Female Identity Through the Lens of Five Italian Photographers

December 9, 2018

The rise of the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s empowered many women in each field of human activity to rightfully pursue their own social and political subjectivity. The ones engaged with artistic practices saw a perfect tool for expressing various issues they were confronted with on daily basis. This wind of change caught more or less all the societies of the former Western block (even some countries of the Eastern block), and so there are numerous artworks which celebrate women's emancipation and an urge to fight for equality.

Such was the case with Italian women photographers who started using accessible and affordable photo cameras to express themselves. The upcoming exhibition titled Nomadic Subject at the Centro Pecci in the Italian city of Prato will bring together for the first time astounding photographs produced by five Italian women in the period from the mid-1960s to the 1980s.

Lisetta Carmi - I Travestiti la Gilda
Lisetta Carmi - I Travestiti, la Gilda, 1965-1971. Photograph, original gelatin silver print, 18 x 24 cm, © Lisetta Carmi, Courtesy Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

The Historical Context

The atmosphere in Italy in the mentioned period was marked by major social shifts; the society went from affluence to terrorist violence, yet civil achievements were made and especially women felt more liberated since legal contraception, divorce, and abortion were enabled despite the rhetoric of Catholic church and the right-wing parties.

The woman engaged with photography decided to present a new role of the woman in society by expressing their personal experiences, transformations of their bodies, family life, as well as the relationship between private memory and collective history.

Here is important to note that the title of the exhibition refers to 1994 anthology of essays titled Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory by the famous Italian contemporary philosopher and feminist theoretician Rosi Braidotti. This valuable publication accentuates a formation of new sexual subjectivity which is multiple, multicultural and stratified (such as a subjectivity present on the photographs included in the exhibition).

Left Elisabetta Catalano - Titina Maselli nel suo studio Right Lisetta Carmi - I travestiti
Left: Elisabetta Catalano - Titina Maselli nel suo studio, Roma, 1976. Vintage print, Photo © Elisabetta Catalano, courtesy Archivio Elisabetta Catalano / Right: Lisetta Carmi - I travestiti, 1965. Photograph, original gelatin silver print, 30x24 cm, © Lisetta Carmi, courtesy Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

The Works

More than one hundred photographs will show the need of women photographers to explore the perspective of women on women and their identity.

The photographs of Genoa's drag queen community by Lisetta Carmi explore the other side of femininity and its representation, while Elisabetta Catalano exposes the feminine mystique with the images of actresses, writers, and artists.

On the other hand, Paola Agosti documented well the feminist movement, and Letizia Battaglia captured portraits of women and girls of the mafia-torn Sicily. Finally, the works of Marialba Russo narrate the local one-day tradition of dragging during the carnival celebrated in small towns in Campania.

Paola Agosti - Roma
Paola Agosti - Roma, 8 marzo 1982. Corteo femminista © Paola Agosti

Nomadic Subject at Centro Pecci

This exhibition is curated by Cristiana Perrella and Elena Magini and tends to expose various strategies of representation of womanhood; the selected photographs are embodying the iconic feminist maxim Personal is political, and are subverting the male gaze by featuring female bodies as autonomous subjects expressing non-heteronormative values.

Nomadic Subject: Female identity through the images of five Italian photographers, 1965-1985 will be on display at Centro Pecci in Prato from 14 December 2018 until 8 March 2019.

Featured image: Elisabetta Catalano - Paolo Pitagora servizio con installazione “La luna” di Fabio Mauri, 1968. Vintage print, Photo © Elisabetta Catalano, courtesy Archivio Elisabetta Catalano. All images courtesy Centro Pecci Prato.