Franca Maranò (1920-2015) was an artist active in Bari since the 1950s. She contributed to bring a lively season of art in the city. In addition to her artistic production, it is fundamental to recognize her precious work with the gallery Centrosei – former known as association Centrosei. Contemporary Art. New Situations - founded by Maranò in 1970, first together with the artists Umberto Baldassarre, Mimmo Conenna, Sergio Da Molin, Michele Depalma and Vitantonio Russo, and later managed under the direction of his partner Nicola De Benedictis - until 1991.

This place was actually much more than a gallery: it was a refined space where it was possible to compare oneself with other artists and to show an artistic experimentation of international breath in a city that, especially in the ‘70s, was perceived as remote from the centres of art. But the public of Bari followed with interest, thanks to the commitment and foresight of the project.

The gallery brought to the city several artists such as Sol Lewit, Mimmo Paladino, Luigi Ontani, Joseph Beuys, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Aldo Spoldi, Claes Oldenburg, Ettore Consolazione, Pietro Coletta, Michele Zaza, Mimmo Conenna, and the younger Giovanni Albanese, Lino Sivilli, Ettore Spalletti, Biagio Caldarelli and many others.

We must remember the collective reviews curated by well-known critics: from Filiberto Menna to Nello Ponente, from Gillo Dorfles to Luigi Lambertini, from Pietro Marino to Enrico Crispolti and Renato Barilli.

Franca Maranò supported numerous personal exhibitions of female artists (among the names): Mirella Bentivoglio, Tomaso Binga, Maria Lai, Lucia Romualdi, Adele Plotkin, Elisa Montessori, Ketty La Rocca, Renata Boero, Ada Costa, Fiorella Rizzo, Simona Weller and Marisa Albanese.

Le premesse fatte furono quelle della non commercializzazione delle opere, la galleria avrebbe avuto scopi culturali e di avanguardia

di tante vite, una - Franca Maranò (2001)

Franca Maranò should be remembered above all for her artistic production and the perseverance with which she made her way to the recognition of her work as an artist who chose to remain based in the south of Italy, which was still strong in a patriarchal culture, and who moves within an art system that was not very accessible to women.

Maranò experimented with different languages and materials, almost as if to support her personality which made identity issues and personal experience urgent (the personal is political!): from painting to sculpture and to performance, the languages and themes often imprinted themselves on the surface or in the dominated material, until they returned dry in abstraction and in the use of colour - see the atonal series "Ricerca di origine" or the color series "Cantastorie".

Franca Maranò in her studio in Bari - photo by Angelo Saponara
Franca Maranò - From the series "I Cantastorie", 1982 -

In the middle of the '70s, with the feminist movement, Franca Maranò feels the need to incorporate reflections and to revise her research: "I felt the need to operate outside the culture of privilege and without references to the codes of the already made, with the traditional pictorial means". Thus a period of production begins linked to the needle, thread and canvas".

This phase, in convergence with other overseas research, led Maranò to interweave this practice with the condition of women and the need to liberate "means and languages from the cultural cages".

Le pieghe e i punti hanno un significato che va oltre il visibile: essi sono espressioni di sentimenti chiusi dalle pieghe tenute ferme dai punti.

di tante vite, una - Franca Maranò (2001)

This is how the series of works "I cuciti" and the "Abiti mentali" were born: it was in the Centrosei gallery in 1979 that Franca decided to present an updated version of the "Abiti mentali", real works to wear. The fabrics are a mixture of linen and hemp, a type of canvas that Maranò herself used when she was a young girl for the sewing lessons from the nuns, an activity that is common to the memories of many women
of the time.

The rectangular and grey space of the ‘medieval canvas’, now cut, was put on the wall and could be worn by sticking one's head into the opening: on the fabric Maranò made folds with large black stitches and then she fixed symmetrical strips of the same canvas painted in red.

Almost constituting a degree zero of the subject, this dress cancels the cultural and social construction of the identity and the feminine. It also becomes an occasion of immediacy with art, in a performance of "dressing" that brings the work and the public back to everyday life.

Franca Maranò, - Abiti mentali, Galleria Centrosei 1979 - Photo Bruno Del Monaco
Franca Maranò - Abiti mentali, 1979 -
Franca Maranò -Le formiche sanno fare di meglio, 1974, performance -

La ricerca di me non finisce mai. Sono una donna senza età.

di tante vite, una - Franca Maranò (2001)

Almost constituting a degree zero of the subject, this dress cancels the cultural and social construction of the identity and the feminine. It also becomes an occasion of immediacy with art, in a performance of "dressing" that brings the work and the public back to everyday life:

In the relentless race to achieve a hedonistic model of life, false systems, conditioning man, have enveloped him in a tangle of artificial links, distancing him from himself and mortifying the natural dynamic impulse in an inert uncritical presence.

Driven to the conquest of everything, greedy in the incessant longing for ever new achievements, reached the limits of knowledge, the man has not been able to find what had instead an immediate reach: self-awareness as a constitutive organic element of equitable contemplation in a socio-moral context that involves the ability to identify with his fellow man.

And so, in order to know more, to have more, to be able to do more, he has become fundamentally unaware, unstable, insecure, miserable, incapable, having neglected and unlearnt the fundamental principle of his human situation, the beauty and pleasure of being and feeling part of a whole, sharers in a great common destiny, in which true happiness consists in working for others and in feeling more useful and more suitable in order to achieve a collective good.

The man, therefore, in the existential anguish of an inevitable confession of incapacity and impotence, despairs of himself and clasps his hands in sign of surrender. He looks at you, on the other hand, the fellow ants, small humble beings, which, in full dedication to the community, in the ordered gregarious organization, in which the one is only as part of the whole, deduce reason for being and qualification of validity only to the extent that they can and know how to cooperate in that development which represents itself and amazes as an exceptional example of evolutionary progress.

Sanno far meglio le formiche

It is important to remember the presence of Franca Maranò inside the volume "Il complesso di Michelangelo" of 1976 published by La Nuova Foglio Editrice, fundamental research on the presences of women in the Italian art of the twentieth century edited by the artist Simona Weller.

The text collects the contribution given by women to the Italian art of the twentieth century, organized in sections (interviews, testimonies, questionnaire) with 270 biographical cards. Weller's invitation dates back to 19th April 1975. Here is a brief excerpt of the interview.

Simona Weller: What do you think about criticism, Italian art, and the women who profess it? Do you follow the work of your Italian colleagues? Which ones do you respect? Have they ever told you that you are as good as a man? And if so, how did you react to this remark?

The question is a bit of a burning one, because women artists in general find themselves, due to an atavistic sense of paternalism and a restrictive spirit, disadvantaged in evaluative judgments compared to men artists. I consider Italian art today to be a bit spoiled by provincialism and marginalism, especially when compared to much broader undertakings conceived and achieved in more favoured nations, even on an economic level.

I also believe that the Italian art would benefit from a greater sense of independence and originality and liberation from a too immediate acquiescence of the most striking themes coming from abroad.

About women who profess art in Italy, I believe they show remarkable courage and self-awareness.

dall’Archivio di Franca Maranò

written by 
Roberta Mansueto
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