The problem with Frieze Week ’18 by Sian Matthews

 

That title is a little misleading because I did actually have a really great time at Frieze London. It has been over a month now since the fair and I have had plenty of time to contemplate it all, although there is one thing that has been playing on my mind that I would like to discuss. But let’s start on a good note! This year was my first time attending the art fair itself, although I have explored the sculpture park in previous years, and thanks to Sweet ‘Art I had a press pass!

This year Frieze week had a huge focus on women in the arts. Frieze itself commissioned some large-scale artworks, installations and performances such as Tatiana Trouvé’s ‘The Shaman’ (pictured below) a 1.2 tonne bronze tree and water pump. It was one of the first things I saw as I went into the fair and it definitely commanded the attention it was receiving.

20181004_123631

At the other end of the fair there was a curated section of stands showcasing the work of 9 female artists who had used their work as a form of political activism in the 80s and 90s called ‘Social Work’ I quite enjoyed Social Work as it was diverse on all levels, including race, age, backgrounds and even mediums and subject matter. The section included artists such as Nancy Spero, Helen Chadwick, Berni Searle and Ipek Duben; artists who use the female experience and themes of sexuality, gender, alienation and identity to challenge both aesthetic and political conventions. It worked really well and was an insightful look into the practice of some very influential artists. I was also lucky enough to wander past just as Sonia Boyce was giving an interview about her work! (I won’t lie, I felt a little starstruck!) It was fascinating to listen in and hear what she had to say about the motives and messages behind her work and what she thought of Social Work itself.

The stand I connected with most in Social Work was the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery who were showcasing the work of Mary Kelly. ‘Interim Part 1: Corpus’ is the culmination of 3 years of documentation by Kelly of conversations she had with women of her generation and displays their words in first-person text panels alongside screen printed images of fashion ads and medical photography of ‘hysterical women’. It feels personal and almost candid in its delivery, you get the feeling you’re reading something like a diary entry, something you shouldn’t be reading, and I appreciated the fact I was being told something so intimate.

The one thing that really disappointed me about Social Work is that it was hyped up quite a lot beforehand, but then felt like it was squished into a corner at the actual event. I would have preferred it to have had a more prominent spot in the fair.

Another nice touch to the fair this year was a fund-raising event hosted by Tracey Emin in the form of a postcard auction, with the proceeds going to women’s charities. Although unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch any of it!

Elsewhere in the city, galleries such as White Cube, Victoria Miro, the Parasol Unit and even the RA celebrated women by opening exhibitions and installations of works by artists such as Yayoi Kusama (who I love but sadly missed out on tickets for!), Cornelia Parker brought her PsychoBarn installation to the courtyard of the RA, Heidi Bucher and her beautifully haunting latex skinnings, and Doris Salcedo (pictured below) at White Cube. Women really did take over London for Frieze week!

 

On the Friday night I attended The Other Art Fair which also had a whole section dedicated to female artists. They had their own building across the road from Victoria House which was designed to be a statement called ‘not 30%’ to draw attention to the fact women typically get only 30% representation in art fairs. I thought it was a great idea (although I wasn’t sure about segregating them in another building away from the main event), and there was a diverse selection of work, from painting and sculpture to taxidermy and even tattooing. I so badly wanted to get a tattoo by artist Emily Malice but I missed her by a couple of hours as Friday night was the only time she wasn’t there! (maybe next time!)

Whilst we were there we also met two recent graduates who had turned their stall into a fun and inviting participatory project.  As Illustrators, they were drawing visitors to the art fair as any animal of their choosing for a small donation, so obviously we had to take part! See us below as a cat, a leopard and a jellyfish!

 

Overall I think The Other Art Fair may have been more enjoyable on a social level. More interactive, more inviting, it was more appealing to a wider spectrum of people. Dare I say more inclusive?

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Women finally getting the recognition they so badly deserve. So going back to my clickbait title, where is the problem?

What has been playing on my mind is the idea that all of this new attention from large institutions, galleries and companies is just a form of box ticking, it felt like they were just ticking women off their inclusion list. I am not really sure of the exact thing that made me feel like this, maybe it’s the fact that both art fairs felt the need to over-publicise their inclusion of women and make a song and dance about it as if for attention; to be seen to be doing the right thing instead of recognising the issues faced by female artists, educating themselves and making the necessary changes. Obviously, I’m not saying we shouldn’t shout about the needs and rights of women in this industry, its massively important to talk about it! There was just something about Frieze week that made me feel like the motives behind it were off.  As you all must know by now, 2018 marks 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote. This means that women’s rights are very much the theme of the year. It means that right now equality and women’s rights seem to be a bit of a fashion statement unfortunately and these companies need to be seen to be doing the right thing or they face huge backlash.

