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‘Sicilia’. One, no one and one hundred thousand Sicilies

Abstract: Sicilia is a magazine that still has much to tell and teach, in its absolute visionariness so constantly hovering between being a Sicilian, and even more viscerally a Palermitan magazine and being an international, contemporary, multilingual, experimental and forward- looking magazine. Sicilia, without fear of being accused of unnecessary and exaggerated local pride, deserves a much more in-depth study than has been done so far, through a careful analysis conducted in the different subjects involved in the folds of its pages. Here we will try to deepen its study, analyzing the magazine as a complex graphic artifact, through the lens of visual communication design, the discipline that will help us to investigate its concept, its development, its evolution and above all its constant experimentation.

It is kept on the bookshelves of the Sicilian families, in all the libraries of the districts of the island, on the stalls of flea markets and it is dusty on the shelves of the old and second-hand books retailers. It bears a name that you cannot forget because it is the same name of the island where it was born. It has a format that cannot be ignored because it stands out overwhelming the  near smaller publications. It was born modern and international because even today, thirty years after its publication, it has nothing that anchors it inextricably to its actual age.

It is Sicilia, the magazine that  keeps on living, not only through the action of eager collectors but of all those who having known it, continue to search it, and it’s not going to step aside.  Brave and indomitable, it could deal with new and glossy magazines and even more with that pale and fragile imitation, bearing the same name and features. For years the historical publisher has tried to distribute the last, but it lacks the strength, intelligence and the vital spirit that characterized the original periodical publication.

It’s amazing and inexplicable the theoretical void that accompanies the history of the magazine, and even more in the period following its closure, there are only articles scattered on various texts, but never a careful and organic research.  There aren’t any historical studies and criticism of Sicilia which try  to reconstruct the many different aspects that led to his birth in the womb of the Sicilian Regional Department for Tourism and Entertainment, as a tool that could tell inside but even more outside it, the various cultural fragments that make up the Sicilianess. A Sicilianess which has little of folklore and a lot of anthropology, a concept that must be first searched in the depth of the territories, where the roots of the people are deep, but then stand out from them, on the long and slender branches which look constantly further away.

I think it is important to emphasize the value of the magazine in the visual communication design, because it is an excellent example which  can tell more than others, in such a complete and concise way,  the visual culture of a country. It has ended up influencing inevitably those who, working with various qualifications in the design discipline, were born or grew up there, or were formed there. The issue of the cultural matrix of a territory, understood as a set of visual and material culture, then found in the graphic designers who work in that place or come from that place, is a concern with no easy solution. Not one but many are the factors that converge in the formation of a professional, but even a common hint can be found, to transcribe on a hypothetical map, common paths and points of convergence, capable of establishing between the many actors – even of different periods – the assonances. A genius loci that continues to survive in the territories, in spite of our difficulties to find out and to listen to it as we are overwhelmed by time, crushed and deprived of our permanence. Perhaps, and certainly it makes sense to continue to look for it, while recognizing that not so much the territories and their guide spirits as well as those who live in them, were deeply transformed and with them, their sense of belonging to one culture, one identity, in one single place. Of course the relationship sought is unlikely to be bijective, having to deal with a constant cultural contamination, but that does not mean that we have to disregard its knowledge.

Studying and learning Sicilia means going through – visually and conceptually – a graphic and iconographic heritage that tells, in a detailed and unusual  way, the island, its language, its expressions, its manner, its tone of voice. A heritage that fixes the past and throws itself like a sharp stone towards a future scenario. A valuable legacy worth knowing and sharing, as well as translating and betraying, as only an irreverent child can do.

But, before assessing the merits of an interesting and innovative graphic design  which will be traced as a volume through its main chapters, you first need to try to reconstruct the historical context, the political landscape, the many figures who have desired, designed and developed it.

