Le Sgarbate [1] – Alternatives to the Medusa

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how to start off for this article, I wasn’t sure how to react: should I talk about the statue by giving just my personal advice on that? Way too simple and shallow: not my cup of tea. Nothing more to say. Then, I just remembered we’re in LCDV and we know how we play in here. So the games shall start.

I refer to the post written by Jinny Dalloway on Facebook, in which all the criticisms addressed to Garbati’s sculpture transpire. I’ll assign a female artist (feminist in their way of talking and/or their aims), either from the past or from the present, to each one of it. Let’s go!

la camera di valentina
Medusa, 2008, Luciano Garbati

We got a situation here: the male gaze: standard and female body’s eroticization

How many women can identify themselves on that Medusa? It’s not even Garbati’s fault, I wasn’t expecting anything less from a male artist (we’ve recently took part at Scompost3 as a response to Verona Festival, what are we talking about?); if there’s something to blame him for, it’s to parasitize a movement on a 2008 statue, made up from an obvious trend. But after all, we knew what to expect from that: a body shaped to please male’s gaze. I know, right?! Prosperous breasts, tonic body, inexpressive face. A top model.

Alternative: Ana Mendieta (1948 – 1985)

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Glass on Body Imprints, 1972, Ana Mendieta

I have so many links to make with this one that I’m sure you all probably would be glued to the screen for hours; I’ll leave you some footnotes [2] to give you a hint. For now I’m gonna show you a less important work, among her artworks, yet quite relevant for this matter: “Glass on Body Imprints” (1972): this photographic series portrays a naked Mendieta, whose face and body are squashed against a glass wall. From her facial details to her entire body shape, these pictures show us how our perception of the human body, especially the woman’s, is just a sum of a social construct, and it takes very little to twist those features.

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Glass on Body Imprints, 1972, Ana Mendieta

Another alternative: Camille Claudel (1864 – 1943)

Camille Claudel was Auguste Rodin’s lover. Or, if you prefer, Paul Claudel’s sister. She’s always been the reflection of a more renowned man. Actually she was an interesting and very talented sculptress with a quite clear sensibility. She could also tell us something about an inclusive, off the charts representation of the human body. Her artworks are characterized by decline and emotional transfiguration; her personal experiences shaped her sculptures and there wasn’t any room for superficial appearences, but only for pathos.

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The Waltz, 1889, Camille Claudel

So now the question is: how could a statue of a flawless, perfect body represent a movement deeply rooted in the same criticism against the patriarchal society, which has full, dictatorial control on that body’s life and death?

We got a situation here: the downside is not a solution

So, through mythology we surely know that Perseus cut off Gorgon Medusa’s head, snake-haired, with prefitying eyes, not a very pleasing-people girl; I mean, actually she’s a rape victim who rebels against it; no, I mean, actually – well, the point is, when a figure becomes archetypical, it becomes suitable whatever the need is.

This time, too, I’ll refer to another post, this one here, which sums up clearly why this sculpture cannot be representatitive of any retaliatory movement from victims who have suffered gender violence, from the #MeToo movement to many more: if you want to end violence, you can’t just fight back with violence. If Perseus cutting Medusa’s head is violent, why Medusa’s revenge on Perseo should be less violent? And let’s be clear, we’re not talking about not fighting fire with fire, but it’s all about representations and symbologies: the solution is not pinkwashed machismo.

Alternative: Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1652)

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Judith and Olophernes, 1620, Artemisia Gentileschi

Be quiet kids, I feel you’re staring at me in slack-jawed amazement, ready to respond: wait a minute, we just said “no violence” and Artemisia Gentileschi comes out outta nowhere, I mean, the one from “ Judith beheading Holofernes” or the “Giaele and Sisera” one?! Whaa-?!

Before getting to the point, there’s a little digression thereon: there’s a neat distinction which helps avoiding comparisons of Artemisia Gentileschi’s violence and Garbati’s: witnessing. Artemisia Gentileschi should have been proudly known for her great talent and her artworks themselves only, but instead we also know the terrible events she experienced as a rape victim; we know those unfortunate events also because Agostino Tassi’s trial – her abuser – passed into history.

Throughout the self-representation that becomes an allegory of her self resistance – and here we can definitely talk about cathartic symbology – Artemisia Gentileschi told her story in the most personal and artistically suitable way.

Hence, what we could do is to make distinctions and learn something useful to apply to our everyday’s life: if a survivor tells us their story, we must apply some context and learn to listen carefully. Simple as that.

So, now that it’s clear, we shall now pass to another perspective: far beyond the “oh poor little girl, how brave” reading, there’s another way to represent it in a feminist way, that goes beyond accusation and payback: complicity between women.