While I think its amazing what happened at this year’s Frieze week, and I certainly do not want to belittle the success of the artists featured. I can’t shake the feeling that we should all be a little wary of the motives and the intentions behind this sudden push for women. I am worried that next year this will all go away and no real progress will have been made. I hope I am wrong.

I have taken a photo of an article written in the free art news paper given out at the Frieze art fair itself which I feel sums up my feelings well and highlighted certain points for you. I feel it quite clearly explains why the focus of this years Frieze week only felt skin deep.

20181113_143230.jpg

Let me know what you think, am I just being pessimistic? Did you visit Frieze or any of the other events going on that week and what was your experience? I’d really like to know.

The curious, moving and brilliant new work of the 2018 graduates, by Sian Matthews

I started this year’s degree show season by making my yearly pilgrimage back to the University of Hertfordshire. I have been going to see the Headlines show since I first started my Foundation degree at UH in 2012, and having been a part of Headlines ’16 after completing my BA I always find it a lot of fun to go back and see what the students have achieved with the same space, resources and amazing tutors I had. I am never disappointed. Headlines includes the whole school of art, from Fine Art, Photography and Fashion to Model making, Design and everything in between. It’s a diverse celebration of a lot of hard work and that’s what makes it such an awesome show.

Obviously, every year I make a beeline for the Fine Art studios, my old stomping ground, to explore the work on display and support my fellow artists. It is also a chance to see old friends and tutors. I can admit I miss them and my studio.

One of the things I always enjoy and am proud of is the distinct visual similarities and connections all UH students seem to share no matter what year you go, like one huge collective. There always seems to be a huge focus on 3D work, accumulations and collections of found objects, plaster casts and video work; mediums which I view as more tactile and interactive for the viewer. Objects which you can form a connection to always seem to do more for me than a drawing (personal preference). I am sure that this connection we all share comes from the environment created at UH; there is a lot of space, meaning you have more freedom to create large scale, ambitious works, as well as some very hands on and inspiring tutors and it’s encouraged to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate.

There was a lot of that this year, as well as some fantastic performance and painting. A few favourites of mine, working with themes such as the everyday, the human condition, balance and absence, included (pictures below) Lucy Alexandra, Lucy Matthews, Elizabeth Leonard, Lizzie Cardoza and Seda Kalayci.

Moving forward a month to Free Range, “the largest creative graduate showcase in Europe” at The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. From the 2nd of June to the 16th of July, each week there is a new exhibition exploring a different creative medium combining the work of many universities. Again, I like to go every year, it’s always a great show and different to any degree show; the main difference being that it’s a curated exhibition. Degree shows tend to have all the artists clearly separated for obvious reasons (the work needs to be graded so it needs to be clear who did what). Free Range gives the artists the space and freedom to pick works and curate a show that illustrates their achievements as a collective (I am also aware that some universities use Free Range as their degree show).

My first Free Range visit this year was to Photography week 1. I’ll be honest here, this is a controversial opinion! I am sometimes cautious of going to large photography exhibitions because I feel they can get repetitive. Not to say the work included is awful or boring, because it is not, but I am not someone who gets a great deal from photography. It is just not a medium I connect with easily- it’s personal preference. So I was pleasantly surprised to find some really fantastic work on display. These included works by Molly Snell, Katariina Leinonen, Hannah Detnon, Elena Cenedese and Jessica Nash. (pictured below)

20180625_124506

Jessica Nash

Free Range Art Week I was excited for, so excited that I went to the private view. I was looking forward to seeing how the UH show would differ from the degree show and seeing what other crazy things I would discover from universities such as Northampton, Leeds, Hereford, Colchester and Norwich.

Every year since I took part in Free Range, Herts has used the T3 space, it is bright, open and right in the middle of everything which makes it a great space for those big ambitious 3D works I mentioned earlier, its also great for performance because of the footfall it gets. This year was no different, it was packed. I know I am biased, but it looked amazing.

 

Next to UH was Hereford College of Arts. My eye was drawn straight to the work of Justine-Diane Winter whose installation, focusing on themes of feminism, attraction, repultion and decay included wilting flowers nailed to the walls accompanied by a video. It demanded my attention straight away, it was bold and obviously meant something to the artist.

