A ceramist, draftswoman, metalsmith, and writer, Tecla Tofano was born in Naples, Italy, in 1927 and moved to Caracas in 1952. Between 1954 and 1956 she studied ceramics and enameling at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Aplicadas in Caracas with Miguel Arroyo (1920–2004), an important ceramist, art critic, and museum director. As 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 organizer of the left-wing political party Movimiento al Socialismo. She was active as a ceramist from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The art critics Nelly Barbieri and Marta Traba described two phases in Tofano's ceramic production. The first, spanning 1955 to 1963, focused on the production of utilitarian ceramics, as seen in her exhibitions at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas in 1959 and 1964. During the second phase, between 1964 and 1977, she worked in nontraditional ways, modeling mud and clay to create sculptural forms.
Her satirical and often grotesque objects and forms commented on 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 with two last exhibitions, Las señoras (1977) at Galería Conac Provenezuela, Caracas, and Ella, él… ellos (She, he… they, 1978) at Galería de Arte Nacional, Caracas.
From 1959 to 1980 Tofano taught at the Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas. Starting in the 1960s, she wrote critical articles on society and culture from a leftist, 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). In recognition of 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 died in Caracas in 1995.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1959 Tecla Tofano, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas
1968 Hábitat y habitantes, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas
1971 La cama y sus posibilidades, Galería Viva México, Caracas
1973 Lo que comen los que comen: Cerámica y collages, Galería Viva México, Caracas
1978 Tecla Tofano: Ella, él… ellos, Galería de Arte Nacional, Caracas
Arroyo, Miguel. Tecla Tofano. Caracas: Museo de Bellas Artes, 1959.
Barbieri, Nelly. El movimiento cerámico en Venezuela. Caracas: Consejo Nacional de la Cultura, 1999.
Comerlati, Mara. "Ya no puedo decir más con el barro rústico que manejo." El Nacional, December 3, 1977.
Tecla Tofano: Ella, él… ellos. Caracas: Galería de Arte Nacional, 1978.
Traba, Marta. "Tecla Tofano: Arts política." El Nacional, March 11, 1973.