Carol Rama: Antibodies

We all have our own tropical disease within us, for which we seek a remedy.

June 19, 2017 - 4 minute read -
blog art

Today’s topic is depression, madness, and the visual expression of such negative emotions. The artist I am going to write about is Carol Rama and the paper I am going to link to this artist is Sensitive Self-disclosures, Responses, and Social Support on Instagram: The Case of #Depression by Andalibi et al., published at CSCW 2017.

Last week, I went to the New Museum and saw the exhibit Carol Rama: Antibodies. I took the wrong route up to the gallery, and as a result started half way without reading the intro. I thought the artist was mad. Then I went around to the entrance, and there she was—an innocent girl looking at us pondering something not mad at all.

Carol Rama: Antibodies

Side by side was her quote from 1981:

I didn’t have any models for my painting. I didn’t need any, having already four or five disasters in the family, six or seven tragic love stories, an invalid in the house, my father who committed suicide at the age of fifty-two because he had become poor and been made bankrupt and no longer had the life he wanted, and I, it’s very sad, felt his guilt. They’re all things that were enough for me to have subjects to work on… I didn’t have any painters as masters, the sense of sin is my master.

Early Years – Watercolor

Carol Rama (1918–2015) was an Italian self-taught artist. Her father was a bicycle manufacturer and when she was 15, her mother was admitted to a psychiatric clinic. Then her father went bankrupt and committed suicide.

Rama’s early work were mostly watercolor portraits and body parts, often erotic and sexually aggressive. So aggressive that her first exhibition was shut down by the police. Here are two examples of the work from this stage.

Transition – Rubber

After around 1950s, Rama began to use different medium – primarily the inner tubes of bicycle wheels, flattened, or hanged. Rama said the rubber was connected to her father’s bicycle and tire factory, which eventually led to bankruptcy and the suicide. Example works from this period are below:

And this:

painting made entirely from the inner tubes of bicycle wheels. #mindblown #carolrama #art

A post shared by Xiao Ma (@petit_xiao) on

After reading all this background information, I then look at the works around me. Then all the bicycle wheel tubes made sense. The female figure confined to a wheelchair in delicate heels also made sense. The mutilated body parts also made sense. Rama was no longer mad in my mind.

Research | Depression and Visual Disclosure

At last CSCW, Naz Andalibi et al. presented their work, Sensitive Self-disclosures, Responses, and Social Support on Instagram: The Case of #Depression. They examined sensitive visual self-disclosures on Instagram and the responses to these disclosures.

Highlights of the findings include:

  • People use Instagram the hashtag #depression communicate difficult experiences, including suicide, self-harm, illness, concerns about self-appearance, and eating disorders.

  • Commenters often respond with positive feedback and support to these posts.

Most importantly, in the abstract the authors wrote: “psychologists have noted that imagery can be an effective medium for expressing difficult emotions.”

This reminds me of several quotes that I read at Rama’s exhibition:

[My pictures will] appeal very much to people who’ve suffered, and who because of their suffering haven’t been able to cope…

We all have our own tropical disease within us, for which we seek a remedy. My remedy is painting.

So it seems that long before Instagram was a thing, Rama has been using imagery to express emotions. I wish she could know that today, so many people saw her images, and wishes her the best.


  1. Carol Rama’s Resistant Desire. Hyperallergic.
  2. The Psychosexual World of Carol Rama Still Shocks. New York Times.
  3. Carol Rama. Wikipedia.