20180705_191619

 

Also from Hereford was Tara Love and her panel of coloured ear casts. As someone who loves a repetitive process and casting objects this piece jumped out at me. It was quirky and fun to look at as well as a thought-provoking comment on our sense of hearing and the connections it provides us with.

20180709_153237

 

‘The Unnameables’ by Hannah Moulds were uncanny as they creeped around the entrance way to the T1 space. These faux fur forms almost seemed alive in the way they trailed around the space they were given. Reading what the artist wrote about them gave them a whole new context and conjured all kinds of weird imagery and stories. It would be great to see them again in some different spaces.

 

Back downstairs I found a couple of gems. A whole collection of small studies of nipples by Olivia Fenwick arranged in a pattern on the wall, reminiscent of a mandala. These accompanied a pile of sculptural nipples which were spreading their way across the floor upstairs as if they were multiplying. Always fun to see an invasion of nipples, right?

 

The second gem I found downstairs was the work of Alex Dixie Tobias. A small key hole in the wall led to a burlesque peep show, one designed to be a comment on feeling used, and performing for other people’s pleasure and entertainment. Some of Alex’s other works focus on identity and the struggles of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

20180709_150922

 

Art can be therapeutic for some, it can also be a way to document and make sense of a difficult situation or condition and I must applaud any artists who lay it all out in such a revealing way for the whole world to see.  I’ve done it and I know how hard it is to confront a demon everyday in the quest to create something great and regain some control of something uncontrollable.

These are just a few things which stood out to me at Free Range 18. I could go on for a while yet, I honestly thought it was an incredibly strong show this year. I even went back on the Monday before it ended to see a few art works without the massive crowds from the PV and to make sure I hadn’t missed anything special. I am already looking forward to the degree shows of 2019!

Did anyone go to any great degree shows? What stood out and excited you? Share in the comments below.

Sweet ‘Art Intersect Project For WOW Festival London by Corrina Eastwood

Some of you may well have read the post I wrote in December titled I learned A Lesson Today About Feminism.  It was fueled in equal measures by frustration and inspiration but most importantly and despite the challenges to Sweet ‘Art as an organization we took away from this time a new found energy and passion for our mission and values, to be a truly inclusive, intersectional feminist organization.

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

Part of this new energy and self reflectivity resulted in us looking out and reaching out in ways we maybe hadn’t done before in an attempt to join others with different perspectives. We wanted to share experiences and partner with organizations to help and be helped in furthering our mission. This has resulted in us linking with some incredible organizations for upcoming projects including Black Blossoms, the Bernie Grant Centre, WIA, Vout –O Reenees arts club and the Vagina Museum. So watch this space, exciting times ahead!

This also resulted in us being introduced to the awesome and inspirational Claudia Merhej, the curator of WOW Festival London, who asked us to join the festival this year with something visual arts based and interactive to take place at the Royal Festival Hall. We were super excited at the thought of being part of WOW after years of enjoying this incredible festival on London’s South Bank and after much coffee and many phone calls the Intersect Project was born.

wow-women-of-the-world-festival_620_375_90_s_c1

GreatArt_Middle.jpg

Big thanks to GreatArt for their sponsorship of this project!

 

Intersect acted in its first incarnation as a live art portraiture project exploring and challenging the male gaze in art from an intersectional feminist perspective. We decided this would be the perfect way for us to celebrate women’s month this year and its debut at WOW London felt like the perfect place for us to join with other women to develop this collaboration to continue in the future, while also archiving the project. As many of you know, at Sweet ‘Art we have a passion for the importance of archiving artists projects carried out by marginalized groups in accessible ways such as the SHE book, our responsive zine publication T’ART and this blog!

2f1b49_adc189d9cf7b4762aa764c9d04677ae9~mv2 2f1b49_752f1e8f6d69491eb7a3a52c5ad8a702~mv2

2f1b49_898b7b59410f4e079d3dfcdf12988d6d~mv2

2f1b49_8a4c2ca78c134276a97e2465cadd9406~mv2_d_2899_2411_s_4_2.jpg     FullSizeRender 3

 

Aims and Objectives

 The Intersect Live Art Portraiture Project set out to explore the following:

  • The concept of the ‘female gaze’ in art.
  • Subverting the concept of the traditional ‘male gaze’ in art and society (that of women as objects, often sexual objects, in the passive role of the observed only)
  • The concept of intersectional feminist perspectives (the idea that even if we all call ourselves feminists we all come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexualities and socio economic positions which effect the way we see feminism and what it needs to be for us.)
  • Female solidarity (we know from past projects and exhibitions the importance of women joining together, talking to each other and having fun with a common aim.)

