Because when stepping into most museums of contemporary art, it’s quite clear that representation of female and male artist isn’t anywhere near proportionate. Cue Max Mara Art Prize for Women, a bi-annual award established in 2005 as the first UK-based award of its kind. The winner gets a six-months residency in Italy, completely tailored to their own interest and artwork. After names like Laure Prouvost and Andrea Büttner picking up the prize in the past, the latest woman of the hour is Emma Hart. The London-based artist works across a multitude of disciplines including video, installations and photography, and her winning proposal revolves around the idea of exploring the topic of family. Now, just a year after the beginning of her residency, the outcome is on display at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.
With her partner and daughter, Hart moved out of London for the first time in her life, an experience that contributed to her exploration of the power of “la familia” and building human relationships with art. She spent her 6 months residency between the cities of Milan, Todi and Faenza, and in each one her art took a different shape. “In Milan I was shadowing a family psychologist, watching families undergo therapy, and then in Todi I spent time looking at the patterns of maiolica pottery. And finally, in Faenza I was making the actual ceramics working with master ceramicists,” Hart tells us.
Gallery 2 of the contemporary art museum is now turned into a dark room filled with a “family of ceramic sculptures linked by the scaffolding, created to represent a family tree” as the artist puts it. And even though their shapes look alike on the outside, their insides are all painted individually with print-like illustrations referencing the richness of the maiolica craft. It’s a play of positive and negative, shadow and light with the lamps shining speech bubbles onto the floor and walls. Mamma Mia! is a mix of pop-art elements and craft-like installations, which – looking at Hart’s past work – proves the importance of investing in female artists. “This experience changed my life completely,” she tells us, excited about what’s to come.
Max Mara Art Prize for Women Emma Hart: Mamma Mia! is on display at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High St London E1 7QX, until 10 September. Admission is free. Find details and opening hours at whitechapelgallery.org. The exhibition will later travel to Collezione Maramotti, Max Mara’s privately owned contemporary gallery.
Text by Dino Bonacic