Color photograph of the head and torso of a light skinned woman wearing a patterned blue blouse and smiling at the camera; she sits at a round table in front of a self containing bowls of fruit and a stack of books

Saskia K. Verlaan

Lily Auchincloss Rome Prize
September 5, 2022–July 14, 2023
PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, Graduate Center, City University of New York
Project title
Between Drawing and Script: Asemic Writing by Feminist Artists in Italy 1968–1980
Project description

During the Italian women’s movement of the 1970s, language, perceived as the bastion of patriarchal hierarchy and control, proved a fertile medium for female creativity in the visual arts. My dissertation addresses “asemantic” or “asemic” drawings, which take on characteristics of writing but resist legibility, demanding a different kind of experience and performance of the “text.” Examining the work of Irma Blank, Dadamaino, Betty Danon, and Maria Lai, I analyze asemic writing as a semiotic, Italian-feminist, and immigrant project and argue for its distinctiveness in relationship to international practices of conceptual art. Furthermore, I read these works as a product of and critical response to the Italian neoavanguardia, which in the 1960s had fostered a culture of linguistic experimentation that challenged traditional culture and political power but failed to address—let alone advance—the cause of gender parity.

The photograph of Saskia K. Verlaan was taken by Sara Beck.