Can students succeed in becoming curators of a stunningly challenging yet eye-opening exhibition? Yes, they can, and it happened when Museo Ferragamo asked some of the most up-and-coming talented pupils from Istituto Marangoni Firenze to be part of their latest exhibition project.
An opportunity to grasp! "A Feminine Lexicon" debuts today as an online exhibition curated by Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli, undergraduate students in Arts Curating in 2021-2022 at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, for Museo Salvatore Ferragamo.
From left to right, Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli
Available at museo.ferragamo.com, our students’ curatorial project took inspiration from "Women in Balance", an exhibition curated by Stefania Ricci and Elvira Valleri that has just opened at the Ferragamo Museum in Palazzo Spini Feroni.
Where "Women in Balance" celebrates the history of Italian women during the economic boom, a historical moment of rapid changes for women’s role in society, "A Feminine Lexicon" continues the conversation of what is considered feminine today through the works of eleven international contemporary artists.
Johanna Torunõ, Sisterhood Over Capitalism, Sisterhood is medicine, 2017, digital poster (Courtesy of the artist)
We sat down with Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli; if you wondered how they managed it all, what challenges they faced and how they represented the changes around female identity over time, we got you covered!
What themes in Women in Balance inspired your curatorial project "A Feminine Lexicon"?
Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli: Two main inspirations come to mind when thinking about "Women in Balance". The first is female identity, as Stefania Ricci and Elvira Valleri’s exhibition focuses on the women’s mutating role and identity during the economic boom in Italy. Of course, the topic is still relevant today, so we felt the urgency to continue this dialogue by talking about female identities and not only women’s identities to be more inclusive. The second one is the tension between how women are represented and their ability to represent themselves, as "Women in the Balance" also showed how they were represented in cinema, advertising, fashion, other professional roles and so on during that period. With "A Feminine Lexicon" we aimed to create a space where feminine artists could express themselves freely, with their own voice and narrative, which was not always possible in the past.
Lebohang Kganye, Still frame from Pied Piper’s Voyage, 2014, animated film, 3’26’’, music by Auntie Flo and Esa Williams (© Lebohang Kganye. Courtesy of the artist)
What were the main challenges you faced during the curatorial process?
PD, ET: Once the concept was created and approved, the most challenging part was translating our ideas into artwork. We ended up selecting eleven international artists from all over the world because we really felt that we had to present a point of view on femininity that was as broad and open as possible. Still, some representations are often excluded even when trying to be inclusive. We are aware of this lack and did our best to preserve "A Feminine Lexicon" as a space of freedom.
Alice Visentin, Interiority, 2020-2021, plaster, oil, enamel on linen canvas on wood form (Photo: Sebatiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy of the artist and Castello di Perno)
What did you get from curating a digital exhibition today?
PD, ET: Curating a digital exhibition involved some challenges, but the positives outweighed the negatives at the end of the day. We experienced it all, from poor Wi-Fi connections to time differences. But as a result, we were able to work with eleven different artists from eleven corners of the world, trying to forge the heterogeneous vision of feminine identity that we were aiming for. Moreover, we had the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from the artists themselves to transcend physical boundaries by recording their voices and getting statements about their works and their opinion on the state of feminine identities today. At the same time, access to these works was also guaranteed. It was a positive experience overall.
From left to right, Haruka Sakaguchi & Griselda San Martin's Anna Weng, Ideal Role: Detective and Anna Weng, Typecast Role: China Doll, 2018, digital photographs (Courtesy of the artist)
What do these eleven artists have in common, and what is their uniqueness then?
PD, ET: Their femininity, of course! This is both what they have in common and what makes them unique. We can see a spectrum of femininity that includes contrasts and similarities. Consider, for example, two of the artists featured in the exhibition: Johanna Toruño and Reba Maybury. On the one hand, Toruño struggled with her own femininity and decided to use traditionally feminine symbols – such as the colour pink and flowers – to create her public poster art, The Unapologetic Street Series, which aims to empower queer people and other discriminated communities. The artist literally demonstrates how powerful flowers are, just like female identities. On the other hand, we have Reba Maybury, dominatrix, writer and artist. Her work is imbued with many of the dynamics and aesthetics of her role as a dominatrix, showing the power imbalance between men and women in a capitalist society. When looking at the different outcomes of their practices, you can see how blurred the boundaries of what is traditionally thought of as feminine are. Yet, both are proudly part of the feminine community.
Reba Maybury, Faster Than An Erection, 2021, detail, Museo per l’Immaginazione Preventiva, MACRO, Rome. Photo: Simon d’Exéa (Courtesy of the artist)
What do you hope people visiting your exhibition will take from their experience?
PD, ET: In the words of one of our participating artists, Stacey Gillian Abe, the show “does not seek to impose or alter other opinions and beliefs, but rather to inform and question the gaps between inequalities and bias.” We hope to have created a space that encourages dialogue and interpretation in a journey based on personal artworks about the pursuit of identity in the female community.
Stacey Gillian Abe, Coming of age, 2021, acrylic on canvas (© Stacey Gillian Abe. Courtesy of the artist and Timothy Gambu)
Undergraduate student in the Arts Curating program, Firenze
"A Feminine Lexicon" is an online exhibition curated by Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli, students of Arts Curating at the Istituto Marangoni Firenze and editor at imfirenzedigest.com magazine, for the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. It is now online at museo.ferragamo.com.