 

How Could Intersect do this?

Four female identifying artist (find out more about them here) were selected by Sweet ‘Art for the Intersect collaboration due to the exploration of feminist issues in their practice from very different social, personal and political perspectives.

The artists each worked at one of four stations on a portrait of a female identifying sitter for a set period of time.

2f1b49_3377d9dd36fb4cad9e42d0ef4e15b05c~mv2_d_4961_7016_s_4_2.jpg

IMG_3868.JPG

 

IMG_3874.JPG  IMG_4067.JPG

IMG_3931.JPG  IMG_4065.JPG

The sitter was asked to fill out a questionnaire before starting that asked a simple question set by each of the participating artists. This was to help the artists get an insight into the sitter beyond their physical appearance if they so wished.

IMG_3895.JPG      IMG_4542.JPG

When each artists’ time slot ended, they were facilitated to move to the next station to continue working on the previous artist’s portrait, and so on until each artist sat at each of the four stations; creating a collaborative visual dialogue of an intersecting female gaze.

IMG_4074.JPG

IMG_4035.JPG

IMG_3990.JPG

IMG_4058.JPG

We were really excited to see how this very simple way of giving female identifying artists an opportunity to focus on a female identifying sitters, would affect the resulting artworks while artists were given the opportunity to challenge their own gaze as practitioners. Artists were facilitated to move literally and conceptually, to observe from different perspectives, something that is vital to intersectional feminist thinking and values.

IMG_3997   IMG_3974

IMG_3996  IMG_3893

IMG_3925

IMG_4002

We felt that the resulting artworks did act as an unpredictable representation of differing feminist and female perspectives, exploring the female gaze. However there were many ways on various levels in which the activity was evocative and challenging.

IMG_4015                                  IMG_3870

Some artists focused on the collaborative aspect of the project as an important take-away; female artists working together on a shared project that felt inspiring yet on occasions uncomfortable. The assumption that as women and intersectional feminists, collaboration will always be easy felt pertinent, as the artists found ways to negotiate difference and work together. It can feel a bit like this when navigating feminist activism.

“….the thing that stood out was that you have to let go of your own vision, and accept that there are others and after a while you begin to sync and start to work more with what you have. I noticed that Asia for example towards the end did only a small detail and left something for me to continue with (I was behind her) so we kind of built the woman up between us, but Ting would often dominate over what had gone before – both were interesting contributions, and perhaps related to personality but both situations you had to be cool with to maintain the group – I wonder how men would have reacted to this and performed this exercise!” 

Dannielle Hodson

IMG_3887.JPG       IMG_4019.JPG

IMG_4246.jpg

 

 

The idea of challenging a male gaze, of a women traditionally being passive and the observed in art practice and this being replaced by a more active, dominating female gaze, did feel to be something that the artists were able to explore.

Dannielle mentions feeling her normal gaze in life class was challenged. That of the sitter purely as object, which maybe enacting the traditions of life drawing and the objectifying of women in this forum. However Dannielle also mentioned concern for the sitter’s feelings in relation to how she may look physically. An empathic ‘female gaze’ or a response to traditionally patriarchal dictated beauty standards?

“I also found myself at my last station erasing what had gone before and trying to ‘fix’ it, also a kind of domination but I was concerned that it looked nothing like the woman and she could be upset.  I was very conscious of the woman’s feelings where as in a life class usually I’m not really thinking about this, just the bodies angles and shape etc.” 

Dannielle Hodson

IMG_4229 2

 

We had such an awesome response from guests to WOW London prior to and during the event with people emailing in the approaching weeks asking to book a slot to be part of the project. We had a first come, first served sign up sheet on the day this time around and all slots were taken very quickly, it was super exciting!

It was interesting to see the different ways in which sitters chose to interact with artists and the project, and overall there was a real sense of camaraderie and solidarity with all sitters leaving with their portraits expressing that the process felt both unique and special.

IMG_4075

 

“Thank you for such a beautiful experience. Please do it again, it’s an incredible idea!”

Shiraz Engineer

 

Some women were keen to share the sense of trust and being attended to and privileged in the position of sitter, this feeling important and valuable.

“It was lovely to just sit still and be allowed to be still. I loved the concept of the rotation and the resulting artworks were wonderful!”

Anna Godsiff

IMG_4063.JPG

Others felt empowered by the concept of being under a ‘female gaze’ this bringing up considerations of the abuse of power or lack of consent often felt in relation to being more typically under a ‘male gaze’, as a women in society.

