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The artist Giusy Calia tells us about her creative work and about what ispired her. In particular, she got her inspiration from the woman’s figure and from deviant behaviours: thanks to her interest in total institutions such as women’s asylums, Giusy had the chance to meet Alda Merini and they exchanged views on her experience and vision of motherhood.

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GIUSI: «I was thinking about something, about the word Lunàdigas, which reminds me…
Since I often dealt with mental hospitals, about the tripartition of mental institutions: agitated women, dirty women and quiet women, right?
Strangely enough there isn’t a fourth pavilion, is there?
For Lunàdigas.
Because I can feel it as an important restriction for women, seeing her as a childless person, because we actually have kids all the time.
They’re not our biological kids, but they can be children of the soul.
And our works are also somehow our children, in fact, some say… we discussed this with my my artist friends, letting go of the children into the world is difficult.
Sometimes… sinceI feel them deeply mine, my creations, that is, things we have given birth to, in every sense.
Clearly not having children is a different thing, and it’s hard to let them go.
For a long time I dealta with the figure of Ophelia, with Ophelia committing suicide by drowning.
In the end, instead of depicting her as Millais, you know, Ophelia portrayed many times, river, bed of flowers and she laying down in this womb.
Eventually, I tried to represent her as if she were in a womb and giving birth to herself.
So I made some… Let’s say some videos and underwater shooting where there was a cord and this woman somehow giving birth to herself.
Well, I’ve always wondered whether I wished to have children… How do I deal with the desire to have children?
And I didn’t feel it as a natural instinct, I didn’t feel like doing it, maybe because I took care of others.
There are also parental children, and I think I was a parent-daughter, I felt a lot my mom as my daughter, for some years, especially in some crucial years of our lives, where I took care of her in a way… Let’s say…totally.
Like having a baby.
And I think that when a child takes on this role I believe it’s hard to have your own children, because somehow we had them and this somehow turned reality upside down, you know, and also everyday life.
And then over time anyway I had this instinct at first with some people, with my students, with one in particular, I felt like a mother.
It was an important transfer as for the first time I felt motherhood.
It’s been really strong. Boom!
And it was great because I truly felt I could transmit in this relationship, in this dialogical relationship, in this beautiful you and me, a communion, a nourishment, all my affection and all my… Let’s just say my nourishing opportunity.
It was… beautiful.
I believe that this is a complex matter, it’s an extremely complex matter.
I also felt my father’s pressure, asking me occasionally about a grandchild, and his turning to his grandchildren, who could give birth.
So I also felt this, feeling this shadow over me, and my father who relied on being a “made up” grandad for his grandchildren.
It was weird, as somehow you feel like something’s missing.
But if you stay true to yourself, and to your true nature you can’t feel so disconnected from yourself, can you?
But you feel that society sees you as something that is missing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about asylums, also because I met Alda Merini, and I could do my second thesis with her.
I mean we put our heads together, she helped me a lot.
She used to tell me about being a mother.
It was something she experienced with great pain, as her children were taken away from her.
And in this never-ending getting in and out of the asylum, her husband would get her pregnant as soon as she got out, then she would go back to the asylum.
There was this kind of wavy motion, and she felt absolutely frustrated to bring children into this world that would then be taken away from her.
But somehow she always felt mother to her daughters with a very visceral bond, as something inside will always connect a mother to her children.
Yet, she also felt like a child of the asylum.
Hence, in this important dichotomy, feeling torn, too, her guts being torn, her daughters taken to other families, so she also wrote important journals about being ripped apart from her daughters.
She said the asylum generated real monsters.
It generated pigeonholed monsters.
There were women who had given birth and killed their children too.
There were women who had hysterical pregnancies.
There were women who very often had dolls as substitutes of their own children.
She wondered about the possibilities offered by nature.
Being there herself she was not surprised, but she said she wanted to sing what women told, which is women’s voice of the silence, because it is a voice that clearly history has kept quiet for years and centuries and millennia.
And clearly a woman who has no children is a woman out from the crowd.
Even today, they look at you sideways: “How come you don’t have children?”
“Is something wrong with you?”
There’s this idea of how normal or not is not having children.
Or they look at you with compassion, “You don’t know what you are missing”.
Without ever asking a person, what do you really want?
Who are you?
Well, society never really asks this question.
About who you truly are.
This topic which has been debated by the great philosophers but never put into practice: Lévinas and the theory of the face.
The face that looks at us and that affects us, I find it very intriguing, that’s why I make so many irises, because I like the look of the other.
Through the other’s gaze, I recognise myself, and if the look gives back a distorting image, I wonder, what do I recognise about myself?
What does this gaze say to me?
That I am not a woman because I have no children?
That I am not a woman because I live a life not totally accepted?
Or maybe that I am a person who came into the world anyway to transform the traditional idea of society, right?
Bringing a new voice, although I still feel the uneasiness of the gaze that deforms everything.
This is something that really, really hurts me.
And it’s the same look that someone well-known as Alda Merini can feel, who always felt “crazy” and told me, “I really liked this definition. Do you know why I was in an asylum?
Because it spared me from the madness of people outside.”
It was beautiful, because it can be a rhetorical thing, but I do understand her.
Because when you’re in a borderline situation, in these total institutions that are created to enclose diversity…
And these total institutions are still there today, they are people’s minds.
The other’s gaze can really hurt so very much, and it can kill, too.»

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