The pictorial and visual work of Francesco Zavattari, beginning with his first exhibition in 2002 while still an art student, has neither a political nor, ordinarily, a social objective. This does not mean that the artist is alienated from reality. Quite the opposite. Simply, his artistic interest leans toward the research for Beauty in all its different dimensions and perspectives, expressing it in many ways and forms. Beauty, and not just the canon of beauty, but also the beauty of chaos, the beauty of simple things, the beauty of daily life, emotions, good and evil. It is this contradictory duality (only apparent) that moves his sensitivity, creativity and expression.
The exception may lie precisely in My Art is Female, the first series of a project whose intent is to alert consciences and launch new ways to combat violence against women, a challenge set by the Portuguese association for the defence of women’s rights, UMAR (Women Alternative and Response EU) at the beginning of 2015. Both Artist and Association shared the conception of this work. After UMAR developed the activities and the artist created works of art relevant to the subject, a proposition was made to the Museum Quinta de Santiago, a municipal museum of Matosinhos (of which I am coordinator and museologist) to not only host the closing event of the project, but also to present the exhibition My Art is Female. In the first place, I am a woman, female gender, and secondly, I am a coordinator and museologist. While managing and promoting a museum space, the opportunity to present these types of exhibitions, committed to social issues, is undoubtedly an added value to the pursuit of the objectives that a museum strives for namely, to educate the public to influence changes in society and also, to act as a centre for the diffusion of culture which can establish valid foundations for an enlightened and developed society. Clearly it was with great pleasure and a civic sense that we immediately responded to the proposal.
In this exhibition, Francesco illustrates why the female universe and all its complexities are so dear to his heart, so much so as to make him “break" the assumption of never having political and/or social messages in his art. "When I was a child, my father would always tell me that women should not be touched, not even with a flower. This simple but powerful statement was a direct and practical way to allude to the inviolability of the female body. I therefore grew up with the automatic and obvious perception that violence against women is simply inconceivable, both theoretically and practically. Something that categorically should not be done. I may not be the most qualified person to promote this type of work because I have never believed that men and women are equal. I have always believed that women have an advantage over men. However, I am very proud to have my art serve this reality with the hope that it contribute to instilling other antidotes to all kinds of brutality."
The entire series is guided by the evidence of an inner confrontation, of a necessary (r)evolution from both a theoretical point of view and a practical one. In Hidden Bastards, for example, Zavattari represents a multitude of faces, eyes closed. Where are the monsters and who wants to see them? Do we want to face them and make a difference? The chaotic and frenetic composition results in an unacceptable perception of the violence and brutality that women have to deal with. In the work following, there is an encounter with an observer, a challenge: two sides of the same picture, two words: "What do you see? Respect? Violence? Which side are you on?"
Another interesting aspect to take into consideration is Zavattari’s use of colour. For example, Victim and the Beast is one of the most intense paintings of the series, where although chaos and violence are evident, the reference to "red" is rather subtle. Perhaps the greatest violence is that which you do not see...
The two canvases from the Live Performances held in Braga and Porto, bring hope. These compositions are a synthesis of shared ideas and emotions, expressed in real time at a precise moment and place: a key to open minds and refute the preconceived idea that women are inferior to men, and assert that ideas regarding respect and equality have found a safe haven.
The seed has been planted.
Francesco, artist and man aware of the development of society, clearly knew that once he had embarked upon this path, it would be very difficult for him to stop using his "weapons" in this fight.
The next step of the project My Art is Female is the series Skin Edition: Nothing but art and colour on the body of a woman. In this series, Francesco draws on the skin of different women and photographs the final result. Each woman personally autographs her photo. As a “soldier”, a fighter.
For the first of these images, Francesco chose symbolically to paint his own mother’s skin: "My mother’s skin – my mother was the first to teach me the value of a woman’s body – is the simplest and most direct means to express a basic principle that should never be taken for granted: if you hurt a woman, you're nothing but a bastard."
The choice of this technique and support for spreading this specific message is clearly not by coincidence. The skin is the visible part of our body and with our body we can communicate not only with words but also with and even without gestures. Our mouth is the interface of our thoughts. But language needs to be decoded, translated. Drawing, on the other hand, is universal. The figures and objects painted by the artist are an international language which everyone is able to identify and recognize. At the same time, by using the female skin, the message becomes even more powerful: a woman, her body, her skin cannot/should not be the object of brutality. A woman should only be a bearer of beauty, her body being also the bearer of human life.
For the ancients and some native tribes, the art of body painting is a ritual used to reach certain levels of consciousness, a way to get close to the divine, or even a form of healing and protection. In his book Decorated Skin, Karl Gröning tells us that body decoration is perhaps the ultimate form of artistic expression, creating a second skin as "testimony to the society in which we live."
In the drawings and colours decorating the skin of Maria Grazia, Rebecca, Katya, Elisabetta, and other women to follow, lies the message “Nothing but art and colour on the body of a woman”. The battle cry.
Text by Cláudia Almeida – Portuguese Curator and Museologist
Translation by Eleanor Pieruccini