“…..as I was waiting for my turn, reading that I would be the ‘object of the female gaze’ felt immediately empowering, flattering and ‘sisterly’. A welcome change from being the object of the male gaze, which is more often than not, a highly unpleasant experience because we seldom give our consent. Sometimes when we do, the male gaze takes the piss into leering, and worse. So flipping that on its head – female artists, and giving one’s consent – was very exciting, and I automatically trusted them completely, not to take advantage of the powerful position they were in…”

Shiraz Engineer

IMG_4259.jpg

A well earned drink when fished and ready to enjoy the rest of the evening at WOW!

 

IMG_4230.jpg

The project not only involved the Sweet ‘Art team, our talented artists and the sitters but became a place where others visiting the festival could come and sit and watch the action, chat with us about art and feminism and have both fun and important conversations.

We cant wait to do it all again!

 

 

A Women’s day Experience by Sian Matthews

I had a bad experience for International women’s day and it helps prove how far we still need to go.

A friend and I decided to spend IWD at a few galleries in London which were holding exhibitions and tours about women artists, the female gaze and the influential women who helped shape certain institutions. I hadn’t seen my friend for a while, I was looking forward to celebrating women and art with her.

The day started strong with a coffee and a catch up before moving on to the newly opened Richard Saltoun gallery in Mayfair. The first exhibition held at this new gallery space, ‘Women Look at Women’ explored themes such as feminine identity, censorship, gender stereotypes, sex and relationships through the work of thirteen international artists. The exhibition included beautiful but honest black and white photography by artists like Renate Bertlmann, Francesca Woodman and Annegret Soltau, as well as sculptural works by Helen Chadwick.

It was great to experience an exhibition, curated by a woman, working with female artists, feminine themes and the female gaze. You know, other then when Sweet ‘Art does it. For the most part I was impressed by it. The exhibition felt refreshing; it was clean and well thought out, and most importantly for the viewer, it was insightful and thought provoking. Of course, any exhibition has space for improvement, to learn and ensure you do things better the next time. ‘Women Look at Women’ could have been more inclusive. It could have included a wider, more diverse group of works, but it did what it was meant to do well enough for me.

After such a great start you will understand my disappointment and, honestly, outrage at our next visit.  This year for International Women’s Day, the Royal Academy intended to celebrate with ‘Feminine Futures’, a series of events and tours from the 1st – 10th of March.

We got to the RA at noon for the IWD tour, which was billed as an event that will “explore the lives of some of the important women in the history of the RA”. What we were greeted with however was anything but!

Before I explain why I was so disappointed, I should point out that this tour was one of six or seven delivered over ten days. The tour is presented by a different guide each day and therefore is different every time. For all I know the rest of the tours were spot on.

To start, the male guide took us into a small corridor next to a staircase which was decorated with photographs of the current eighty academicians. He pointed out Tracey Emin and Cornelia Parker and briefly spoke about them (they were the only female artists mentioned for the whole tour). He then spent the next 5 minutes talking about several of the men on the wall.  He made no effort to mention any other female academicians, he didn’t even mention Sonya Boyce, the first woman of colour to be made a Royal Academician, as recently as 2016.

Moving on he spoke about two paintings depicting some of the life drawing classes at the RA many years ago. These paintings showed female models being drawn by male artists and were themselves by men, although I cannot remember who. While standing in front of these paintings we were told that at this point in the RA’s history, women were banned from attending life drawing classes because it was thought that it objectified them. The guide also informed us that all female life models were from local brothels as it was inappropriate for women other than prostitutes to model nude. But according to him, all of that was ok… because they were paid a little more than their male counterparts.

Throughout the rest of the tour the guide spoke about not only the building it currently occupies, Burlington house, but also when it occupied the top floors of Somerset House and the National Gallery. He spoke about the architects, the owners of buildings and artists who have worked within the RA: all men, including Constable and even Churchill. It would have been far more interesting to tell us the little-known fact that’s among the 34 founding members of the RA there were two women! Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann.

A few times other members of the group asked about the role of women at the RA, which was met with the guide asking if any of us were artists and what our practice consists of. Both myself and my friend answered, explaining that we are installation artists with an interest in the work of the YBA’s. So we were already familiar with Tracey Emin who’s work he promptly explained to us as if we had no idea who she was. ‘My bed’ he said was a “product of her realisation of the mess around her” not exactly what I would call an in depth, insightful or accurate description.

