Although underrepresented throughout art history, women were innovative and integral to the Futurist movement
By Selin Genç
I used to assume that Futurism – an artistic and social movement with an emphasis, amongst other things, on technology, speed, and violence, that originated in early 20th century Italy – was an all-boys club. Not only because of the overtly misogynistic statements in the Futurist manifesto (founder of the Futurist movement Filippo Marinetti proclaimed “We want to glorify war [...] and contempt for woman”), but also by applying my knowledge of current feminist theories focusing on world building and sharing, I had assumed that independent, unconventional, and avant-garde women would not participate in a movement that had such a passion for destruction.
So how did women fit into Marinetti’s desire to “demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism, and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice”? Many sought to create their own creative legacy through writing, painting, sculpture, and performance. Despite being underrepresented in the history of Futurism, women were an integral part of the movement. Let’s take a look at some of the women who should not be forgotten.
Valentine de Saint-Point
Multi-talented Valentine de Saint-Point made her impact on the movement between 1912 and 1914. Her 1912 text the Manifesto of Futurist Women was thought to be ‘anti-feminist’ as it calls for an eradication of womanhood, but also of all gendered subject positions. But does this not make her a feminist fighting for equality between all genders? Degrading half of the human population into an inferior position, she says, is a hindrance to all of humanity on our stride towards the future. Instead, she claimed for autonomy outside of binary gender roles and existing social structures, including the patriarchy, as these seemed old-fashioned and obsolete – and I agree.
Visual writer Maria Ginanni also challenged gender theory in the context of war in Europe happening at the time. It is interesting to see how women made themselves present in a field as male-dominated as wartime culture. In articles published by the Futurist journal L’Italia futurista, Ginanni’s rejection of traditional gender roles aligned with a desire to take Italy into an improved future, with men and women equally working for the common good of the country. Ginanni invokes an aspiration, for men and women alike, to become beings that transcend the limits of nature and human weakness.
Regina Cassolo Bracchi
Across modernism, many women artists developed hybrid approaches, often flirting with Futurism. Regina Cassolo Bracchi (typically known by her first name) was involved in painting and sculpting, as well as in cinema and theater. Most distinctively, she produced costumes and masks from aluminium for various avant-garde productions. Regina was averse towards Futurism’s Fascist leanings and was rather charmed by its vision of positive progress and its anticipatory attitude towards the future. Her experimentation with form and unconventional materials, as well as her rejection of any conceptual or aesthetic orthodoxy, is indicative of her inquisitive spirit and avant-garde nature – showing her to be a true Futurist at heart.
Another medium that expressed a Futurist infatuation with mechanical processes (and even a desire for humans to merge with machines and become cyborgs) is dance. In the performance Aerodanza (1931), ballerina Giannina Censi used the rhythm of her body to depict the mechanical structure of aeroplanes. By not disguising or robotising her body with heavy and rigid costumes, Censi communicated principles of aerodynamics exclusively through expressive body movements. Through dance, Censi acknowledged the relations between human and non-human subjects, a subject often explored in Futurism.
In a Russian offshoot of Futurism, artists married the aforementioned themes of technology and progress with the emerging stylistic tropes of Suprematism, a movement characteristic for its use of bold colours and dynamic geometric shapes. In this style, artist Olga Rozanova depicted cityscapes, war scenes, and technological innovations through abstracted images, highlighting the dynamics of these complex terrains. At the time Russia was going through drastic cultural reforms and the inclusion of women into the workforce can be seen in Rozanova’s work, as well as how women’s insight into the rapidly changing cultural and technological landscape was becoming valued through art.
As this inconclusive and expandable list demonstrates, there were many underrepresented female actors in the Futurist movement. Despite our inclination to consider figures of the past merely as products of their time, it is important to recognise modes of resistance, inventiveness, claims to empowerment, and agency, however hidden or seemingly overshadowed they might be. By thinking outside of the already established movement, these women produced complex and unique works, which will have a lasting impact on the Futurist movement.