Review: Le Donne by Tanino Liberatore

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Le Donne. By Tanino Liberatore. NBM Publishing, 2012. 168 pp. $39.99.

Review by Gayle C. Straun

The ubiquity of pornography these days threatens to make the nude as an art form—or, indeed, any erotic art—well nigh superfluous, an anachronism from a pre-Internet era when one could not simply order up whatever depiction of actual flesh one desired. The illicit tittering of youth gazing upon the picture of an African tribe in National Geographic has been replaced by a more world-weary aesthetic which appraises the basic nude form with the question “So what?”

Liberatore’s latest collection, Le Donne, is therefore shocking not because it consists of a collection of nude portraits, but because it consists of a collection of nude portraits, one which lends a power and a life to the female form that cannot be captured by a commonplace photorealism. The first section, “Desire,” is mostly a series of portraits in which the figures are gazing at the viewer or someone else; especially touching here is a two-page spread of one woman hooked up to a breathing apparatus, reclining, while another woman, apparently blind, unhooks her bra—a picture which reminds us that desire is not confined to the physically perfect. The second section, “Pulse,” consists of stark, black-and-white illustrations of power and motion. “Echos” presents modern reflections upon classical works of art, from Rodin’s Thinker to the Mona Lisa, while “Embraces” constitutes variations upon the theme, with instances of self-embrace, self-love, intermixed with eager pairing—reminding us once again that we are as much in relation with ourselves as we are with one another. “Chiaroscuro” plays with issues of light and darkness figuratively (in every sense of that word), from the pale, virginal nun (there are a lot of nuns in this book, by the way) to the armed African warrior. In the final sections, “Intimacies” and “Flesh” Liberatore goes further in his quest to denaturalize the body by representing—in black and white drawings and watercolor, respectively—disturbing close-ups or scenes taken from odd angles, portraits that at first appear more in line with Salvador Dali’s surrealism, until one realizes just what one is looking at.

The result is a powerful collection that challenges the commonplace of the nude form and therefore makes it exciting again, a canvas upon which stories can be written and read. Each portrait is a story, and each story proves deeper than it first appears, demanding to be visited again and again.

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