“La bellezza della verità”: Lisetta Carmi exhibition

Sophia Bare, Reporter

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From October 20th to the 3rd of March, the Museo di Roma in Trastevere will be displaying the works of Lisetta Carmi, an internationally celebrated and renowned Italian photographer. The exhibition is titled “La belleza della verità” (The beauty of truth) and is the first public showcase of Carmi’s work in Rome. The exhibition is surely named this way because of Carmi’s affinity for depicting things just as they are. The people she depicted in her photography were not posing or pretending to be something they were not — Carmi allowed for them to be shown to the world as they existed. This is particularly powerful in her series, I travestiti, the first published photography series depicting the lives of trans women in Italy. One of my favourite photos of hers comes from this collection (shown above) and in terms of the most impactful series showcased in the museum, I travestiti would undoubtedly be the one to take the cake. The museum makes sure to warn viewers of the sensitive nature of these photos (as in, some pictures in the collection depict nude women) which unfortunately puts these pictures in a little hidden corner of the museum. I do not believe that this was the right thing to do as there are multiple nude statues in museums like the Borghese that are on full display for everyone to see (regardless of age, religion, gender, etc.) as well as the multiple male gaze-y photos I have seen of female nudes (like in the “100 Years of Leica” exhibit) but as soon as trans women are involved, it is suddenly “sensitive nature.” However, I understand that this is largely due to the hostile and transphobic climate in Italy — as a result of the regular transphobia found elsewhere and the sitting Pope referring to trans people as the annihilation of man. This is all the more reason why I appreciate Carmi for I trasvestiti. She subverts the narrative of depicting trans women as one-dimensional caricatures and her photos lack the male gaze present in the fetishization of trans women. Instead, she depicts them as beautiful, soft, joyous, compassionate, sexy, friendly, human beings. Something that is unfortunately still lacking today in depictions of trans women.

And while I travestiti was the most interesting and invigorating part of the exhibit for me, it would be incorrect to say that it was the only compelling aspect. Carmi had no shortage of photos — she photographed everything and everyone, everywhere. She photographed American poet Ezra Pound, prominent musicians (as a pianist herself) and theatre actors, newborns coming out of their mother’s wombs, dock workers and their working conditions, the people of Sicily, of Venezuela, and more.

I encourage everyone to visit her exhibit (both floors and every room) in order to open their minds to the varied lived experiences of the billions of people who inhabit this Earth, our home.