Photos Mauro Balletti text Riccardo Slavik ( originally published in Candy Magazine )
I first came in contact with Mina and her three-octave range as a very small child, my father was a fan and I would play her 45 rpm singles on my orange portable record-player, we were in the early 70s, Mina was arguably the best italian singer ever and an iconic presence that couldn’t be avoided: she was on tv, on the radio, on your stereo. Her look was striking and chic, her life was free and glamorous, her songs dramatic and modern. It was a great time to be an italian singer; pop was leaving the easy bubblegum fun of the 60s to explore the drama of love and sexuality. Mina was a perfect candidate to embody the emancipated woman, pop’s ‘’ bad girl’’ : she had even been banned from italian tv for a while when in ’63 she refused to be secretive about her relationship with Massimiliano Pani, who was separated but still married and the child she was expecting from him; but the ban didn’t last long , the public was always on her side and clamored for her to be back on tv. Her public smoking, dyed blond hair, shaved eyebrows and heavy make-up, short skirts and free attitude made her a model and an icon. Without trying or meaning to, she pushed the strict limits imposed on italian women by the catholic church, while still being a sex symbol to the men.
In 1978 Mina left the stage, vowing not to perform in public again, live, recorded or otherwise, ( I remember my father going to her farewell concert and recording it on his portable cassette player, we used to listen to that dodgy recording every time we took a long trip by car), but she never stopped recording her albums. Between 1972 and 1995, she published a double album each year. From 1973, her LPs and CDs have been characterized by the genius of art director Luciano Tallarini, artist Gianni Ronco and photographer Mauro Balletti. From the 1980s, the design of the album covers was trusted to Balletti, (with Ronco still drawing her from time to time), he has been the filter between Mina and her public since. Together they have created the iconic images which not only were the means to present Mina’s work, but also the only visual communication between the artist and her public. Their means to this end, their chosen medium, was quite often ‘‘Camp’’, Mina bares herself through artifice and make-up, Mauro hides her behind retouching, collages, art, often with an irony lost on some of the critics at the time. With the disappearance of the physical star the icon appeared, her natural likeness gradually evolving into mythical creatures which were at turns ironic, dramatic, over the top, even silly; this was the only visual accompaniment the public had for the sounds coming from her records, thus she could finally live her private life without a care about her image, leaving behind the continuous diets and weight shifts that her perfectionist nature imposed on her body beforeshe finally gave up her’’public persona’’ in ’78. Salomè and Rane Supreme came out towards the beginning and the end of the 80s, and both show Mina at her most iconic, ironic, camp. Hiding herself behind a long, flowing blond beard she is playing subtly with the biblical implications of the album’s title while at the same time looking both glamorous and a bit ridiculous, her look of slight scorn makes it hard to judge her attitude and intentions. Baletti’s painterly background and command of ironic visual quotations is quite apparent in the chiaroscuro of earth tones the make-up artist Stefano Anselmo applied to her face, giving her a surreal, bearded Monna Lisa look. Her camp, gay sensibility, is most evident in Rane Supreme, which shocked some for showing her head grafted on a bodybuilder’s body, and for the hilarious song ‘’Ma Chi E’ Quello Lì’’ a tale of a lonely woman’s trip to the grocery store, where she tries to pick up men, describing them with a drag queen’s verve and vocabulary ( the video for the track featured another gay icon, Monica Vitti, on a rampage in a supermaket ), it has obviously been a hit with italian drag queens ever since… Drag and Camp have been part of Mina’s life for a long time, she even did a cover of ‘‘Sweet Transvestite’’ from The Rocky Horror Show, which is probably the campest song ever written. Her forays into camp play quite often with accepted notions of ‘’ good’’ taste , but then again, if ‘‘camp’’ is on the menu, there is only one mantra to follow, Franco Moschino’s : ‘’Il Buon Gusto Non Esiste!’’ ( ‘’ Good Taste Does Not Exist!’’). What Balletti and Mina did with her covers was turning upside -down the concept that ‘’good’’ art should be simple, honest and true, through artifice and kitsch they uncovered the clichè in art and art in the clichè, revealing in the end everything by studiously hiding the artist, creating the icon for the voice to heard.