Women are perceived as fragile and are placed in stereotypical boxes which dictate their roles, influence their physical appearance and affect their mental and emotional well-being. This being said, these dynamics effect woman and their choices to either self-liberate or be an affect and change their identity. This article strives to explore how female artists explore this in global art movements as well as female artists from Art@Africa’s Weapons of Mass Seduction.
The start of the revolutionary art movement of the feminist reared itself in the 1960’s. American and British female artists’ artwork were inspired by the preceding history of oppressed, controlled, manipulated and abused woman in avenues like their professional and domestic life. Artists Louise Bourgeois and Eve Hesse are two of many liberal female artists who dedicated their artistic career to explore some of these themes to create awareness for gender equality freedom. Female artists also created organisations to open the narrow platform for the previously negated female artists’ voice. Female critics such as Griselda Pollock and art historian Linda Nochlin was hugely influential during the feminist art movement to rewrite the historical scope for female artist in order to create a new platform where freedom met the oppressed female artist, make known false reality stereotypes as well as redefine the western canon of the female nude. This can be seen with a female sub-movement called The Guerrilla Girls in one of their artworks Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum? (1989). These are only some example of themes explored. This movement set out to recreate the man-made systems which negated female artists. A new visual language was thus created and still is broadly explored.
Fig 1. Guerrilla Girls. Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum? 1989 (Tate) © courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com
Modern themes never yet fully explored by the male artistic society was explored during the feminist movement among female artists with conceptual art, video art and body art. The medium of body art was extremely evocative as it created a very realistic piece of art which was often intimate and personal. Body art was used to shock and mitigate really deep subject matter. Female artists would either be naked, perform acts of self-mutilation, all of which sought to de-objectify woman from the male gaze. Carolee Schneemann in one of her performance pieces titled Interior Scroll (1975) pulled a scroll from her vagina completely vulnerably unclothed in order to make a shock-statement as metaphor for claiming back female power with the battle of the sexes.
Fig 2, Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll, 1975 (Tate)
Video art allowed a visual medium that through its very medium allowed a rewriting of how woman were then and still re-create and document the barriers created by centuries of male created data’s that ultimately effect woman negatively. For example video artist Dara Birnbaum deconstructed mass media of woman from television broadcasts with sexist subtitles. Visual iconography that would often be used and deconstruct was the phallus were it was often used as a metaphorical innuendo for male domination. This all is a small fraction of how woman set to break their shackles.
Fig 2. Dara Birnbaum, (A) Drift of Politics: Two Women Are Active in a Space, 1978, DVD still (Frieze)
The male gaze has always been an incredibly important aspect of art history and Art@Africa hope to flip this on its head by offering women the chance to speak for themselves through art.The aim is to allow our female South African artists to explore themale South Africans’ traditional hold of power and superiority over them and flip it on its head with an emotively and psychologically inspired approach. This exhibition speaks for a society in which women use their power to be recognised as the architects of a collaborative non-sexist society. The ‘Weapons of Mass Seduction’ exhibition hopes to illuminate the game of seduction, sexist power struggles and the way women have been using their strengths to seek liberation.
The exhibition will display a selection of individually created works by prominent South African female only artists which are Alexa Pienaar, Andrea du Plessis, Bev Butkow, Caelyn Robertson, Elizavetha Rukavishnikova, Eve de Jong, Jenny Nijenhuis, Jolie Garcia, Juanita Oosthuizen, Judy Woodborne, Juhlene Wagner-Muller, Kara Schoeman, Lauren Redman, Louise Kritzinger, Mandy Coppes-Martin, May Wentworth, Maureen Quin, Mine Kleynhans, Nadine Froneman, Ronit Judelman, Shui-Lyn White, Sinead Fletcher, Suzaan Heyns, Talita Steyn, Tay Dal, Trude Gunter and Zelda Stroud.
Zelda Stroud, among the listed, exhibits women who have dealt with male manipulation and control. Her series of Etchings narrate autobiographical stories of what woman today are going through. Stroud liberates the females in her series of prints from personal constraints created by misperceptions men have of what women ought to be through the act of making these woman’s experiences known.
Fig.4, Zelda Stroud, Red Isn’t Really Your Colour, 2019,Etching, aquatint, dry point, watercolour, 1/12 th fragment of the model’s ex-lover’s underwear, embroidery thread , 52cm x 48cm, (Art@Africa).
The exhibition is also not all about the prophecy of what women experience. Artists Maureen Quin exhibits a trilogy of African women. Each sculpture is an unique statement of a woman from a tribe in Africa carrying a basket of iconography that depicts who she is as a strong matriarch. Artist Tay Dall exhibits an oil and collage painting where she explores her belief that “the general thrust from society seeing a woman as an object of sexual submissiveness; is that an object can be bought, unwrapped and consumed”. Mandy Coppes-Martin draws with silk where she sews in embroidery from her great grandmother to her grand mother to her mother to herself and furthermore from her children. This triptych illuminates the fragile narration of females within a family. These are only a handful of female South African artists that explore the liberation of the female voice.
Feminist art still thrives among South African women and also explores empowering statements by woman through the narration of their artworks’ very existence. With art being the language of the soul where there are no boundaries one can imagine how liberal this exhibition on face value will appear to be. Its transparency and vulnerability to speak without boundary and is a testament of the bravery South African female artists exude through their steadfast and unapologetic authenticity.
Fig 1. Author unknown, Feminist Art. www.tate.org.uk, UK, Tate, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/f/feminist-art (accessed 28 July 2019)
Fig 2. E.Manchester, ‘Interior Scroll’, www.tate.org.uk, UK, Tate, 2003, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schneemann-interior-scroll-p13282 (accessed 28 July 2019).