Transparent worlds, murky words

Carol Rama's art

Carol Rama’s art

My sweetheart and I started a new tradition during our travels by taking in the work of local artists.

A few years ago, our Turkish friends urged us to visit the Istanbul Modern, where we saw splendid work of regional artists few have seen outside Turkey.

In December, we continued our tradition by visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona.

A mishmash of art forms permeated the museum, where we saw the architecture of Oskar Hansen, word-art by Philippe Meaille and photographs by Sigalit Landau.

And then we confronted portraits of lopped limbs and snakes emerging from vaginas courtesy of Italian-born artist Carol Rama.

Rooms and rooms were devoted to Rama, who has been painting, drawing and mixing media for decades (she is 96).

Many of her renderings seem uncomfortably erotic as if she enjoys but hates coitus.

Some of her work embeds toy-doll eyes into the canvas while other works hoist old bicycle tires across penis-shaped hangers.

But what I remember more than the art are the words used to describe her art. Rama inspired American artists Cindy Sherman and Sue Williams, according to the notes that welcome visitors to the Museum.

Mostly the words are impenetrable, locked within some sort of artistic language few can fathom.

“Carol Rama—never academically trained or explicitly faithful to any particular movement—developed a body of work over seven decades that is as unique as it is obsessive. The artist experimented with alternative materials, developing techniques for inventing new bodies and elaborating cartographies of dissident desire.”

Not sure what “elaborating cartographies” means—expounding on map-making?

The notes continue:

“Ignored for decades by official history of art discourses…the work of Carol Rama distorts the dominant history of twentieth century art and returns today like a phantom limp to interpolate our gaze and provoke alternative narratives. Divided into four thematic sections, the exhibition proposed a guide through the artist’s various creative moments.”

Sounds like the writer freshly emerged from a critical theory course and brushed by Louis Althusser’s concept of interpellation.

And phantom limp?

My sweetheart thinks the writer meant phantom limb.

So the sentence means that Rama’s work is like a phantom limb (a false or missing limb) that extracts ideological meanings from our gaze (our viewing) interpreting ourselves as subjects of the ideological undertaking (interpellation).

My expectation is that the descriptions of the artwork would help me better understand Rama’s work.

Instead, the writing confuses me even more with odd metaphors and twisted meanings.

Notes from The Passion According to Carol Rama at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (December 2014)

Photo from Amazon of the book Carol Rama (1999) by Maria Cristina Mundici, Corrado Levi, Carol Rama, Rudi Fuchs and Paolo Fossati



About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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