Tomaso Binga @ Mimosa House

my dear friend

I would like to talk to you about certain intimate things

The walls lining the corridor you pass to enter London’s Mimosa House are covered in letters sent by Tomaso Binga – the artistic pseudonym of Bianca Pucciarelli Menna (b. 1931, Salerno, Italy) – to a female imaginary friend. Binga’s solo-exhibition prompts the viewer to question the gendered nature of language, using poetry, performance, collage and painting to dissect the patriarchal nature of communication.

Installation views of Tomaso Binga at Mimosa House
Bianca Menna e Tomaso Binga Oggi Spose, 1977. ‘Bianca Menna and Tomaso Binga Brides Today’ black and white photographs, framed, 2 pieces, Courtesy Archivio Menna-Binga. Image by Tim Bowditch

my dear friend

this evening I have put

a chair next to the window

to watch the moon

It is worth considering, when confronted with Binga’s work, how English compares to languages like Italian, French and Arabic. Where very few words in English could be considered “masculine” or “feminine”, in other languages, the lexicon is much more gendered, giving a different understanding to how we perceive ordinary words and objects. Binga’s poetic letters – from a series titled Ti scrivo solo di domencia (I write you only on Sundays) were written in 1977, and were sent to a female imaginary friend. They appear like short poems, often romantic, alluding to a male lover that may have left, but never explaining who he is, or where he has gone. The letters appear to never have been answered, giving the reader more questions than answers. Perhaps Binga had a touch of the Sunday blues? The letters were actually sent on Sundays because Sunday is the only day in the week that is feminine in the Italian language.

Installation views of Tomaso Binga at Mimosa House
Carta Da Parato, 1976/2019. ‘Wallpaper’ Recreation of the original installation: asemantic writing (digital) on wallpaper, dress and purse, furniture. Courtesy Archivio Menna-Binga. Image by Tim Bowditch

my dear friend

his presence is absence

The year 1977 is noteworthy, because it is not only the year in which Binga sent these letters, but it was also the year in which Binga’s most famous performance took place. In Bianca Menna e Tomaso Binga Oggi Spose (Bianca Menna and Tomaso Binga Brides Today), Binga married themselves, a celebration of the up-till-then seven-year relationship between the artist and their alter-ego. During the ceremony, Binga exhibited portraits of both in the role of masculine Binga, and also the role of the feminine Menna. Guests at the event contributed cards and gifts to the display, which is replicated at Mimosa House with the portraits of the happy couple displayed together, side by side, but only superficially, as they are separated by heavy gold frames. And, while spose is the feminine version of the generally masculine sposi, the artist themselves appeared at the 1977 ceremony in androgynous attire, in a white shirt, trousers and slick backed hair.

my dear friend

I can no longer remember

his voice

The display of Binga and Menna’s wedding photographs are shown in a recreation of an installation made in 1976 called Casa Malangone. The installation saw Binga cover the rooms of a friend’s house in pink floral wallpaper she had made. The distinctly feminine-looking paper not only consisted of flowers, but also of illegible calligraphic script which Binga terms “asemantic writing”. The wallpaper recurs throughout Binga’s work, with the artist wearing it to recite a poem within a performance called Io sono una carta (I am paper) in Bologna in 1977. At Mimosa House, walls, chairs and mirrors are covered in the paper. The unreadable nature of the text draws the viewer in, asking them what Binga is trying to communicate, though it is clear that they do not want us to know. Stereotypically, female handwriting is beautiful and lovely, but handwritten male is thought of as scribbly and difficult to read. So, perhaps this is Binga adding a masculine stamp to an otherwise very feminine print.

Installation views of Tomaso Binga at Mimosa House
La Dieta, 1994. ‘The Diet’ photographic print, and digital writing of “I am a piece of paper”. Courtesy Archivio Menna-Binga. Image by Tim Bowditch

my dear friend

people in the street walk without

looking at each other

Instead of taking on the role of a male artist, Binga instead chooses to parody both the male and female persona. Other works on display at Mimosa House include poems that reference dieting – something that is nearly always only directed towards women – as well as children’s imagery for learning the alphabet and nursery rhymes. There is a very strong feminist feeling to Binga’s work, as they point out to injustices against women not only in language, but also with society as a whole.

my dear friend

I have opened the doors

to smile

Tomaso Binga asks their audience to question what’s in a name. We automatically make assumptions about people before we meet them as soon as we read the name on a piece of paper or on a screen. As society is becoming more open to questioning rigid definitions around gender, Binga’s work couldn’t be more timely.

 

Tomaso Binga: A Silenced Victory is on display at Mimosa House, 12 Princes Street, London W1B 2LL until 20 December 2019

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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