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19 November 2005 - 26 February 2006, Heleneum - Lugano

The Enchantment of the Women of the Sea. Fosco Maraini. Photographies. Japan 1954

Maraini’s photographic lens succeeded in capturing an unknown view of Japan in its full vitality. It provides a glimpse of a world that is doomed to disappear.

Also exhibited: 

  • April 20 - May 19, 2007, Swiss Institute of Rome
  • November 1 - 12, 2007, Visionario – Ventro Arti Visive, Udine
  • April 1 - 30, 2012, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Firenze
  • April 7 - June 27, 2012, Palazzo Chigi Zondadari, San Quirico d’Orcia
  • October 7, 2012 - January 6, 2013, Palazzo delle Paure, Lecco
  • June 21 - September 28, 2014, Museo d'Arte Orientale, Torino
  • April 18 - May 10, 2015, Kyotographie Festival, Kyoto
  • June 16 - June 30, 2015, Istituto italiano di cultura, Tokyo

Foto gallery

The project

In Hèkura, an island off the Central-Western coasts of Japan, fishing awabi (abalone shellfish) was women's work. They used to dive naked off the island into the sea, at times even reaching to a depth of 20m beneath the suface. Maraini’s renowned photo session was perhaps the first ever ethnographic underwater reportage, and it portrayed the Ama in their natural environmen, among sea rocks, in the water and also under water. This small ethnic group used to live in small villages scattered along the entire Central and Southern coasts of Japan. Maraini's solar and disenchanted views of the Ama, enhanced by the erotic charm of Hèkura’s women in Western eyes, is hereby combined with the photographic narration of everyday life consisting of a profound relationship between culture and environment. Maraini’s photographic lens succeeded in capturing an unknown view of Japan in its full vitality. It provides a glimpse of a world that is doomed to disappear. Maraini’s photographs in Hèkura were partially published in a volume, ‘L’isola delle pescatrici’ (‘The Fisher Island’; note that in Italian ‘pescatrici’ is a feminine noun) in 1962. However, these pictures have never been the subject of a monographic exhibition. Most of the images were displayed for the first time in Lugano in 2006. 

The double value of the exhibition

The temporary exhibition seeks to present the peculiarities and the characteristics of a prominent photographic work. The underwater portrait of Hèkura’s fishers constitutes a unique case of great documentary value. On the other hand, the exhibition offers a reflection on the relation between a culture and its environment and the need to safeguard the specificities of cultures. The discovery of the Ama’s traditional world fosters a profound reflection on the value of cultural complexity. This is jeopardized today by the emergence of a modern worldview, in which collective identities tend to conform in the name of a single macro culture. Hence, a series of sub-cultures are transfigured by the current process of globalisation. Fosco Maraini’s works also describe a radiant reality and a yearning of vitality that may activate a reflection of positive investment in an "Other" and their respective values. The temporary exhibition was organised by the MCL in collaboration with the Gabinetto scientifico e letterario G. P. Vieusseux of Florence.

Fosco Maraini

Fosco Maraini (1912-2004) focused on at least five different areas of study during his lifetime: anthropology, Oriental studies (he obtained the chair for teaching Japanese and Japanese literature at the Università di Firenze), mountaineering, literature (which he practised extensively and with international success), and finally photography of individuals, cultures and landscapes. He always observed with a delicate gaze, like the ‘Cittadino della Luna in Visita d’Istruzione sulla Terra’ (the Citizen of the Moon on an Educational Visit on Earth), the so-called ‘Citluvit’, who silently observes  and records every single thing. He was also passionate about the objects of his study, althouhg he remained detached from them, for ‘understanding is the final outcome of the whole process’. 

L'incanto delle Donne del Mare. Fosco Maraini. Fotografie. Giappone 1954

a cura di Francesco Paolo Campione
Giunti, Firenze 2012, 176 pp.
Esovisioni 1
Chf 45.-
ISBN 978-88-09-74548-3