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PIANO SKETCH (2004 – 2007)


The Baby Grand Piano - French Translation by Nathalie Bru Press pdf

After 10 days of an unconscious coma of sleep, my laughter exited to the world outside of my dreams to a startling wake up call. My ex-roommate, Natalie, heard my laughter and questioned, "What is so funny?"
I told her that I had just dreamed that I made a Piano of Penises. She said in her even thicker French accent, "Brilliant, are you going to shoot that in Italy?"

Arriving in the south of Italy, Matera, I stopped in to visit my other ex-roommate Dorothy. After a fast hello, she wanted to know about the new project, so I told her about my dream, The Penis Piano. Dorothy, an Anthropology scholar and university professor said, "It is about time, all parts of women have been spattered all over the walls of the museums since the beginning of time. It is about time we have an equality in the knowledge of the sexes." Her next question was, "Are you going to shoot that here?" We both looked at each other and said, "In the South of Italy?" and laughed.

Taking a sleep walking break I stopped in to see my friend, Damiano. Damiano didn't even bother with the hellos, he jumped into the question, "What is the new project?" I started to tell him about the sleep project when he cut me off and said, "OK what is the real project?" I told him about the Piano and I must have his word not to mention this to anyone. Well, 15 minutes after my departure from Damiano, the whole town knew about the Penis Piano.

In Matera, where the churches outnumber its 70,000 inhabitants, this is where Fellini is resurrected, resurrected by a Penis Piano. The women were banding together to bring me their men, whether it was their husbands, their ex-lovers, brothers, uncles or distant relatives, men were flowing in. If the man felt shy in any way, you could here the women's screams, if so and so's husband is in it you must be in it too… All this and I have not even committed to do the project. I was a bit scared with my drama catholic up bringing and 400 years of ancestors in / at the Vatican, but hey, this is Fellini's world, just go with it.

After a few days of shooting and a long line of men waiting, I got a call from Dorothy. Dorothy was talking urgently, "Cynthia the whole town is talking about this project, the polizia here is not like the police in the USA. "Where there is a tiny bit of smoke, the polizia would set the town on fire, they will not understand it as art and see it only as pornography. You can lose your camera, computer and maybe your freedom, this has to end." This was not comforting news, I told Damiano of what Dorothy had just said, he replied, "Don't worry, I will put the fire out." A few hours later Damiano came to my home with another man. He was head of the polizia department and wanted to be in the piano, so we were back on track.

Days turned into months of shooting. I would receive emails from all over Italy, pictures of men asking me to please consider them for the piano. I did go to Rome because of one very famous individual who said, "This is genius, I want my son's son to know I was a part of this."

There were a few reporters who wanted to interview me over this project. I made a deal with one, to limit the number of models I used in Matera, the small town we all lived in, and the article to be released once I left Italy. I am famous in Italy for not having a command of the language, so to try to explain the idea of the project was a bit intimidating. The news went national, my friend Damiano said, all the women were running around town claiming to know all of the 20 models from Matera. The reporter called and said, "I have never had my phone ring so much about an article, all the men ask 3 questions, 1, is she crazy? 2, Where is she? 3, Does she need a model?"

Now onto the land of the FREE, AMERICA,
My return to NYC with my mind in thoughts, this will be an easy finish, it is NYC, I know people, there will be a line of men down the stairs, outside around the corner. Hmmmmm, much too my surprise the return of emails I received were filled with, "Damn Cynthia, I have been trying to show you my penis for years, but not with the camera." So back to the women. Only with the women has it been possible to bring the men in. My friend Zelda Kaplan, always like a mother to me, she was a club goer since she turned the age of 80. While in Italy it was hard talking to her on the phone, she knew there was something going on that I was not telling her, finally I broke down and told her about the project. She laughed and asked, "Can you see their faces?" "No, their identity is safe," I replied. Zelda screamed into the phone, "BRAVO."
Since Zelda was on the scene more than me, she knew every bouncer from all the hot clubs throughout NYC, and what I was desperately in need for the piano was the black keys.
Zelda would just walk up to her African American friend and say, "This is my daughter, Cynthia. She is working on a project and she needs to take a picture of what you have down there." The answer was always a smiling, "YES, anything for you Zelda." That is how I got my black keys.

The project took 3 years. The first year photographing. The second year photoshop-ing the background out. The third, test print and montage the 88 keys together and more test printing.

While test printing, I had been shooting another project. When one of my subjects, from Milan, for my new portrait series, peaked behind the backdrop and saw the many test prints taped to the wall, he said, "I heard about this project. May I see it?" I told him I had shot this in Italy. He said, "Ah yes, you shot this in Rome?" I replied, "No, mostly in the south of Italy." He looked puzzled, "Impossible. Where? Did not the women shave your head and throw you from their town?"
"Actually no, the women brought me their men."


The Grand Piano is a photomontage of 88 penises (52 white and 36 black) photographed and digitally assembled to make a 60-inch piano keyboard. Karalla studied the construction of a piano, took some 20,000 photographs over a period of two years in Southern Italy and New York City, and built the 7 octaves of the instrument.
In The Grand Piano, Karalla explores a key taboo, the penis. Some societies tend to view the penis as ugly and something that should not be seen, touched or even discussed. The Grand Piano encourages both participant and viewer to re-examine their relationship to this powerful subject. Women played an unprecedented role in banding together and bringing their men to Karalla, while the men themselves – as the faceless donors - were freed of identity and class. 
For the viewer The Grand Piano is an invitation to investigate not only personal but also cultural attitudes towards the penis, such as the question of circumcision, and the differences between rural Italy and urban America. Beyond that the work presents the viewer with a glimpse of prohibited knowledge, a forbidden fruit as timeless as that on the Tree of Knowledge that stood before Adam and Eve.  As such it encourages, dares even, the viewer to experience a moment of transgression in seeing a taboo image presented in a new context. As Karalla herself says, "As an artist, I am constantly exploring the barriers that Culture imposes. I ponder what would happen if these restrictions were to lose their hold upon us.  The Grand Piano is the result of this examination, through which I aim to create a community of transgression."
Karalla works between the modern backdrop of New York City and the rural south of Basilicata, Italy. Between these two landscapes, the inhabitants participate in order for her projects to take on a life of their own.  Heavily draped in the Catholic order, Italy intertwines with its opposite, the land of freedom, New York City; her projects bring the communities of people together. The participants that are involved are also challenged, questioning their beliefs, cultural upbringing and identity within their community.