Visual and Performance Studies





The focus of the ACIS Visual and Performance Studies Research Group is to analyse how the arts can make visible the often invisible and yet indelible acts of violence perpetrated against women every day, and by linking them demonstrate just how necessary it is to break this chain. Visual and performing arts are instrumental in exposing the complexity of the numerous forms that violence against women and girls (VAWG) can take in the contemporary world, as well as exploring new and old forms of resistance. Our initiatives will strive to contribute to the ‘glocal’ conversation on the topic and at the same time raise awareness of the global extent of the problem and the ways in which both such violence and resistance to it are represented in the visual and performing arts in Italy.


The comprehensive 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women recognises the significance of threats, coercion and non-physical violence, and understands violence as a manifestation of power relations and fundamentally linked to inequality. The VPS group seeks to foster research based on this definition, engaging with researchers around the globe. Ideally we wish to address how some of the many possible topics understood as violence or violence-related are represented in the performing and visual arts.

Decades of activism have raised public awareness and led to laws against domestic violence in 140 countries and against sexual assault in 144 countries, and improved support services for survivors, yet high levels of violence are prevalent around the world. The sources used by the UN estimate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, and 43% of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. That pattern is confirmed for Italy by the first Istat survey on “La sicurezza delle donne”, conducted in 2006. The report on that survey states that “il fenomeno della violenza fisica e sessuale degli uomini contro le donne ha riguardato un terzo delle donne che vivono in Italia […]”, and adds that “la violenza domestica passa nella maggior parte dei casi sotto silenzio, il 34 per cento delle donne non ne ha mai parlato con nessuno, circa il 93 per cento non l’ha denunciata”, and even that “nel caso di violenza effettuata da un uomo non partner: il 24 per cento delle vittime non ne ha fatto parola con alcuno […], solo il 4 per cento ha denunciato alle Forze dell’ordine” (Istat, 2008: 13, 72 e 97). In the last few years reporting of such violence has increased in Italy, but its frequency remains very low compared to the gravity and extent of the phenomenon, which becomes particularly visible in the increasing number of femminicidi (Iacona, R., Se questi sono gli uomini. Italia 2012. La strage delle donne, Milano, Chiarelettere, 2012).

Such statistics come as no surprise in a country that declared parity between women and men in its 1947 Constitution (artt. 3, 37 and 51) but left it to the legislators to bring this to fruition gradually over the years. Progress was so slow that, despite family law reform in 1975 and a persistent feminist struggle, it was not until 1981 that the ‘honour killing’ motive was removed from the penal code, and 1996 that rape was defined in law as an offence against the person rather than against public morality (law no. 66 of 15 February 1996). Further developments this century have brought about laws against gender-based violence that are consistent with the 2011 Istanbul Convention on the prevention of such violence – which recognises it as a form of violation of human rights and of discrimination – and are concerned primarily with “preventing the violence, punishing the perpetrators and protecting the victims” (Ministry of the Interior). Institutional initiatives such as the Progetto Camper campaign Questo non è amore by the Polizia di Stato, and those of individuals and local community associations such as the ventisettesima ora bloggers and groups creating panchine rosse in public places, are part of a wave of campaigns in Italy that in recent years have aimed at raising awareness about VAWG and facilitating access to support. This has also been true of Italian theatre (with the piece Passi affrettati (2005) by Dacia Maraini being commissioned by Amnesty International, for example) and film, with local and national  funding bodies supporting films such as Dall’altra parte della strada (2010) di Filippo Ticozzi, E’ stata lei (2014) di Francesca Archibugi, L’amore rubato (2016) di Irish Braschi (based on the book by Dacia Maraini), La vita possibile (2016) by Ivano De Matteo, among others. There have been a number of events on the theme of VAWG in recent years that include talks, seminars, and photographic exhibitions, such as Bologna’s Festival La violenza illustrata (reaching its 12th edition in November 2017). And social media not only facilitate the diffusion of created works but can be used to collect material, as in the case of Pietro Barone’s video Parole d’amore, based on texts contributed through Facebook.


