press release

Nomadic Subject brings together in an exhibition, for the first time, the images of five Italian women photographers, from the mid-1960s to the 1980s, to convey different perspectives on the experience, representation and interpretation of feminine subjectivity in a period of sweeping social change for Italy. Years of transition from radical political engagement to hedonism, years of terrorist violence but also of civil achievements, brought about mostly by women and the struggles of feminism.

A reflection on identity and its representation that takes its cue from the extraordinary portraits of the transvestites of Genoa by Lisetta Carmi (Genoa, 1924), where the feminine mystique is an aspiration, and interpreted in the images of actresses, writers and artists by Elisabetta Catalano (Rome, 1941-2015), the coverage of the feminist movement by Paola Agosti (Turin, 1947), the women and girls of mafia-torn Sicily by Letizia Battaglia (Palermo, 1935), and men who take on a female identity for a single day during the carnival of small towns in Campania, explored by Marialba Russo (Naples, 1947).

In Italy the full acceptance of female press photographers, art photographers and artists in the system of art and journalism began in the 1960s, in step with the socio-political changes and multiple demands brought about by feminism. Though belonging to different generations, all the photographers in the show have come to grips with the social transformations in progress in the Italian society, giving rise to very personal reflections on the image of women, and more specifically on feminine identity and its encroachments, the sense of otherness seen through a sensibility that has elaborated and absorbed the idea of difference.

In this period, the medium of photography became the tool par excellence with which to represent a new central role of women’s bodies and their transformations, personal experiences and family life, the relationship between private memory and collective history. The images in the exhibition share in the representation of a vast and unconventional female universe in the wider sense of the term, where the body is not just the object of an external, prevalently male gaze, but become an active subject, a vehicle with which to express other non-standardized, non-heterocentric values.

The feminine image is thus the central focus, an image that is amplified, revealed and deconstructed, becoming a vehicle of non-bourgeois values, but also a vivid representation of an inner life that is able to break free of stereotypes.

The exhibition presents over 100 images to document a period of about twenty years: it bears witness to the rise of new, multiple expressive urges, which though not constituting a “feminine specificity” offer a perspective of women on women and their identity.

The title of the exhibition refers to the ground-breaking anthology of essays by Rosi Braidotti Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (Cambridge: Columbia University Press, 1994), in which the philosopher outlines a new sexual subjectivity that is multiple, multicultural and stratified, like the subjectivity represented in the images of the photographers included in this show.

The Artists

Paola Agosti

Born in 1947 in Turin, in 1969 she began to work as a freelance photographer, traveling in Europe, South America, the United States and Africa, where she met and made portraits of political leaders, cultural figures and artists of international renown. She has paid particular attention to the faces and issues of the feminine world. Her investigations of rural poverty in Piedmont, the history of emigration from that region to Argentina, and her photographs of the protagonists of European 20th-century culture, led to the creation of books and exhibitions on these themes. From 1976 to the present she has published countless photography books and shown her images (some of which are included in the permanent collections of various museums) in Italy and abroad. In recent years she has also concentrated on books that focus on family memories, individual stories that become History.

Letizia Battaglia
Letizia Battaglia was born in Palermo in 1935 and is considered one of the world’s most important photographers. She is known for her works showing the victims and personalities of the world of organized crime, but she is not only the “photographer of the mafia”: she is known as one of the most outstanding figures of contemporary photography, for her works that have been absorbed in the collective imaginary, and for the civil and ethical values she has emphasized through photography. She is actively engaged in various initiatives for the city of Palermo, and since 2017 she has been the director of the Centro Internazionale di Fotografia in that city. Letizia Battaglia was the first European woman to receive the Eugene Smith Grant, in 1985 in New York, the international award created to commemorate the photographer of Life Magazine. Other honors include the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie (2007) and the Cornell Capa Infinity Award, New York (2009). The New York Times inserted her in a list of eleven exceptional and powerful women in 2017.

Elisabetta Catalano
Elisabetta Catalano lived and worked in Rome. As an internationally acclaimed portraitist, she bore witness to the lives of artists and personalities of literature, art, entertainment and culture in general, across the history of Italy from the 1970s to the present. Her career began with Vogue Italia, Il Mondo and L’Espresso, extending into the entire Italian and foreign press. In 1971 she worked in New York for Vogue America and in Paris for Vogue France, photographing fashion and entertainment personalities and social life. In the 1970s she .idecided to concentrate on portraiture and photographed the most important artists of avant-garde movements in her studio in Rome, including Alighiero Boetti, Joseph Beuys, Gilbert & George, Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, Francesco Clemente, Cesare Tacchi, Jannis Kounellis, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Vettor Pisani and many othersi.

Lisetta Carmi
Born in Genoa in 1924 to a bourgeois family of Jewish origin, in 1960 Lisetta Carmi abandoned a career as a pianist to work with photography, seeing it as a tool of political engagement and a way to conduct in-depth existential research through perspectives on others. After initial experience at Teatro Duse, in the 1960s and 1970s she produced photographic reports of documentation and social protest, including coverage of the difficult working conditions of the longshoremen of Genoa. She has created photographic narratives that stand out for an ability to get beyond currently accepted viewpoints and to grasp the inner lives of people with particular intensity and drama. From 1958 to 1967 she repeatedly visited Israel, to gain a better understanding of the meaning of belonging to the Jewish people, and in the 1970s she traveled extensively in Afghanistan and India, countries in which she discovered a vision of life more in tune with her own feelings. Her periods in the Orient culminated in the encounter with the Hindu guru Babaji, leading to a second turning point in her life. At Cisternino, in Apulia, she founded an ashram to spread the teachers of the guru and to focus on the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

Marialba Russo
Marialba Russo, born in the province of Naples in 1947, has lived in Rome since 1987. She studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples and approached photography towards the end of the 1960s, a medium with which she mainly investigated the religious manifestations and folk celebrations of central and southern Italy. Alongside her personal research, she has worked with Vogue Italia and other Italian and foreign publications. In the years to follow Russo took part in various events and initiatives on photography in Europe and the United States, while continuing to collaborate with several Italian universities, teaching courses in photography. In 1989 the Galleria d'Arte Moderna Giorgio Morandi of Bologna held a retrospective of her work, with a catalogue containing a letter by Alberto Moravia. In the 1990s her research shifted towards more intimate, analytical reflections in which landscape becomes a metaphor of an inner temporality. Her two exhibitions Incantesimo, at the Museum of Photography of Thessaloniki in 2001, and Passi at the Jintai Art Museum of Beijing in 2003, are short sequences offered as previews taken from Incanto, the work on which she concentrated for ten years, from 1990 to 2000.