All Artemisia Gentileschi’s tragical, violent artworks represent this self-portrait heroine complemented by an accomplice and loyal female fellow. The rape was probably at the turning point, because her friend was accused to be Tassi’s co-conspirator, and Artemisia possibly never healed from that betrayal.

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Artemisia and Abra with the head of Olophernes, 1616-17, Artemisia Gentileschi

Another alternative: Kathe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945)

Kollwitz was an artist with a full past: she’d been through WWI, Weimar’s Republic, and WWII. Engaged to social visionary, she was a paintress, graphic and sculptress. Her most famous artworks mostly portrayed the working class, the farmers and basically all those non-productive people in the country who still had to be lawfully protected (oh… my bad: that’s a whole different story).

From tragic event that occurred in her personal life a series of heartbreaking screenprintings and sculptures took life: his son fell down on a battlefield.

Many subjects, even prophesied, like “la Pietà” and Virgin Mary with the Baby were deeply iconic, especially for the women waiting for their husbands and sons to come back from the war front. But Kollwitz, too, like Gentileschi, didn’t spare that particular and important dynamic: solidarity and togetherness among women. I’ll leave here this artwork for you; nothing more to be said, since it speaks for itself.

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Tower of Mother, 1937/38, Kathe Kollwitz

So now the question is: if an artwork is supposed to become the emblem of a choral movement based on togetherness, why isn’t it able to differ from the egoic storytelling of the chosen, lonely and violent hero? “It doesn’t seem like there was” “neither at least” one good representation of the #MeToo movement nor, more generally speaking, a surviror who claimed «I’m alright, I got this, I’ll do it myself». Together we can go ahead, we can give support to others and eventually echo these voices, that way too many times have been silent ones.

But see, Gea, you realized we’re talking about all these female artists… who basically are… already dead. Well, you know, it’s not that we almighty Gian People[3] don’t like to have women representing us, on the contrary, we would really like to! We have mothers, sisters, even lots of female friends, but as you may see, there’s no female artist alive left today.

I’m gonna leave you a list of active artists on Instagram, their works are as surprising as their engagement in sensitive issues such as genre violence. The list is very short and approximate, though; I’ve been following lot’s or artists who are dealing with feminist issues, but the majority of their artworks are mostly graphical and erotic.

So I told myself: “I wonder if a list like the ones from 100esperte.it exists, only for sculptress”, it fits like a glove. So, yeah, what else can I say? There you are: a list of sculptresses, from the past to our days, with name, last name, birth year and nationality.

Wikipedia, bro. Last resort of knowledge. Just sayin’.

So let’s discuss what’s wrong with this flipped Medusa by Luciano Garbati: it’s too well-mannered. It’s so an erotic fantasy that in 2008 nobody paid attention to that, now in 2020 parasitizing for the #MeToo movement in New York (not) to wear the engagement clothing, there it is. But she’s a pleasant and beautiful woman, a bit pissed but it’s okay, she shuts her mouth, the right woman at the right moment: placed when it’s more convenient.

So the roundup of the previous Sgarbate is just to suggest our next themes, our next perspectives, our next storytellings; to prove there has been female artists who managed to give voice to female related issues, from the most sentimental to the most tragical, to the most engaged ones. It’s just you guys don’t want to see, neither consult, nor discover. That’s just it.

This roundup here instead is of female artists found on Instagram, some of them italians, coming from all around the globe:


Do you know some other sgarbate? Write them down below on the comment section, we’re gonna update the list.

translation by: Francesca Paola Plicato

Notes for the english version:
[1] Sgarbate: “sgarbato” means “rude”, “mean person”, opposite to “garbato” (well-mannered); it’s used as a pun (since we’re talking about Garbati) to oppose the positive adjective with the negative one, describing people off the grid.
[2] Ana Mendieta was a body artist and charming performer. With her strong, feminist art she wanted to make a connection with Mother Earth, seen not only as pure energy, but also with Cuba, her mother land. Her most important performances are the so called “silouetas”, silouettes of her own body carved on the ground, or they were set them on fire, or even smothered in mud. She married to Carl Andre, minimalist sculptor. The night Ana Mendieta died, falling from a balcony, someone witnessed a fight between the husband and the wife. Andre was at first charged with murder, but he was released for lack of evidence. Ana Mendieta’s death wasn’t forgotten, though, from her feminist companions who continued protesting against the art system, all together shouting “WHERE IS ANA MENDIETA?”
[3] Giantizio – Gian Person: it’s an invented name, but in social environment it’s a nickname to describe the white, straight, cisgender, privileged, sexist, mansplainer man.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Tiziana Agnati, Art Dossier n° 172, 2001, Giunti Edizioni
Feminist Art, Valentina Grande, Eva Rossetti, 2020, Centauria Edizioni
Camille Claudel From Self- Image to Self Destruction, Anna Tahinci
Ana Mendieta, Sophie Curan

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