Despite being little known in contemporary art, Carol Rama’s influence has spread far and wide throughout the erotic art community, producing an obvious growth in illustration, painting and sculpture which depict the human form and sexuality in unusual and abstract ways.
An Italian artist born in 1918 in Turin, it’s surprising for many that the majority of her erotic artwork was made very early on in her career. During a time when sexuality and exploration was repressed, Rama expressed gender, sexuality, taboos and even mental health through her work. Her images depict strange and often mythological beings, snakes, bulging shapes and other things that look like male and female genitalia. But after suffering many traumas throughout her childhood, her images also show a sense of pain and disability, breaking down walls and going against the traditional values of her once upper class background.
After the failure of her father’s business and her mother’s breakdown, she spent a lot of time in mental health institutions around people shunned by normal society, but for her this was liberating! She liked how they weren’t ashamed or conscious of their bodies, about the way they sat or whether their legs were neatly crossed, and to her this inspired a sense of wonder about how the mind can censor our bodies and stop us expressing ourselves fully. Her work soon started being censored as well, with exhibitions being shut down before they’d even opened. But she took this in her stride and propelled her work into something much more elicit, graphic and sculptural. The power of women!
The biggest ever exhibition of her work in the U.S., Antibodies will be on display at the New Museum in New York from May to September, I wish I could visit! I’m so happy to see such a big exhibition, with more than 150 items, honouring her work after her death in 2015. It’s time to celebrate the creative women who have been forcing our gaze towards sexual liberation!