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Marialba Russo. Cult Fiction


May 08—June 06, 2021

Curated by Cristiana Perrella



After Nomadic Subject – a collective exhibition in 2019 in which her images, together with those by another four Italian photographers, addressed the theme of female identity between the ’60s and the ’80s – Marialba Russo returns to Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato with Cult Fiction, a solo exhibition which from 8 May to 6 June 2021 will exhibit for the first time the famous series of photographs dedicated to the posters of adult films that appeared in the streets of Naples and Aversa between March 1978 and December 1980, the years when the first specialised cinemas in our country opened and of the consequent boom in the genre. 


This was a new phenomenon for Italy at the time, especially in its manifestly public and no longer hidden character, evidenced by Cult Fiction. With stubborn curiosity and a collector’s spirit, almost fine-tuning a new genre in the history of photography, Marialba Russo documents what Goffredo Fofi has defined as “the explosion of a now but in any case perverse vitality in the history of popular culture […] whose most varied and unrestrained expression was through cinema.”  The series describes an all-male cinema - with a few exceptions such as the director Giuliana Gamba - representing the female body in public space in often grotesque posters with almost comical titles.


Presenting more than 60 of the most significant shots in the series, the exhibition curated by Cristiana Perrella reproduces through the installation the ephemeral material and strong impact of street advertising, with images glued directly onto the wall, fully restoring the energy of a work that speaks to us, on the one hand, of the drive for sexual liberation in that period, but on the other a highly commodified representation of the female body. The cultural, political and social revolution of the Seventies, which Marialba Russo (Naples, 1947) has documented with an anthropological gaze in many of its manifestations, ended by placing the explicit representation of bodies and sexuality at the centre of a new market, fostering the development of a “genre cinema” which despite uncovering the hypocrisies and archaisms of Italian society does not demolish the usual power relationships.



The exhibition is accompanied by the publication by Nero Editions of Marialba Russo’s book. Public Sex incorporates the Cult Fiction project with all the shots and two introductory texts, one by the writer and film critic Goffredo Fofi and one by Elisa Cuter, author of Ripartire dal desiderio (Minimum Fax, 2020).


On the occasion of Marialba Russo. Cult Fiction the Centro Pecci proposes Radio Luna, a series of conversations on the new social platform Clubhouse starting from May. Radio Luna takes its name from the radio experiment launched in 1975 with Ilona Staller - presenter of the first and only Italian “sexy radio” that exploded due to the appearance of adult films, becoming a lifestyle phenomenon - and will be broadcast twice a week, in the late evening. It will explore the themes covered in the exhibition, such as the relationship between art and pornography, pornography-feminism and the representation of women's bodies.


Once again the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci confirms its place as a research and production centre attentive to the analysis of multiple cultural histories of Italy from the Seventies to the present-day, at the same time participating in international debate on the most up-to-date and relevant topics. 



Marialba Russo, Neapolitan, has lived in Rome since 1987. She studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, becoming interested in photography in the late Sixties when she turned her attention to religious representations and popular festivals in central and southern Italy. In 1976 and 1977 she published Al ristorante il 29 settembre 1974 [At the restaurant on 29 September 1974] and Giornale Spray [Spray Newspaper] in the series “i Quaderni dello sguardo,” which she founded. Alongside her personal research and exhibition work, she has collaborated with Vogue Italia and other Italian and foreign publications. In 1979, with the photographic sequence Il parto [Childbirth], Marialba Russo represented Italy in “Venezia 79 la fotografia” in the “Contemporary European Photography” section. In the following decade she appeared at various events and initiatives dedicated to photography in Europe and the United States, while continuing to collaborate with a number of Italian universities where she held photography courses. She continued her experiments in the language of photography with the works Della serie delle centotrenta figure di spalle [From the series of 130 figures portrayed from the rear] (1981) and 1929 Ritratto di mio padre e mia madre [1929 Portrait of my mother and father] (1982). In 1989 the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Giorgio Morandi in Bologna offered a retrospective of her work and the monograph Marialba Russo - Fotografie 1980-1987 accompanied by a letter from Alberto Moravia. In the Nineties the artist shifted her research towards a more intimate and analytical reflection, where the landscape became a metaphor for inner time. Roma, Fasti Moderni - il disordine del tempo [Rome, Modern pomp - the disorder of time], a photographic account of archaeological Rome, was published by Mudima Milano in 1993. Epifanie [Epiphanies] (1997) is a collection of travel photographs, followed by intimate stories in images of Famosa [Famous] (1998) and Il ritratto di me [The portrait of myself] (1999). In the last decade, the Photography Museum in Thessaloniki and the Jin Tai Art Museum in Beijing offered a preview of the L’Incanto [The Enchantment], published by Skirà Milano in 2004. She exhibited her works come una pietra su un ramo [like a stone on a branch] at the Certosa in Padula in the exhibition Vanitas le opere e i giorni [Vanitas, works and days] conceived by Achille Bonito Oliva, and il Cantico della farfalla [The song of the butterfly] at the Maxxi Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo for "Fotografia le Collezioni" curated by Francesca Fabiani. In 2010 Camera Obscura in Thessaloniki published the plaquette Worlds of Glamour and Banality curated by Aris Georgiou. She collaborated in the exhibitions Alterazioni la materia della fotografia tra analogico e digitale [Alterations, photography materials between analog and digital] curated by Roberta Valtorta and Storie dal Sud dell’Italia [Tales from Southern Italy] from the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Cinisello Balsamo, Milan. Confine [Boundaries] is the second volume of a trilogy that started with l’Incanto [The Enchantment] dedicated to the theme of the research that the subject - human, animal, real, symbolic - carries out within and outside of themselves; the third volume is forthcoming. In 2016, the publication of “i Quaderni dello sguardo” started again with Travestimento [Disguise] published by Postcart.

Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci

Viale della Repubblica, 277, 59100 Prato PO, Italia