IIC!

Michele Benuzzi on harpsichord

As in previous years, the IIC program this year has comprised an extensive selection of weekly events - many of them free - including films (e.g. a 1934 film on Garibaldi's unification of Italy), concerts (classical guitarists, harpsichord players, violinists, sopranos), language and still-life workshops, book and periodical launches, musical and literary recitals (excerpts from Dante's Divine Comedy accompanied by medieval music and song) art installations and jewellery displays.

One of the delights about attending events at the IIC is that patrons can watch a performance or exhibition in an intimate space and then have the opportunity to mingle with the artists and guests afterwards over a drink in the library or in the attractive courtyard, if weather permits. You can also often buy signed, limited editions of the works presented such as DVDs, CDs, books and paintings. To accommodate larger audiences, activities are sometimes held at other venues, particularly events in collaboration with other arts organisations and universities or for large paid events.

Installation by Anna Onesti

With its collection of brochures and tourist publications, the IIC is also a good resource for planning a trip to Italy. Occasionally seminars are held that promote unique tours or areas that are less popular among tourists to Italy. I recently attended a talk on Basilicata (the region which forms the arch of the boot-shaped map of Italy) to find out more about this area that is rarely visited during standard tours. The seminar screened a DVD - a copy of which all participants could keep - of US film director, Francis Ford Coppola, (whose paternal grandparents hail from the area) praising the unspoilt and natural beauty of the region. But best of all, the seminar concluded with a tasting of snacks and wines that are typical of the region and unlikely to be served in other parts of Italy.

Contemporary jewellery from Padua. Photos courtesy of Italian Institute of Culture

Education is an important aspect of the IIC so numerous courses in Italian language and culture for all levels are offered and conducted by native Italian teachers. Classes in literature, art and other subjects are available or you can arrange for individual or tailor-made tuition. Enrolment in a class entitles you to an automatic membership of the IIC (normally $70.00 per year) which provides a number of benefits such as free use of the lounge, internet access as well as use of the multimedia library containing books, DVDs, periodicals and resources not readily available in Australia. Membership also allows for discounts to IIC paid events, National Gallery of Victoria membership ($10.00 off) and selected Italian restaurants and cafes. For members keen to further their Italian studies, applications for full or half scholarships are available to attend courses in Italy for up to four weeks.

For more information on other services the IIC provides as well as weekend events and classes, please check the website.
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Why? To learn about Italian language and culture and to see exclusive performances and exhibitions
When: Events and courses held all year round
Where: 233 Domain Rd, South Yarra, VIC.
Cost: Annual membership is available and entitles holder to benefits and discounts; some events are free and open to the public; check website for course fees
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