Sicilia was born in 1953 as the official journal of the Sicilian Regional Department for  Tourism and Entertainment, and next to its name other names stand out in importance, because they granted its birth, growth and success. The first is undoubtedly Pino Orlandi, its director, even if it is simplistic to force him only in this definition. Orlandi is a man from the north, who landed on the coasts of Sicily at the end of the Second World War and never went away, who worked without interruption for a big, bright and ambitious cultural project. He was the only who made the editing, established the topics, directed the graphical structure, recruited photographers, illustrators, painters and engravers to collaborate in the design of the magazine, called historians, anthropologists, poets, writers, philosophers from different countries, asking them to write texts for the mostly monographic numbers of Sicilia.

The second is Salvatore Fausto Flaccovio, then just S.F. Flaccovio, as we are accustomed to see it written down, surmounted by a lithe gazelle in the logo of his publishing house, reproduced in the characteristic green flag color. Flaccovio was an intelligent and ambitious young man who changed in a short time his bookshop, located in the central Via Ruggero Settimo, in a prestigious cultural salon, a meeting place for the intellectuals of the time who lived or stayed in Palermo.

The third is that of Bruno Caruso, the famous Sicilian painter, who had the important task of structuring  the graphic design, giving to the magazine that imprinting that it will keep until the end, in a crescendo and an ability of continuous self-renewal that cannot be solely attributed to the artist, but it should be fairly distributed among those people who directed, paged and produced it.

Sicilia was a four-monthly magazine, distributed in Italy but addressed mainly to a foreign audience as emphasized in his speech, at the opening of the publishing business, Pietro Romani, honorable and representative of the High Commissioner for Tourism.

A magazine that represents not only the most beautiful aspects of the island and its culture, but also the truest, most unusual and most cultured aspects, collected in a photograph that can be merciless, able to capture the beauty even in the plots of abandonment and destruction, never yielding to pity or victimization, but proud and bold, as it emerges from a story told through the articles of both Sicilian authors and important exponents of national and international culture. But also illustrated with photographs, engravings, paintings, illustrations, chosen with great care from the historical and photographic archives of the island or made on purpose for the magazine.

But let’s get into the structure of Sicilia. This is based on a criterion of variability, which inserts itself into a system of invariants, it goes without saying that soon it became his stylistic signature. The journal keeps some constant elements, few indeed, and are those regarding: the size, rectangular top that always measures 24 x 32 cm; the font used for the layout of all the texts, a robust Bodoni that binds strongly with the printing on the paper; the layout of pagination of the articles in one, two, three or four columns; the material used, a coated paper or uncoated, white or colored, for specific sections of the magazine as the abstract. Another feature, not concerning the graphical structure, but concerning the concept of the publication and its being an international product, is the decision to publish the articles in their original language, without any full translation, only a summary of all the articles is translated into English, French, German and Spanish.

With regard to the variable elements, these are in a random order: the cover can be graphical, illustrated, photographic, different each time; the logotype of Sicilia that changes in size, in position, in the graphic processing on every cover, also working only for the subject of the monographic treaty; the back cover, completely white, that houses a fragment, a detail, an element related to the front cover; the summary also designed each time as a new element related only to the monographic theme, of which becomes a further interpretation; the head of each article, which is never processed in a rigid way, how could require the compliance with the layout, but more like a logotype, a sort of translation and graphical summary of the topic. The authors of the many graphic designs, but also of the unending experimentations, were at the time two young graphic artists, Santuzza Calì and Gabriella Saladino. They worked by establishing  and keeping over the years, an artistic collaboration with the director Pino Orlandi thanks to their ability to communicate and to have a good understanding with him.

Sicilia, with the number 89, was the last issue of the magazine, published in May 1982.

Sicilia: rivista trimestrale dell’Assessorato turismo e spettacolo della Regione siciliana, dal n. 1 (edito il 31 marzo 1953) al n. 89 (edito il 31 maggio 1982), Flaccovio, Palermo, 1953-1982

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