Our  ACIS VPS project stems from the ‘An Eye on Italy’ project,  a previous collaboration between some of the Steering Committee members, dedicated to research on the state of the visual arts in Italy as seen from Australasia. During the process of organising the ‘An Eye on Italy’ conference and publishing selected papers, our attention was drawn to the growing research on the portrayal of violence against women in the visual and performing arts. Indeed, this became the main concern of the publication, being central to 4 of the 5 papers in the special issue of the e-journal FULGOR. The work discussed in those papers appears to be the tip of an iceberg, one that we propose to allow to emerge further, especially in light of very recent events such as the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of Brett Kavanaugh and Dr Christine Blasey Ford, and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their work in preventing the use of rape as a weapon of war.

With the visual and performing arts as the research group’s focus, we welcome researchers, artists and performers who will further stimulate debate and developments in public opinion around violence against women. Ideally we would like to involve works and performers, artists and writers who pick up the baton from women such as Tina Lagostena Bassi who many remember defending a rape victim in the TV documentary Processo per stupro (Loredana Rotondo, 1979) – watched by 12 million people at the time and turned into a play this year by Renato Chiocca. At the time women were seeking justice but encountering the Law, to use the words of a famous song by Francesco De Gregori, and apparently they still are, given that Franca Rame’s monologue Lo stupro (1975) is still being performed today by actors such as Marina De Juli and still resonates with audiences. The monologue is based on Rame’s kidnapping, rape and torture, and was written at a time when the Italian Feminist movement was denouncing both the widespread violence against women and the general lack of interest that public opinion awarded it, as well as the inadequate treatment women received during police reporting and court procedures. Not a lot has changed for the better, if we go by the shocking reported questioning of two American students raped in Florence earlier this year and by the widespread interest in performances of works such as the aforementioned Passi affrettati (2005) by Dacia Maraini and Ferite a morte (2013) by Serena Dandini. Both plays are collections of stories dramatised from the testimony of women regarding lived experiences. In recent years Rame’s monologue and these two plays have been performed widely in Italy and also across Europe, North and South America, and Oceania, denouncing not only violence in the private sphere but state violence against women on an international level – for example those forms of violence that took place in Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia as part of a war strategy.



Performances of Dacia Maraini’s Passi affrettati, with discussion forum.

A newly formed theatre group in Brisbane is working with Women’s House (which provides support, emergency housing, advocacy and information to women experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault) on a production of Dacia Maraini’s Passi affrettati, in the English translation titled Hurried Steps by Sharon Wood. The play will be followed by a discussion forum which is a requirement for any amateur production of the work. The event will be held on 17 November 2018 (at Reload Performance Space in Salisbury, Brisbane), i.e. shortly before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The VPS group proposes to bring the production to Wellington, NZ, for an event at the ACIS Conference in February 2019, and then to Adelaide on a date close to International Women’s Day (8 March 2019). Each event would include the performance and a discussion forum with panel members drawn from experts in local women’s support services, and the ACIS conference event would also be accompanied by a presentation by Daniela Cavallaro who has written on this play.

Special issue of Spunti e Ricerche titled Women and Violence in Contemporary Italian Literature

Spunti e Ricerche‘s guest editors Gregoria Manzin and Barbara Pezzotti have been working on a special issue, vol. 33 (2018), on the topic of women and violence in literature and theatre.  This not only obviously resonates with our main theme but directly informs it as some of the literature has been transposed to screen and stage.

The contents will be:

  1. Article by G.Manzin and B. Pezzotti on women and violence
  2. On Dacia Maraini’s Passi affrettati
  3. On Edoardo Albinati’s La scuola cattolica
  4. On Ercole Patti’s Graziella
  5. On colonial/religious encounters between Italy and Somalia
  6. On the representation of female characters in Italian crime fiction
  7. On violence in Margherita Guidacci’s poetry
  8. On Margaret Mazzantini’s Venuto al mondo and ethnic rapes during the Yugoslavian wars
  9. On the representation of rape in Federico De Roberto’s works
  10. On Dacia Maraini’s Voci


Organisation of panel(s) on ‘Violence against women’ at the 2019 ACIS Conference ‘Navigazioni possibili: Italies Lost and Found’, at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, 7-10 February

