In the first of a series of interviews we are doing with fascinating Brooklynites, Art of Brooklyn met with folklorist Joseph Sciorra in his Williamsburg apartment, where he told us about Italian American folk life, in the borough and beyond.
Sciorra has researched and written about religious festivals, yard shrines—even the famous Christmas lights that festoon Dyker Heights during the holidays. But he spent the most time describing nativity scenes called presepi, which integrate the figures of the Holy Family into complex assemblages that can include “anachronistic figurines, objects from nature, architectural items hand-crafted from recycled milk cartons and Popsicle sticks, and multi-colored blinking electric lights.”
The Art of Brooklyn interviews Brooklyn-bred folklorist Joseph Sciorra.
Brooklyn-born Dr. Sciorra creates a presepio every year at Christmas around a different theme (see the slideshow below). This year he transformed a corner of his apartment kitchen into the time-warped basement (ca. 1973) of an imaginary Uncle. Decorated with props gathered all year long —an avocado green rotary phone, 70s Christmas cards, wood paneling, vintage magazines, etc— and a detailed nativity nestled inside a hollowed out tube television, it is an incongruous slice of a past-within-a past at the edge of the sunny kitchen he shares with his wife and children.
SLIDESHOW: Presepi by Joseph Sciorra
Joseph Sciorra is the Director for Academic and Cultural Programs at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College (City University of New York).
You can preorder his upcoming book, Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City on Amazon.