'My Bed' by Tracey Emin

Right at the end of the tour, after someone asked about them, he briefly mentioned the suffragettes, how they had “slashed a couple of paintings in protest” basically referring to them as trouble makers who had ruined a precious painting. There is a lot of information to be found about this incident at the 1914 RA Summer Exhibition on their own website, surely a tour guide at the RA should be able to talk freely and in a respectful manner about this event?

Reading back through this it probably sounds like I am making this up. But I can promise I am not. You expect to come away from a tour of influential women at the RA feeling proud of what these women achieved in an industry that wasn’t always accepting, I expected to hear about how the women before me helped to pave the way for myself to be an artist and work in the arts today and instead I was told about how women had been mistreated by the RA until after WWII. I left feeling deflated, like we had gone backwards for an hour and honestly, I was angry.

Another point I feel I should add here is that on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the same day I was trying to celebrate with a friend. An exhibition opened at Tate Modern, all about famous “ladies man” Picasso.

After all of this I had just one question on my mind. How did such a small gallery in Mayfair, and countless other small organisations manage to get their shows and messages so right when the big institutions with all their money and resources get it so wrong? Do they not care? Do they not listen? It seems ridiculous to me and it highlights just how far we all still must go in not only getting, but understanding and respecting equality.

Threesome – an exhibition of three women painters, by Charlotte Elliston

As it was recently the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People act, which gave women who were over 30 and property-owners, the right to vote in the UK, and will soon be Women’s History Month (including International Women’s Day on 8 March), the Sweet ‘Art team will be trying to see, and post about as many relevant exhibitions and events as possible.

First up was a visit to New Art Projects gallery in London for a panel discussion about their current exhibition Threesome. Threesome is an exhibition featuring artists Roxana Halls, Sarah Jane Moon and Sadie Lee, and has been curated by Anna McNay. The focus of the exhibition is the female gaze; each of the artists are figurative painters, female, and identify as queer.  This follows on from the recent Tate show Queer British Art, which was a show timed to coincide with the anniversary of the  1967 Sexual Offences Act.  This was a great show of art by gay white men, but was a bit lacking on other forms of queerness. Threesome was partly intended as a response to this – showcasing the work of three contemporary lesbian artists. I knew in advance that the premise of the exhibition was that each artist was painting each other as well as themselves, and had also each painted a nude study of performance artist Ursula Martinez. (Along with Corrina, and some of the fab WIA group, we had recently seen Ursula in discussion with Sadie at the National Portrait Gallery for their Queer Perspectives Lates).

sadie ursula

Sadie Lee and Ursula Martinez in conversation at Queer Perspectives

So I was excited to see the full exhibition, and the works ‘in the flesh’ (pun intended) rather than just as images. The event featured all artists and Ursula Martinez in discussion with Anna McNay, and the gallery has said that the full transcript of the discussion will be added to their website in due course. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for this! The discussion began with Anna McNay inviting each of the artists to discuss their works in turn, before moving on to the portraits of Ursula and finally opening up the discussion to encompass more general themes from the exhibition.

IMG_20180209_204727_283

Portrait of Sarah Jane Moon, by Roxana Halls

 

Each of Roxana Halls’ portraits use heightened colours (in the discussion she mentioned positioning her subjects within a set of neon lights to create the effect) and stylised poses reminiscent of dolls, to create what I would describe as a ‘nightclub’ effect. Her subjects are flanked by mannequins dressed as iconic lesbian characters from films and are posed almost as if they are mid-dance. For most of the discussion I was facing the portrait of Sadie, and (I don’t think it was just the fact that she was wearing glasses), I was reminded of some of the iconic images of Grace Jones. I attributed this mental link to the almost luminescent skin tones Roxana created, and to the strength and power of her images.

grace2

Bulletproof Heart album cover.

grace1

Ms Jones in 1984 in London, by Adrian Boot

In the discussion, Roxana said that she often uses mannequins within her work, not always so explicitly. Her reason for doing so is that straight male film directors will often use mannequins in their films to represent lesbian women; somehow implying that lesbian women are not quite ‘real’ women, or not quite human. Judith Butler says in her essay Imitation and Gender Insubordination “I suffered for a long time, and I suspect many people have, from being told, explicitly or implicitly, that what I “am” is a copy, an imitation, a derivative example, a shadow of the real”. This was echoed by the ideas present in Roxana’s work

The discussion of the use of the mannequin to represent lesbian women also made me consider the myth of Pygmalion, and the use of this trope in art and culture. Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with the figure of a woman he had carved, and she was brought to life with magic and became his wife. The myth has been widely used in painting, film and literature.

pyg1

Pygmalion and Galatea, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

pyg2

Still from the film, Mannequin, dir. Michael Gottlieb

pyg3

Still from My Fair Lady, dir. George Cukor (They changed the ending from the original play to add ‘romantic’ interest)

In both the straight and queer versions, these tropes appear to be created with the fear of the unknown, and the desire to impose control by not just objectifying, but actually making the woman into an object. The myth also places the creative agency in the hands of the male, whether that be the sculptor Pygmalion, shop-window dresser Jonathan Switcher, or linguist ‘Enry ‘Iggins. In these instances not only a creative, but a sexual power is also conferred to the male as in each instance, the bringing of the ‘mannequin’ to life results in sexual union.

