In 1970, Carla Lonzi gave up her career as an art critic to dedicate her entire time to feminism. It was a life project. Among other women, she founded the group Rivolta Femminile and posted up a manifesto on the walls of Rome. Shortly after, she created the publishing house Scritti di Rivolta Femminile, trough which many influential books saw the daylight.

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Books by Carla Lonzi

A former communist, Carla Lonzi (1931-1982) became the “most important feminist of her generation in Italy”, say the curators of an exhibition in Lisbon where her ideas are now recalled.

“Suite Rivolta – Carla Lonzi’s feminism and the art of revolt” is a collective exhibition curated by Anna Daneri and Giovanna Zapperi, organized by DocLisboa film festival. It opened October 2015 and it has been extended until January 31 in Museu da Electricidade.

“The exhibition investigates the possibility of rethinking the 1970s radical feminism within a contemporary political and artistic framework”, the organizers inform. “Lonzi’s ideas about creativity, sexuality and politics strongly resonate with some of the most urgent issues in art and feminism today”, they add.

Persona Grata asked Anna Daneri e Giovanna Zapperi what kind of works can be found in the exhibition and why is Carla Lonzi legacy so important today. Giovanna is a professor of Art History and Theory, Anna is the co-founder of Peep-Hole, an independent art space based in Milan. The curators answered by email.

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The exhibition is described as one that rethinks the legacy of Carla Lonzi. What legacy is that?
Carla Lonzi is perhaps the most important feminist of her generation in Italy. She was also an art critic who decided to abandon the art world in 1970 in order to embrace feminism via the collective experience of Rivolta Femminile, a feminist separatist group whose activity was based on autocoscienza (consciousness-raising). Lonzi’s writings are among the most important documents of Italian feminism, but they also represent feminist experiments with writing, creativity and knowledge production, in which she reinvents a number of traditionally ‘minor’ forms of expression such as the private journal, the conversation, or the manifesto. Moreover, Lonzi’s program of de-culturation chronicles a search for female autonomy that challenges any inclusive ambition to be part of an already written history. Her withdrawal from art must therefore be understood in political terms: as a collective transformative process in which new subjectivities can emerge.

Artists Cabello/Carceller: Suite Rivolta. An Aesthetic Proposal for Action“, 2011, HD Video, colour, sound, 13’ (image: Elba Benítez Gallery, Madrid)

What kind of objects can we see in this exhibition?
Every artists we invited have one work in the exhibition, except Suzanne Santoro who will show both a sculpture and two artist’s books from the ‘70s.  There are 8 works in total, all closely linked to Carla Lonzi’s theories and writings: two videos differently displayed, one by Cabello/Carceller, that gives the title to the show Suite Rivolta, and one by Valentina Miorandi. Then sculptures, as we were saying, also by Claire Fontaine, that refer directly to books by Carla Lonzi giving form to her call to action. One site-specific installation by Silvia Giambrone will dialogue directly with the space, it’s actually a wall text. And one audio work, edited for the occasion by Chiara Fumai from a performance she first conceived for dOCUMENTA 13. In the show there will be also a selection of books by Carla Lonzi and Rivolta Femminile and some photos documenting the collective.

How is sexuality explored by the works you mentioned?
Some of the works in the show refer to Lonzi’s ideas about sexuality. Suzanne Santoro’s works in the exhibition were created in the early 1970s in dialogue with Lonzi’s ideas about sexuality and woman’s sexual autonomy. Santoro’s works explore the representation of the female sex from a feminist perspective and interrogates its erasure from cultural representation. Valentina Miorandi’s  “Moments of pleasure” is in turn based on Lonzi’s “The clitoral woman and the vaginal woman” (1971), a call for woman’s sexual autonomy in which Lonzi describes, among other things, the anatomical functioning of the female (and male) orgasm.

Since the so-called second wave of feminism had an important role in the creation of the LGBT movement, I would like to know if is there a lesbian point of view in this exhibition?
Carla Lonzi invented a figure called “the clitoral woman” (as opposed to the “vaginal woman”) which condensates the idea of woman’s sexual autonomy and pleasure as the basis for liberation. The clitoral woman is not necessarily a lesbian, however she embodies the possibility to abandon patriarchal sexuality and, therefore,  heteronormativity. The clitoral woman is the woman who refuses to identify with the subordinate roles that construct femininity in a patriarchal culture. The exhibition presents works by artists such as Cabello/Carceller who actively engage in queer politics and find inspiration in Lonzi’s feminist ideas and gestures of revolt against patriarchal sexuality.

Bruno Horta