Born in 1918 in Turin, Rama never received formal training. She began her artistic production in the mid-1930s, before the onset of the Second World War. In her evocative watercolor paintings of the thirties and forties, Rama insists on the corporeality and vitality of the human experience: in these paintings, bodies actively copulate, defecate, and disobey. Her early paintings were received by the public as being scandalous and obscene, anticipating the dismissal of Rama’s work by the dominant art historical discourse for many decades to come.
In the 1950s, Rama turned to geometric abstraction and became involved with the Concrete Art Movement (MAC). Then from the early 1960s onward, themes of the body and discarded objects re-emerged in her work not by means of representation, but as material itself. This method is now widely referred to as “bricolage,” a term coined by the Italian poet and intellectual Edoardo Sanguineti, a life-long close friend of Rama, specifically in reference to Rama’s work of the 1960s. Rama applied paint in viscous, splattered configurations as if it were bodily fluid, and made collages in which taxidermist’s and doll glass eyes, surgical tubes, syringes, and electrical cords evoke organisms in various stages of life and decay. Throughout her career, Rama was profoundly influenced by writers and artists such as Felice Casorati, Pablo Picasso, Albino Galvano, Edoardo Sanguineti, Corrado Levi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino, Luciano Berio, and Carlo Mollino, among others. In the 1970s, Luciano Anselmino, her gallerist at the time, introduced her to Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, and Man Ray, among others. Around this time, she began to incorporate rubber bicycle tires into her work, using the material in a way that simulated not only machine parts but also human skin and loose appendages.
In the 1980s, Rama returned to figuration in full, prompted by the critical acclaim her early work earned as a result of curator Lea Vergine’s exhibition L’altra metà dell’avanguardia (The Other Half of the Avant-Garde). Vergine would go on to organize the first retrospective of Rama’s work in 1985 at the Milan Sagrato del Duomo, which included the artist’s late drawings of mythological beasts and sexually explicit figures, done directly on various kinds of found paper (topographical maps, architectural blueprints, and mathematical diagrams). Rama would continue working figuratively until 2007. Her artistic production continued until she was ninety years old; she died in Turin on September 24, 2015.