IMG_20180209_204727_282

Portrait of Roxana Halls, by Sadie Lee

 Sadie Lee’s work focuses on the ideas of intimacy and sexuality. Her three artist portraits are reclining figures, shown in their underwear, on rumpled beds. Within the discussion, Sadie said that her aim was to use (and I think to subvert) the traditional Venus pose, where the subject had one arm bent over her head, and another around her waist.

venus1

Venus Anadyomene, by Jean Dominique Ingres (with a barbie-doll genital area)

venus2

Venus Williams, taken by Hirakawa for ESPN Magazine

Her portraits were created by looking at the subjects from a position between the legs (described by Sadie as a position a lover might see them from), lit from below with a harsh raking light. They pick up qualities of the skin like dimples and stretch marks. The underwear is everyday; big knickers, 100 denier tights, bras with the label sticking out. In the discussion, Sadie said that she wanted the portraits to be real and mundane. She deliberately used a harsh light, to challenge traditional notions of female portraiture equalling female beauty. Her aim was to contest the thought that a portrait of a woman has to be flattering.

The portrait of herself was based on Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, where the model is purportedly using her hand to hide her genitals, but could equally be masturbating.

venus3

Sleeping Venus, by Giorgione,

Sadie’s self-portrait replicates this pose, but turned away from the viewer in order to make the pose “more threatening”. She explained that by turning her back on the viewer, she removes complicity in the voyeurism. The subject knows that the viewer is there, but is performing the act for herself and not them. Sadie’s portraits lie in direct contrast to the European tradition of the female nude, in which the subject displays her nudity for the observing male’s pleasure. John Berger sums this up in Ways of Seeing “In the art-form of the European nude the painters and the spectator-owners were usually men and the persons treated as objects, usually women. This unequal relationship is so deeply embedded in our culture that it still structures the consciousness of many women. They do to themselves what men do to them” – I really hope Venus Williams actively sought out her nude photoshoot of herself as a Venus!

20180209_201826

Portrait of Sadie Lee, by Sarah Jane Moon

Sarah Jane Moon’s portraits were created with the aim of giving her sitters agency. The fact that they are all painters was important to her, and she wanted to show them as creators in their own right. Each of the portraits was painted from visiting the artist in their own studio, and the studio features as a backdrop. Each of the artists is also featured holding a tool of their painting. The subjects all stare back at the viewer, making eye contact which is direct and unapologetic and could even be described as challenging. The paintings show that in each case the viewed is also the viewer.

moon1

Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Sarah’s portraits made me remember the self-portraits of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, the 18th century French painter, and the thoughts of Griselda Pollock on this piece in particular. The artist has painted herself with the tools of her profession, but she is also portrayed as unambiguously female. She is well groomed, well dressed and beautiful. The shadow of her hat across her face and her gaze avoid confrontation. Her mouth is slightly parted in a demure smile. Pollock says that the aim of the piece is still to create a spectacle for us, the viewer, as through Western art history there has always been “an insuperable distance between the notion of the artist and the notion of a woman”.

Sarah’s pieces also critique the tradition of portraying the male artist in his studio, with his female (nude) model. In two of her portraits, we see completed works, or works-in-progress depicting naked female bodies. Within the discussion, it was revealed that one of the pieces behind Sadie was actually a self-portrait, further subverting the idea.

moon2

The Artist’s Studio, by Gustav Courbet

moon3

Lucian Freud, shot for Vanity Fair

Although each of the Threesome painters has a very distinct style, and is aiming to explore different things within their work, the discussion also drew out common themes. The idea of agency seemed very relevant. It seemed important to each of the artists that they were not simply producing a passive image of someone, but were creating a piece where the subject was active, dynamic and powerful – in some cases, stripping the viewer of their agency and relegating them to the role of passive consumer.

The discussion ended with the questioning of what is different about the female gaze. The panellists mentioned ideas of empathy, truth and respect; possibly even love, certainly from a queer female perspective. The point was also raised as to whether defining the female gaze was reductive. Is art created by women inherently different to that created by men? Should differentiation even be employed between art created by women and that of men?

