Anna Maria Maiolino. Photograph: Lorenzo Palmieri

She has fought oppression for 60 years with clay, scissors and eggs; Anna Maria Maiolino brings sensuality to politics and politics to art.

The 1960s were a time of sexual and political fervour, even more so in authoritarian Latin America.

During this era of heightened social consciousness the Italian-Brazilian artist established herself as part of the emerging avant garde.

Anna Maria Maiolino, In-Out (Antropofagia), from the series Fotopoemação, 1973/74–2000.
Photograph: Max Nauenberg / courtesy the artist and Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan

The retrospective of the artist currently on at the Whitechapel Gallery covers successive phases in Maiolino’s oeuvre, from her resistance-themed art of the 1960s and 1970s, through to her more personal work that has developed since the 1990s.

Maiolino has operated in an unusually wide range of media, from poetry, film, performance art and photography to sculpture, drawings and prints.

Across this broad spectrum imagery reappears in different guises: metaphors of violence and violation are intertwined with organic imagery of continuity, completeness and harmony.

The result is a politics of the body shot through with references to the sort of severe political repression alien to most feminists in the global North.

For in subverting Brazilian patriarchal conceptions of femininity, Maiolino was also challenging an entire regime.

She reclaims for art simple materials such as unfired clay which she transforms into a variety of visceral shapes evoking chains, organs, and excreta.

Anna Maria Maiolino, Entrevidas, from the series Fotopoemação, 1981/2010.
Photograph: Henri Virgil Stahl / courtesy the artist, Private Collection, Monza and Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milano

Eggs reappear as an organic, quintessentially female motif laden with meaning, in her words “the beginning/end/beginning, in itself”.

The egg is also, of course, a symbol of creativity, and in all her work, Maiolino appears to be asserting her privileged role as a creator.

She sums up her own role thus: “I am she with whom silence speaks She who tries to grasp the diminishing reality and multiplies it to infinity”.

Anna Maria Maiolino: Making Love Revolutionary runs until 12 January 2020 at Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX.

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