The following  papers have been confirmed for the above panel(s):

‘Linguaggio e violenza di genere nella società contemporanea’ – Prof. Cecilia Robustelli, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia and Accademia della Crusca

‘Franca Rame e i monologhi “Lo stupro” e “Maria” (2001), ossia “Stuprata da un ‘ragazzo per bene’”’ – Dr Luciana d’Arcangeli, Flinders University

‘Femicide: what about the survived children?’ – Dott.ssa Anna Pramstrahler, Università di Bologna and Casa delle donne per non subire violenza, DiRe Network, Italy

‘Ares per Irene. La rappresentazione della Guerra come mezzo per arrivare alla Pace’ – Dr Alessandro Carrieri, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University and ACIS

‘“Antigone Power” di Ubax Cristina Ali Farah: Rappresentazione della resistenza’ – Dr Laura Lori, Australian Catholic University and ACIS

Organisation of the international conference INDELIBLE (Eng) / INDELEBILE (It) – The Representation of (in)visible violence against women and their resistance.

We propose to convene a 2-day conference on this theme to be held at Flinders University in October 2019 – possibly during the Settimana della Lingua so as to receive financial support from Italian institutions. Dacia Maraini has accepted to come as invited guest for the conference, and we are in conversation to see if she can also travel to New Zealand and other Australian destinations as HRA. We have also invited Serena Dandini, author and director of the play Ferite a morte, who has not yet agreed to come. We hope to organise a staging or reading of her play but the funding requested for her company to do this is too high. We are in discussion with her and investigating other options. We would also like to show/include one or more Italian films, possibly to be integrated into the existing Lavazza Italian Film Festival that will be on at the same time.

The starting point for the conference will be Dacia Maraini’s many works on violence against women and girls, and their transposition in film, but papers are expected to address various other voices on the same topic. We would also like to involve Australian and NZ writers, artists and performers, so as to offer performances, exhibitions and screenings in or alongside the conference programme.

Special issue of FULGOR on ‘Women and Conflict’ for June 2019

A special issue of FULGOR has been negotiated, to publish papers from the ‘Women and Conflict’ panels and discussion held at the Prato 2017 ACIS conference. Papers from the February 2019 ACIS conference can also be included if requested and submitted early enough.

This issue will co-edited by  Luciana d’Arcangeli, Claire Kennedy and Laura Lori. It will have contributions from Stefano Adami, Luciana d’Arcangeli, Sciltian Gastaldi, Laura Lori, Marco Paoli, Anita Pinzi, Vito Zagarrio.

White Ribbon Day activities (25 November) in Wellington, Sydney and Auckland  

White Ribbon Day, also known as the International Day for the Eradication of Violence against Women (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 54/134), is held on 25 November and is an annual day to raise awareness of violence against women, in particular domestic violence. The day is run by the not-for-profit association White Ribbon Australia, which organises campaigns in schools, universities, workplaces and communities, encouraging men and boys to wear white ribbons as a symbol of their standing together with women in opposition to violence.


The activities listed below are a sample of what will take shape for 2020. A more comprehensive and detailed proposal will be submitted in due course.

Publication as book or journal issue, e.g. in Quaderni d’Italianistica or Altrelettere, of selected papers from the ACIS 2019 conference and from the international multidisciplinary conference INDELIBLE (Eng) / INDELEBILE (It) of October 2019.

Competition to provide artwork for the cover of this publication.

University and external collaboration to increase the visibility of the issue and of Italian Studies, such as collaborating with a local museum/gallery/film or literary festival

Support for subtitling of films not previously screened to English-speaking audiences.

This activity will not only make some recent films available for screening to a general audience but also provide experience for PhD candidates working in translation studies.

Launch on White Ribbon Day 2020 (25 November) of the publication at point 7, with screening of a film on the topic and celebration of  the fruitful end of the VPS project.

We will be very happy to respond to any questions or suggestions on our activities.

VPS Steering Committee  

Luciana d’Arcangeli (Flinders) – coordinator

Giorgia Alu’ (Sydney)

Daniela Cavallaro (Auckland)

Sally Hill (VUW)

Claire Kennedy (Griffith)