Letizia Battaglia
Just for Passion, MAXXI

26 January 2017

“Policemen and other photographers gave me dirty looks and didn’t let me onto mafia crime scenes: I wasn’t credible with my blond hair, clogs and flowered skirts.” These are the precise and biting words of Letizia Battaglia (Palermo, 1935), celebrated in these months by the MAXXI museum with an exhibition of over two hundred photographs, along with magazines, publications, films and interviews. Bearing witness to both the crimes of the mafia and the vitality of her native Sicily, Letizia Battaglia, as combative as her name, has been a photojournalist for the newspaper L’Ora in Palermo, a politician, a publisher and a documentary maker, as well as the first European woman to receive, in New York in 1985, the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Grant, an international mark of recognition set up in memory of the Life photographer. The exhibition at the MAXXI presents materials never previously seen and offers a powerful contextualization, in the form of a map of the city of Palermo (showing the sites of mafia attacks and the location of Battaglia’s home), to which a wall covered with front pages from newspapers of the seventies, eighties and nineties, with their sensational headlines so contemptuous of people’s lives, acts as a counterpoint. Battaglia portrays women, children and public figures, as well as the dead, the mad and disfigured bodies, with a gaze that is filled with humanity and wonder. The complexity of her poetics is explored in an installation entitled Anthologia, made up of 120 pictures printed in large format and hung from the museum’s ceiling, which visitors can walk through as if it were a monumental chessboard. Strictly in black and white, the images are suspended in space and time, like the faces that people them, from Giorgio Boris Giuliano to Ninni Cassarà, from the judge Cesare Terranova and the president of the Sicilian Regione Piersanti Mattarella to General Dalla Chiesa, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Letizia Battaglia, with her flowered skirts, has never missed an appointment with history, and today, in her eighties now and notwithstanding the risks documented in the exhibition by a threatening letter full of grammatical mistakes, is still here to tell us the tale.

Letizia Battaglia. Just for Passion
Curated by Paolo Falcone, Margherita Guccione and Bartolomeo Pietromarchi
MAXXI, Rome
November 24, 2016 – April 17, 2017

Letizia Battaglia, L'arresto del feroce boss mafioso Leoluca Bagarella. Palermo, 1980. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Arrest of the ruthless Mafia boss Leoluca Bagarella, Palermo, 1980.

Letizia Battaglia, La conta. Dopo la Processione dei Misteri gli uomini contano i soldi delle offerte, Trapani, 1992. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, The Count. Men counting the offerings after the Procession of the Mysteries, Trapani, 1992.

Letizia Battaglia, I due Cristi, Palermo, 1982. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, The Two Christs, Palermo, 1982.

Letizia Battaglia, Festa del giorno dei morti. I bambini giocano con le armi. Palermo – 1986. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Feast of All Souls’ Day. Children playing with guns, Palermo, 1986.

Letizia Battaglia, La sposa inciampa sul velo, Casa Professa, Palermo, 1980. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, The bride trips over the veil, Casa Professa, Palermo, 1980.

Letizia Battaglia, Geraci Siculo, 1980. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Geraci Siculo, 1980.

Letizia Battaglia, Via Pindemonte, Ospedale Psichiatrico. Palermo, 1983. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Mental Hospital, Via Pindemonte, Palermo, 1983.

Letizia Battaglia, Via Pindemonte, Ospedale Psichiatrico. Palermo, 1983. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Mental Hospital, Via Pindemonte, Palermo, 1983.

Letizia Battaglia, Dacia Maraini, in the editorial office of the newspaper L’Ora n.d. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Dacia Maraini, in the editorial office of the newspaper L’Ora n.d.

Letizia Battaglia, Gae Aulenti, Torino, 2006. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Gae Aulenti, Turin, 2006.

Letizia Battaglia, Franca Rame alla Palazzina Liberty. Milano, 1974. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Franca Rame at the Palazzina Liberty, Milan, 1974.

Letizia Battaglia, Nella spiaggia della Arenella la festa è finita, Palermo, 1986. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, On Arenella Beach the party is over, Palermo, 1986.

Letizia Battaglia, Pier Paolo Pasolini al circolo Turati, 1972. Courtesy: Letizia Battaglia.

Letizia Battaglia, Pier Paolo Pasolini at the Circolo Turati, 1972.


Sara Dolfi Agostini

A curator and journalist, she lives between Italy and the United States, but often changes course to visit museums, biennials and artist’s studios. Specializing in contemporary art and photography, she co-curated the public art project ArtLine Milano and wrote the book Collezionare Fotografia (2010, with Denis Curti). She has been contributing to Il Sole 24 Ore since 2008.


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