Matera Imagined/Matera Immaginata: Photography and a Southern Italian Town

Matera Imagined Matera Immaginata - Fosco Maraini
Fosco Maraini, Ragazzi di Matera, ca. 1950 (printed 2017), gelatin silver print, 30 x 40 cm

The Academy’s fall 2017 exhibition, Matera Imagined / Matera Immaginata: Photography and a Southern Italian Town, travels to Matera, located in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. On view at the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna, Palazzo Lanfranchi from December 7, 2017, through February 4, 2018, the exhibition charts through photography Matera’s transformation from a symbol of southern Italian backwardness, in the 1940s, to a model of authenticity that has been selected as a European Capital of Culture for 2019. Featuring work by such luminary artists as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Esther Bubley, and Carrie Mae Weems, the show highlights for the first time Matera’s constant allure for photographers from around the globe, as well as their pivotal role in framing perceptions of the city in the modern imagination.

While on view at the American Academy in Rome, the show drew audiences from across the Italian capital. Students from Italian high schools, universities, and graduate programs, as well as American students from Rome’s finest study abroad programs in architecture, urbanism, art history, and studio art visited the exhibition and discussed its many lessons about photography and social activism, economic development, conceptual art, and changing notions of “progress.”

Three collateral events brought new and different audiences to the Academy. At the exhibition’s inauguration, standing room only crowds welcomed renowned Italian writer Dacia Maraini—daughter of ethnographer and photographer Fosco Maraini, whose work is featured in the show. Seated before the audience as if in a fireside chat, Maraini described Matera’s magnetism for generations of artists, from Pierpaolo Pasolini to Luigi Ghirri, as an ineffable mixture of humanity and habitation, which she termed “flesh and stone.” The celebrated American photographer Emmet Gowin gave a lecture describing his experience of Matera, which he visited in the early 1980s, within the arc of his life and career taking photographs. Listeners hung on his every word as he recounted with profound intimacy and heartfelt sincerity his constant fascination with the world, from family members to landscapes to moths, through the camera. Mario Cresci, one of Italy’s most important contemporary artists, recounted to a largely Italian audience the some twenty years he lived and worked in Matera in the 1970s and ’80s. A native of Chiavari, near Genoa, Cresci worked with local artisans, farmers, and students to generate new approaches to graphic and industrial design through photography. His experience of the South transformed his vision of art and entrepreneurship when he later returned to northern Italy, where he currently directs the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Bergamo.

The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by Fondazione Matera Basilicata 2019.

The exhibition was curated by Lindsay Harris, Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the Humanities at the American Academy in Rome.

All three lectures held in conjunction with Matera Imagined can be watched at

Additional support provided by Richard Baron and Adi Shamir Baron.

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