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TECLA TOFANO (1927 - 1995)

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An artist and academic, Tecla Tofano’s multidiscipline career is one of great significance when studying many aspects of Venezuelan culture in the twentieth-century. Perhaps best known as a ceramist, Tofano was also a draftswoman, metalsmith, and a writer. Born in Naples, Italy, in 1927 she moved to Caracas in 1952. When living in Venezuela between 1954 and 1956 she studied ceramics and enameling at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Aplicadas in Caracas alongside Miguel Arroyo (1920–2004), the important ceramist, art critic and museum director. Being a feminist and left-wing militant, Tofano was a founder of the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, and deeply involved in the left-wing political party Movimiento al Socialismo.

Tofano was practicing as a ceramist from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The art critics Nelly Barbieri and Marta Traba describe Tofano's ceramic production in two phases. The first, spanning from 1955 to 1963, focused on the production of utilitarian ceramics, for example the work that was seen in her exhibitions at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas in 1959 and 1964. Her utilitarian objects were of strong invoice and very textured.

During the second phase, between the years of 1964 and 1977, she worked other more nontraditional ways, modeling mud and clay to create sculptural forms. This passage from utilitarian to figurative art matters to him, because it gives ceramics a sculptural autonomy: clay becomes a means of expression, pottery, a way of communicating, while matter gains new dignity. In his eyes, this process represents a real break with the beautiful - understood as decorative, pleasing to the eye - to take an interest in the ugly.

Barbieri also said, "Together with Reina Herrera and Cristina Merchán she formed a group of young artists who joined the ceramic movement, which was developed in the 1940s and was manifested in the Official Salons and ceramic exhibitions of Sala Mendoza"

Her humorous and often grotesque objects and forms represented consumer culture, bourgeois values, and gender stereotypes. Tofano's expressionist style, coupled with the representation of daily objects, has been described as pop. In Hábitat y habitantes (Habitat and inhabitants, 1968) at the Museo de Bellas Artes, Tofano exhibited flowers, vases, and animals; in Enlatados (Canned, 1970), also at the Museo de Bellas Artes, she presented hands, flowers, and vulvas. In the 1970s her work became more overtly critical and more focused on feminist and social issues. In Los accesorios (Accessories, 1971) at Banco Nacional de Ahorro y Prestamo, Caracas, she displayed "ugly" shoes and handbags, and in Del género femenino (Of the female gender, 1975) at Galería Viva México, Caracas, she exhibited penises and vulvas. Tofano decided to stop working in ceramics, her last two exhibitions being, Las señoras (1977) at Galería Conac Provenezuela, Caracas, and Ella, él… ellos (She, he… they, 1978) at Galería de Arte Nacional, Caracas.

Tofano inspired many Young students whist teaching at the Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas from 1959 to 1980. Starting in the 1960s, she wrote critical articles on society and culture from a left wing, feminist perspective for the newspaper El Nacional. During the 1960s and 1970s she published several books: Quien inventó la silla (1968), Yo misma me presento (1973), and Ni con un pétalo de un rosa (1975). She received several prestigious awards: Premio Oficial de Artes Aplicadas at the 19th Salón Oficial, Museo de Bellas Artes (Caracas, 1958); gold medal at the International Exhibition of Contemporary Ceramics (Prague, 1961); and silver medal at the Exposición Internacional de Cerámica (Buenos Aires, 1962).

As a tribute to her pioneering role as a feminist promoting a new role for women in a male-dominated society, the Centro de Documentación e Información Tecla Tofano of the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer at the Universidad Central de Venezuela carries the artist's name. Tofano passed away in Caracas in 1995.

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