On the contrary of what we have been brought to believe, today we know that some professions are not only for men. In the history of art, for example, many women have undeservedly been relegated to the margins of visibility despite their great skills, merely as a cause of the clichés brought forth in time. In the Medieval period some women even dressed as men so they could be accepted in the studios of great masters; such is the case of Marietta Tintoretto, encouraged by her father to pursue her talent. Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman to be accepted in the European Accademy of Design of Florence in 1616, Proporzia de’ Rossi and Elisabetta Siriani are unfortunately only a few other famous names that come to mind if we think of female artists of the past.
Not merely models and muses, women have always nurtured arts and crafts with strength and talent, even though historical and social conditions have never consented their ascent or to be remembered as equals in respect to their male colleagues. The twentieth century has fortunately shown signs of a timid change of direction, gifting us with artists of the caliber of Frida Kahlo and Tamara de Lempicka; nonetheless we’ve had to wait until the 21st century to finally see the female gender express itself with more freedom, possibilities and due recognition. Proof of this has been the recent and suffered salute the world has given to Zaha Hadid, world famous architect and first woman to ever win, in 2004, the Pritzker Price; author, among other many buildings, of the Maxxi in Rome as well as of a lamp (Genesy) created for Artemide and present at the W. Women in Italian Design exhibition.
On the occasion of the XXI Triennale, the ninth edition of Design Museum gave homage to the precious contribution of the female genre to design, putting on display the most innovative and inadequately valued pieces. Women in this field have, in fact, had to face similar difficulties as those in the arts; seldom taken into account and for the most part ignored together with their interesting design projects.
An analysis and food for thought that touched various interconnected themes, the dynamic and suggestive exhibition was powered by the numerous pieces on show at the museum. Curated by Silvana Annicchiarico with a set-up by Margherita Palli, W. Women in Italian Design turned the spotlights on the female protagonists of creativity, presenting them in chronological order up until the present, finally putting things in the right place before setting eyes on the future.
In order to talk about “Design after Design” it was necessary to first clear up the past, shedding light on around 600 artifacts by 350 different female artists, often left in the shadows. Opening the show was an intricate net of works, all “intertwined” – it is the case to say – one with the other: the subject of the section was in fact weaving, symbol of the matriarchal universe par excellence, as many mythological figures narrate.
Fabric, embroideries and curtains homaged the work of the many female Italian factory workers and artisans (for example Aemilia Ars) that helped Italy distinguish itself from the rest of the world for quality, competence and tradition. Continuing in the exhibition were furniture, decorations and objects of various nature and functions which accompanied the visitor in a journey through time not devoid of surprises.
The path then led to curtains with representations of ten saints, protectors of the same number of manual activities, rigorously drawn by talented Italian female illustrators. To these went the task of introducing the originality and genius of some of the most innovative minds in the history of the last century, among which Maria Montessori (with her “Box of Geometric Solids”) and Luisa Spagnoli, the mind behind the Bacio Perugina. Irony, references to the world of fairytales and fantasy abounded, all to astound and reassess design in a deservedly more feminine perspective.