With works of 127 international artists and a plethora of topics presented over 2,000 sq. meters, The Great Mother is the epitome of the celebration of what it means to be a woman. According to Fondazione Trussardi, the exhibition “analyzes the iconography of motherhood in the art and visual culture,” from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, early avant-garde movements to the present.
Each room of the Palazzo Reale’s majestic walls allowed for the progression towards the realization of a new awareness. The exhibition began with a selection of pieces from photographer Gertrude Käsebler. Käsebler’s influence began at the beginning of the 20th century as the first woman photographer to build a commercial career even when society frowned upon her doing so.
Käsebler portrayed motherhood as divine, synonymous with the heavenly bond between mother and child. In Adoration (1897), Käsebler attempts to recreate the Virgin Mary with Child in Christian iconography. This is the power of communication through visual language.
Showcasing feminism in Italy in a new light, performance artist Ana Mendieta envisioned the connection between the earth and the female body as sources of life and symbols of fertility. In Silueta (1973-1980) Mendieta used her own body to shape spaces in the natural environment portraying the tension between motherhood and motherland. “I have thrown myself into the very elements that produced me”, Mendieta wrote. Her purpose: to liberate herself from her selfhood and identity.
Italian artists Umberto Boccioni and Marisa Mori were key influencers during the Futurist movement. In the piece, Study of the head – The mother (1912), Boccioni presents dynamism of colors with a tension of volumes.
Similarly, Mori developed an aero futurist technique full of emotive visual language seen in The physical inebriation of maternity (1936). The impressive use of warm colors against a cool, blue background provides a celebration of both the female and organic forces rather than artificial.
Moving away from the portrayal of feminine divinity, the exhibition portrayed the themes of intimacy and eroticism in femininity, apparent in the exquisite photographs by renowned twentieth century artist Man Ray. Erotique Voilèe [Erotic Veiled] (1933).
Works by surrealists Salvador Dalì and Frida Kahlo immediately caught my eye based on their palpable techniques. Dalì’s Baby Map of the World (1939) & Kahlo’s The Wonderful Deer (1946) show mesmerizing colors and surrealist depictions of the human condition. Additionally, the synesthetic experience of Nari Ward’s Amazing Grace (1993) showcased a grand room filled with 280 discarded strollers whilst the song “Amazing Grace” played on loud speakers.
I left The Great mother exhibition pondering: What does it mean to be a mother? How does motherhood affect our femininity? Yet, the exhibition truly embraced the female form and showcased the feminine soul.