The Hobart

Art, Ancestors, and the Aeolian Islands

by The Hobart Magazine
Art, Ancestors, and the Aeolian Islands

Joshua Santospirito is a multimedia artist, musician, and comics author. He’s just released his third graphic novel, The Islands Where We Left Our Ancestors. It’s an autobiographical tale aimed at adults about his visit to the Aeolian Islands of Italy with his parents, where he sought out past connections and family roots. We chatted to him about his book and upcoming tour.

Where did you grow up and where is home now? I grew up in suburban Melbourne and, as an adult, lived in Sydney and Alice Springs before moving to Nipaluna / Hobart in 2008. 

How did you get the idea to make this book? Whilst working on my first graphic novel in 2008 I was challenged by friends to explore my own cultural heritage. I began paying closer attention to my Dad’s investigations into genealogical roots in the Aeolian Islands, Italy. Despite never having identified strongly as “Italian-Australian”, the historical detective work that Dad was engaged in began to interest me. I also realised that a story about travelling with my parents back to the islands could be quite an entertaining vehicle for an exploration of the history of human migration, which is exactly what The Islands Where We Left Our Ancestors eventually became. 

What are the challenges of adapting your own life experiences to graphic novel form? Stories are always challenging to create and I take my hat off to anyone who attempts it. They often need some level of tension in them to be entertaining so when writing an autobiographical story like Ancestors this required revealing some family conflict or gossip. As you can imagine this meant causing some anxiety for the people that this relates to in the real world, such as my parents. There were several drafts of the book as I tried to navigate the tension between what the story needed and not completely mortifying my family, but they all have a great sense of humour (which I got from them) and I think I found the balance. 

Why do you think stories about place and belonging attract us? I published a previous graphic novel on the topic of migration in 2015 and many people read it and then contacted me to tell their own family migration story. It was amazing, almost like we were trading stories. Exploring stories that occur in a place seems to be a universal way to understand those places and to understand ourselves, like a mnemonic code or a shorthand. 

What aspects of living here influence your art? Landscape is something that informs a lot of art in Lutruwita, including mine. The rugged mountains in the West, and the isolation of the Furneaux group has heavily influenced two different series of paintings and drawings that I’ve made in the last few years. The flat line of the ocean horizon that surrounds our island home is referenced a few times in this book.

Your upcoming book tour includes an audiovisual performance inspired by the book. Can you tell us more about this? Projecting the art from the book with live storytelling and music is an extremely fun way to experience the book. In fact, it is not like a book at all, it’s more like theatre and live music combined with the experience of reading comics. I’m lucky enough to be performing with my friend Natalya Bing; an amazing classical violinist who completely captivates audiences. I’ve done this sort of performance with previous works and I am always amazed by how quickly the audience is sucked in. 

When and where can Tasmanians see your book tour? The Islands Where We Left Our Ancestors comes out nationally through Scribe Publications on 2 July in those wonderful bookstores that stock graphic novels. In Nipaluna the book will be launched by Nunami Sculthorpe-Green at the Long Gallery on Friday 12 July, 6pm, with an exhibition of art from the book. In August the storytelling audiovisual performance will tour around Lutruwita to 9b Studios in New Norfolk, PressWEST in Queenstown, Devonport Regional Gallery and The Hive in Ulverstone. 

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July 2024

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