Medusa: Francesca Leoni talks about feminism throu...

Medusa: Francesca Leoni talks about feminism through seven performers

The new video “Medusa” by Francesca Leoni was released a few weeks ago (and already selected in some European festivals). It is an extremely political, feminist, explosive and touching work. Produced by Vertov Project and created in almost a year, it puts us in close contact with what we need to see and that must not be forgotten, ever. Once again the personal becomes political, through gestures and voices of these seven incredible performers that Francesca has selected for this video, which wants to discuss on the strength of hair within the collective imagination of “woman”.

Davide Mastrangelo e Francesca Leoni, courtesy Vertof Project, ph Andrea Bardi – Resina 35

As she herself underlined, taking up a statement made to Vogue by Rachael Gibson, hair history expert: «Hair has been used since the dawn of time to express one’s emotions, political opinions and values, we see it in the most disparate cultures, all over the world». Also there hair coloring has distant origins: in ancient Egypt  it was done with berries and bark of trees, minerals, insects and seeds. The color was dark brown. In the Middle Ages hair had a link with magic and superstition and was considered an external and material extension of the soul. For this reason it was used in magical potions and it was also burnt once it fell out or cut, because if it had fallen into the wrong hands it could have been the basis for evil spells. In the 2014, designer Vivienne Westwood shaved her head to raise awareness of the changes climate and in 2015 the actress Rose McGowan also cut her hair to zero because, as she explains in her autobiography, she no longer wanted to be a sexual object. Hair color can draw attention to one cause. When Nadya Tolokonnikova from the punk band Pussy Riot was arrested on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow, in 2015, her hair was partly dyed green, matching the prisoner uniform she wore, a symbol of her protest in favor of Russian prisoners. Nasrin Sotoudeh, the lawyer Iranian civil rights activist, according to her family, was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for supporting the anti-headscarf cause. This video performance is entitled Medusa (in Greek, guardian/protector), one of the gorgons of Greek mythology, a woman condemned for her appearance and hair in the shape of a snake.

Frame dal video “Medusa” di Francesca Leoni, 2024, courtesy Vertov Project, ph Mike Cimini

Sara Papini: How did the idea for this latest video come about? What inspired you?
Francesca Leoni: It’s not the first time that one of my works was born from news events, including other I have made with Davide[1] for example, they were inspired by what was happening around us at that moment. It happened that in Iran women started protesting because a girl was beaten and subsequently died because she had not worn the veil correctly. On that occasion the network has they responded and all started cutting locks of their hair in protest and solidarity. The hair has a political, religious, symbolic function, which is often overlooked. So I decided to choose seven symbolic women to create this hair performance. Each of them, in addition to having performed, told her own personal hair story. The video took a long time, both for idealization and assembly. It was, in fact, filmed about a year ago. It took me more than nine months to complete it because it was extremely complex to understand which pieces of these wonderful women’s stories to discard. I fell in love with everything I saw and heard.

Frame dal video “Medusa” di Francesca Leoni, 2024, courtesy Vertov Project, ph Mike Cimini

How was the musical soundtrack made?
I decided about halfway through editing that the sound would be created by a composer and not a sound designer as we usually do for our video art works. I hired the composer Fabrizio Sirotti. It was a beautiful collaboration. The same thing applies to the collaboration that took place with Walter Molfese, photography director. I only gave him suggestions, but he chose these very strong and intense colors I thank him for this. Returning to the audio montage, there is a moment where the voices of all the women involved is overwhelming, and then passes into silence. In that moment the voice of one is actually that of all. This union created in the end represents for me the fact that it doesn’t matter where and how, but the problem of one it’s everyone’s problem. Clearly we are all more powerful together.

Frame dal video “Medusa” di Francesca Leoni, 2024, courtesy Vertov Project, ph Mike Cimini

How was the choice of interpreter made?
SThey are all women I know and who I had already identified when I started imagining the video. They all accepted my invitation. I chose them because they had different characters, different physiognomies, different hair. At the beginning there wasn’t supposed to be a narrative, but it was just supposed to be a performative job. The point is, they all had an interesting story to tell. It was a real one track for me, which I couldn’t help but follow. I had to include those stories within the video. Clearly I didn’t make an interview, but I only collected their audio narrations and then make them perform separately, mixing everything in the edit. Finally, I listened their answers after the performance and I must confess that many surprised me. These stories emerged touching and extremely intimate. I’m happy to have left them free to talk about themselves, both physically and with the words.

Frame dal video “Medusa” di Francesca Leoni, 2024, courtesy Vertov Project, ph Mike Cimini

You and Davide haven’t produced videos since 2021, how did it go? What are your plans for the future?
Exactly, our last work was “Eco”, more than two years have passed since its release. The next project we have in mind is centered on paintings and will touch on the environment, a theme that is very important to us by heart. We have already started pre-production, we hope to complete it by mid-year. Also there will be Ibrida Festival, this year in its ninth edition and clearly we have a lot in store novelty. This year, in fact, the two Ibrida awards, both the national and the international one, are the acquisition of the work by an important Brazilian video art collection: Herdzog collection. A unique opportunity for all the artists who will participate in the festival! The official program will be released in approximately a month, the programming is almost closed. We could tell you more soon!

[1] Davide Mastrangelo, together with Francesca Leoni, makes up the duo Leoni & Mastrangelo



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