What’s in a name? All too often, gender, race and even class can be assumed from the simplest of signifiers. Bestowed on us at birth, our name is one of the earliest words that we hear, and one of the first that we learn to read and write. Italian artist and poet Tomaso Binga was born Bianca Pucciarelli Menna in 1931, and adopted her artistic pseudonym in the late 1960s. By appropriating a male name, she set out not to fully embody the male artistic persona but to parody it and rub up against the uneasy contradictions of renaming. Working with poetry, writing, performance, collage and painting, Binga dissects and challenges the gendered nature of language.
The dual selves of Tomaso and Bianca are never far out of sight. In a 1977 performance, the artist invited guests to attend a “wedding” between the two. Cards and gifts were left by guests for the newlyweds, forming over time an ever-changing installation. An androgynous Binga appeared at the ceremony, dressed in a white suit, in a nod to both sides of her gender-fluid persona. In Mural Alphabets (1976), her naked body becomes a tool for spelling out the letters themselves, extending her fascination with word play and rhymes. Language as a means for communication is disrupted to question existing verbal and social structures, asserting the autonomy of women in establishing their presence and voice.
“She set out not to fully embody the male artistic persona but to parody it and rub up against the uneasy contradictions of renaming”
The first UK solo exhibition of Tomaso Binga opens at Mimosa House in London this September, featuring re-stagings of her iconic installations and performances, as well as new works on paper that address more recent themes in Bing’s work, such as surrogate motherhood. The multiplicity of the self is drawn out and questioned, while gender is played with and parodied in a freewheeling series of linguistic games. What’s in a name? It’s a question that Binga has never stopped asking.