Poetry & Magic / Poesia e magia

An exhibition celebrating the work of Anita Seppilli

Poetry & Magic / Poesia e magia – an exhibition curated by Katia Pizzi and Ben Thomas

Anita Seppilli, née Schwarzkopf (Fiume 1902-91), was an Italian anthropologist whose major publications included, above all, Poesia e magia (1962 with further editions in 1971 and 1982), but also Sacralità dell’acqua e sacriliegio dei ponti (1977) and Alla ricerca del senso perduto (1986). Seppilli’s initial scholarly interests were literary, but her work became increasingly concerned with anthropological, ethnological and psychoanalytical themes. She believed that the classical culture of Italy should not be treated as an idol, but that it could be deepened and enriched by pursuing connections across cultures, borders and disciplines.

The argument of Seppilli’s Poesia e magia is briefly stated by the literary critic Thomas Greene: ‘the invocation as prayer lies in a middle position between magical rites, which were regarded as coercive, and poetic invocations which are not expected to produce the literal results they request’. In many languages, a word like ‘carmen’ was used first to mean charm before it came to mean poem. In other words, poetry evolved out of magic, and is related to prayer. The exhibition will celebrate Seppilli’s insight and approach by bringing together a series of objects and art works to create cross-cultural dialogues that will explore the relationship of poetry and magic.

It is particularly suitable to include in the exhibition works by the Brazilian artist Ana Maria Pacheco), as Seppilli’s development as an anthropologist resulted from her forced emigration to Brazil in 1939 as a result of the ‘leggi razziali’. The exhibition will combine contemporary art works – by Pacheco, and artists like Marcelle Hanselaar and Theresa Mikuriya – with magical and ritual objects. The exhibition will be held in November 2023 at the Italian Cultural Institute in London (39 Belgrave Square).