Exhibition: Whore or Saint — On Being a Woman in Italy

Photography: Franziska Gilli
Text: Barbara Bachmann
Exhibition Concept and Design: Lupo Burtscher
Exhibition: 25.5. – 26.6.2021
25.5.2021 open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Franziska Gilli – Waiting for the presentation at the “Miss Italia” casting in Rome.

There are few countries in Europe where such deeply entrenched stereotypes of women are as widespread as in Italy. Young women in skimpy costumes and heavy make-up have been lasciviously dancing their way through the evening TV program for the past 65 years or so, and only rare exceptions among them have not had cosmetic surgery. The mother is an icon yet on average a woman is murdered every three days in this land of cavaliers and charmers, most often by her intimate partner.

Italy is a country where an online newspaper runs the headline: “Topless in front of a state attorney! Carola Rackete’s scandalous shamelessness, which many failed to notice”; and where Matteo Salvini, former Minister of the Interior, twitters: “I am ashamed of this singer comparing women with whores who are raped, kidnapped, and objectified. This is something we do at home, within our own four walls, not on state-funded TV and, moreover, in the name of Italian music.” Extreme right-wing populist politicians like him are increasingly blatant about stirring up hatred of women. That the #metoo debate hasn’t taken off here is therefore no surprise. It seems Italy isn’t ready for that discussion. On the contrary, patriarchal structures were further cemented by it.

Franziska Gilli – Mikaela Neaze Silva, Velina on “Striscia la notizia,” is not allowed to speak in her role, even when spoken to.

The two poles of the narrative predominant for centuries now are worlds apart and yet inextricably linked: the whore and the saint, Maria Magdalena and the Blessed Virgin. It is this narrative which prompted photographer Franziska Gilli and reporter Barbara Bachmann (who are from the Tyrol, Italy’s German-speaking region) to go in search of what it means to be a woman today, in the country they grew up in. After three years of research, they have published their findings with Edition Raetia under the title Hure oder Heilige — Frau sein in Italien (Whore or Saint — On Being a Woman in Italy). Their book is the basis of this exhibition.

Franziska Gilli – A puzzle with the image of Mother Thecla Maria Relucenti, co-founder of the Pious Worker Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and soon to be beatified.

The show counters the extreme stereotypes of whore and saint with images from real life. It also addresses the causes and the consequences of current images of women: the dominance of the Catholic Church, the era of Fascism, and the influence of the entertainment shown on state-funded TV or on the private channels of media cartels such as the Berlusconi family. But there is another Italy, too, one that has been campaigning for decades against these contradictory circumstances: an Italy in which growing numbers of women are breaking the taboo of obstetrical violence, and where there recently emerged one of the most lively and militant feminist movements in Europe, Non una di meno (Not One Woman Less).

With the supporto of: Autonome Provinz Bozen, Stadt Bozen, Stiftung Fondazione Sparkasse, Brigl SpA, Gilli GmbH, Hypo Vorarlberg Leasing AG, E. Innerhofer AG, Niederstätter AG, Rotho Blaas srl, Dr. Sonja Schmidhammer, Schönthaler Bausteinwerk GmbH, Hotel Strasserwirt GmbH, Eisendle GmbH

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