Lorella Paleni, Self Portrait
Lorella Paleni, Self Portrait, 2020

The latest series by the Italian painter Lorella Paleni – Brujas — focuses on the often demonized figure of the bruja (otherwise neglected in portraiture) by depicting modern women as historical known brujas from the past and thus creating a link between the witches of yesterday and those of today.

In the Latin Americas and the Afro-Caribbean regions, the term bruja refers to witches. Brujeria, or witchcraft, is rooted in traditional herbalism, indigenous religion, Catholicism and European witchcraft and is associated with folk magic.

In her series, Paleni confirms the presence of such women and their power as well as their right to claim space and honour their heritage in a society still mostly made by and for men.

Lorella Paleni, Giulia Tofana, Oil on canvas, 121x132cm
Lorella Paleni, Giulia Tofana, Oil on canvas, 121x132cm

The absence of the Witch does not invalidate the Spell.

In a world that seems to be going backwards in many areas concerning female rights, rising numbers of mostly young women are proudly reclaiming their heritage by identifying with brujeria, and thus also with the feminism embedded in the archetype of the witch.

In doing so they are “creating a unique source of power for living and (still) surviving in a male dominated society” (Andie Flores). According to a 2019 report by the Executive Secretary of Mexico’s National Public Security System (SESNSP), three women alone are killed in the country every day, just to quote one example of femicide in Latin America.

Lorella Paleni, Benandanti (Night Guests) Oil on canvas, 150x200cm
Lorella Paleni, Benandanti (Night Guests) Oil on canvas, 150x200cm

Paleni, who mostly focuses on animals and nature in her work, is a sorceress herself in her practice as a painter.

Her incredibly intense and raw compositions often carry an element of ritual and an authentic archaic and magical atmosphere that the viewer intuitively feels drawn into.

All women depicted in this series are friends, artists and people whom Paleni knows personally, giving her the confidence that they trusted her in portraying them.

The calm presence of the depicted “brujas” is rooted in their knowing of their power, which no one can take away from them.

Paleni has captured their poise and strenght masterfully in this beautiful body of work and important statement.

As this is our first feature about Lorella we asked her to answer a few of our signature questions and then some!

Maria Antonia de Caiseros (Miret), Oil on canvas, 140×110 cm

Air, Fire and the Unknown

Lorella, is here a particular situation or person that inspired you to become an artist?

I don’t think there has been one singular trigger; I believe it has been more the case of many particular elements coming together.

At the end it just felt like it was the only path that made sense for me.

Which of these elements (space, air, fire, water, earth) would you choose in relation to your practice or yourself, and why?

Air, because that’s the zodiac element of my astrological sign; and Fire, because it is a very present element in my image making practice and research.

Lorella Paleni, 21 - The Ritual 2, Oil on canvas, 45x55 cm
Lorella Paleni, 21 – The Ritual 2, Oil on canvas, 45×55 cm

How do you approach your paintings, are there for example certain emotions you want to trigger in the viewer?

When I am making work I never think ahead what it should or should not trigger in the viewer.

Part of the work itself is unknown even to myself until the work is done. I focus on the subject and the idea, and I let it grow.

Is there a book or author you are reading at the moment or that is of special inspiration to you and you want to share with us here?

There are many books that have been, and remain, source of inspiration; it’s hard to choose only one.

I will mention those that first come to my mind:

Woman and Nature – Susan Griffin;

Caliban and the Witch – Silvia Federici;

What animals teach us about politics – Brian Massumi;

The Animal that therefore I am – Jacques Derrida.

Lorella Paleni, So Long Oil on canvas, 60×50 cm


Irrational, wild and uncontrollable

Can you please tell us about your latest series in which you portrait Brujas, how did this idea develop?

The idea came organically while researching for my work on animals and nature; I started seeing similarities between the way women, nature, and animals are and have been viewed, and consequently treated.

Both, animals and women, have been seen as irrational, wild and uncontrollable, something to be tamed, weak and dangerous at the same time.

The witch is often represented as bestial. Many accused witches were cunning women, women with a deep knowledge of herbs, natural remedies, and nature.

The image of the witch surfaced at the intersection of these thoughts.

Since the majority of these witches were poor, we have no portrait or representations of them, I wanted to give these women a face, I wanted them to be seen.

It is in this contest that I started the series, the portraits are of women I know, artists, and friends; I wanted to create a link between them, the witches of yesterday and those of today.

Witches resistance of today

Initially the paintings of the series were all titled with the name of “real witches” (information I found in process papers, books and archives), while more recently I have started giving them the name of the actual women represented.

All women in this series are friends, artists, and people I know.

It was important for me to know them personally, have a real life connection, to know that they trusted me in representing them.

In your view as an artist and woman with control over herself, why is this archetype becoming so prominent and important all over the world – one could even speak of the rising of the witch?

I think the reason the image of the witch is so prominent today is because it represents a subversive and rebellious woman that will not abide to what society expect her and her life to be.

But I also see it as a possibility for sisterhood, an incitement to resistance, to fight against a system we do not agree with.

Lorella Paleni, Seekers, Oil on board, 30,5x40,5cm
Lorella Paleni, Seekers, Oil on board, 30,5×40,5cm

Do you consider yourself spiritual and how does this feed into your work?

I would say yes, and I think it feeds into my work in terms of subjects and the way I approach them.

Lots of my work deals with spiritual as well as with magic elements, from the rituals, the feminine, the image of the witch in its many aspects, to our relation to animals.

Please tell us what you are currently working on during this corona crisis.

I am currently trying to take advantage of the quarantine caused by the current health crisis to create new work. I am also looking forward to moving back to New York as soon as this emergency situation will be over; it’s something I have been planning for a while.

The future is .. ?

What we decide to do now.


Author: Esther Harrison