07 February 2020 – 24 May 2020
“Peter (Pietro) Prina, my father, played clarinet for the local band in the Comune di Canischio, in the Piedmont region of Northwestern Italy. One day the Black Shirts arrived and demanded that the band perform the anthem of the Italian National Fascist Party. This event convinced him it was time to emigrate from Italy — immigrate to America— at the age of 17 in 1923.”
English for Foreigners is Stephen Prina’s second biographical exhibition, conceived as a follow-up to his galesburg illinois+ (2015), which was devoted to the artist’s hometown. This second exhibition consists of interconnected works and appropriated materials that weave the relationship between the artist and the paternal figure.
At the center of its referential web is the Second Book in English for Foreigners in Evening Schools by Frederick Houghton, one of the objects handed down to the artist from his father. Peter/Pietro Prina, used the book to learn English upon his entry into the United States in 1923. The textbook contains forty five images with an additional frontispiece that, even without captions, provide a guide for turning the immigrant into a model citizen.
English for Foreigners lays out an arrangement of elements, among which the images of the textbook annotated by Prina’s father retracing his learning of a new language; details of a copy of Georges de la Tour’s St. Joseph and the Carpenter made by the artist at age 13, as well as an oil- on-linen version that he has completed recently; the reproduction of a 1973 fading photograph of Canischio taken by his brother, with a video of a Straub/Huillet film projected on its surface; as well as a sculpture of wood and fabric. Providing a soundtrack for the exhibition are several music compositions blending the hymn of the Italian Fascist Party stripped of its lyrics but with a clarinet voicing its melody ; “Bella Ciao,” the Italian Resistance anthem; and Peter/Pietro’s annotations used as lyrics along with words and music composed by Stephen himself. These elements delineate the stage envisioned by Prina to unravel a familiar story of a father and son tainted by fascism, labor and migration. The songs, images, objects, and texts that are at work here put into perspective the concepts of territory and displacement, citizenship and identity, language and behavior, as they remain at the core of the contemporary cultural and political debate.
Image © Amedeo Benestante. Courtesy Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee, Napoli.