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Marina Sagona

Elena del Drago –  from La Stampa, October 24, 2016

For her solo show in Rome, Marina Sagona extends a series of reflections begun months ago in her New York show. There, Sagona chose to put faces onto the Dantesque female universe, which, however famed and celebrated it may be, lacks a well defined iconography. “I chose this theme,” says Sagona, who has lived in New York for many years, “because it offered me absolute freedom, precisely due to the lack of pre-existing imagery. I was also interested in understanding where these women would be today. Dido doesn’t honor her husband’s memory enough, and for this she’s sent to Inferno? It felt so unjust! Dante may well have had the right to be a misogynist in the 1300s, but it was from this premise that the reversal at the core of this show was born.”

Indeed, in the Nuova Pesa show space, a legendary gallery on the Rome art scene, a series of portraits of unspecified females greets us: pastels of whites and blacks, or whites and blues in which faces are hinted at. The reversal of roles begins, the posthumous vindication exacted by the artist who finally chooses to place the countless Beatrices in Inferno, with their innocence and unpreparedness, while the Harpies go straight to Paradiso.

This show represents a deepening of Sagona’s inquiry into the female image in both private and public spheres that she has been carrying for some time. In her Palermo show, Punti Fermi, she chose to represent women who had played important roles in her life. “From my mother to Natalia Ginzburg, from my grandmother to numerous fictional heroines, I portrayed real and imaginary women who had left a mark on me.” An inquiry into the self that the artist acknowledges: “There’s a clear autobiographical intent in all my work on the female, triggered, no less, by the birth of my daughter and the desire to scrutinize my relationship with the most important ‘woman’ in my life.” The choice to abandon her successful career as an illustrator and to embark on more personal work is also connected to the birth of Sagona’s daughter. “I went to New York twenty-one years ago and I started doing illustrations for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Italian papers like La Stampa. At the same time, though, I was working more intimate pieces. I had to stop after my daughter was born and, in her early years, had some health issues. I was somehow obliged—it was very traumatic at the time—to concentrate on projects that were slower to come to fruition, that came from a deeper source.”

Women are the protagonists, though not in a overdetermined way, even in the conclusive and exhibitory phase of the show: an Eden of gilded objects, among them a PC, gloves, a mobile phone, an apple, and even a plate of pasta. Amidst all of these objects are portraits of female figures with their heads covered in black. A Paradiso in reverse where, despite the gilded mantle that covers everything, there is no imagery of happiness.

“Eden came out of my reflections on women. I finally came to the idea of a world turned upside-down, an ‘earthly paradox’ instead of an ‘earthly paradise’: everything is there, and it all seems nearly normal, but there is something missing. I worked with found objects that I’ve been collecting for years, often from flea markets. I contemplated them and recomposed them. They are objects that attracted me for a variety of reasons, which I then recomposed and assembled. So, they’re made of iron, ceramic, wood, but they’re all covered in gold, and, like a Midas’ touch, it creates a sense of opulence. But in the midst of all this wealth, the impression of a great sadness remains.”

In this investigation into the female one cannot avoid thinking of the great artist-shamans who, with different instruments, have conducted similar inquiries, beginning with the great Louise Bourgeois, an artist whom, not coincidentally, Sagona ruminates on often.

“Louise Bourgeois disturbed me profoundly with her works on mothers and fathers; she quite simply revolutionized art. Her figures, and her truncated bodies, really effected me. I’d go so far as to say they pursued me, they wouldn’t leave me in peace. After one of her shows I had a dream that, unfortunately, I can’t manage to forget!”

Bourgeois’ discourse on the female is direct and terribly profound. It is fascinating no less for the complete absence of feminist ideology. Apropos of feminism, Marina Sagona cites another looming female presence in the world of art. “I find myself agreeing with Marina Abramovic. When they told her that feminists would be opposed to her choice to undergo breast surgery, she replied something like, ‘I am not a feminist, I am only an artist.’ We’re thankful, naturally, to feminists for having given us the possibility and the luxury of not having to be feminists anymore.”

(Translation by Michael Reynolds)