 

IMG_20180209_204727_284

Anna McNay, Sadie Lee, Sarah Jane Moon, Roxana Halls and Ursula Martinez in conversation

There was also the acknowledgement that the idea of the female is seen through a history of the male dominated society. Notions of femaleness, and queerness are both linked to notions of otherness, perpetuated in the Western art tradition, so what does being ‘female’ even mean – how can this be defined in a society which has always just seen ‘female’ in opposition to ‘male’ and ‘queer’ in opposition to ‘heterosexual’.

The theory of there being a somehow unified female gaze also implies that there is a shared way of looking which links women through history and across the world. Griselda Pollock also references these kinds of theories that art produced by women has commonality, saying that this idea will “…efface the fact that although women as a sex have been oppressed in most societies, their oppression, and the way they have lived it, or even resisted, has varied from society to society, and period to period, from class to class. This historicity of women’s oppression and resistance disappears when all women are placed in a homogenous category based on the commonest and most unhistoricized denominator”.

Many of these discussions and debates are far to large and unwieldy to continue here, but I am sure that we will touch on them again in our various exhibition visits. I also again recommend getting down to see the show for yourself before it closes. It is also running on conjunction with 3X3, also curated by Anna McNay, which is a photographic show from 9 queer female artists.

Threesome opened on 11 January 2018 and runs until 4 March 2018 at New Art Projects, London.

I learnt a lesson today about feminism… by Corrina Eastwood

I learnt a lesson today about feminism; particularly about white feminism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always learning; I always try to be open to learning. I try to accept that the more I know, the more I know nothing, in everything I do. I try hard at this; I’m always making mistakes. Sometimes I’m more open to accepting I’ve made a mistake than others. Sometimes I can’t admit it at all, but today I really learnt something important and I want to admit it openly.

Sweet ‘Art was and continues to be something that I have put my all in to. Along with Charlotte, I have worked endless hours with no pay. I have borrowed money for Sweet ‘Art and lent money to it, to ensure every show was right, back when it wasn’t able to sustain itself. I have asked good, capable people deserving of fair pay to work for free, which is hard and which they have done. I have endured abuse, from white men who feel we leave them out due to our values and mission to privilege the voices of women and those marginalised in the arts. I have suffered abuse from artists who are frustrated that despite our tireless efforts, we just somehow didn’t get it right for them. I have also endured criticism from artists who we have not been able to accept into our shows, as we keep artistic standards very high, despite the difficulty we experience in rejecting artists. We hate excluding anyone but we are passionate about good accomplished art and about critical intersectional feminist thinking. We don’t just exhibit the work of everyone, despite this being a way that we could be more financially stable. Of course we have also endured nasty misogynistic abuse from trolls on the BBC online, but that was actually quite fun!

Despite it all I have kept going because although we always have so much to learn, I always felt it was doing something important for activism, for the arts and for women. I really truly believed in it.

Sweet ‘Art launched in 2012 on International Women’s Day with Show #1. I decided I wanted to create an art event that celebrated women’s day as there were none in London at the time, at least that I could find to attend. I wanted it to be a show that addressed women’s issues and I wanted to make vagina cupcakes. That was it, that was my plan. I think we did well; over 400 people came out to the opening, everyone was buzzing; we had booze sponsors and press interest, but we also fucked up some. I only made white vagina cupcakes as it didn’t cross my mind to make vagina cupcakes that may belong to women of colour, and the idea that not all women have vaginas, or that not everyone who has a vagina is a woman was nowhere in my consciousness at all at that time. Not at all. My black friends didn’t mention the cupcakes, the utter lack of my even considering a skin like theirs. A skin that wasn’t like mine. An experience that wasn’t like mine. I noticed this myself half way through the event as I proudly handed them out, I was mortified. On INTERNATIONAL women’s day!

I still make the vag cupcakes for some of our events; some women do have vaginas and we like the cakes. I make them in all different skin tones now and froth when I order the fondant icing online, with the off-pink being categorised as ‘skin colour’ and the brown as ‘teddy bear brown’. NOT ALL SKIN IS PINK! But I was there once. I did that once.

So that was one lesson out of many but the one I want to share now, like most lessons well learnt had to come at the expense of my feelings, not that of anyone else’s. Ironically, considering the lesson.

It was a lesson learnt through realising that there can be a type of feminism that only serves a certain type of person. That it can be well-meaning but it comes from a place of privilege and a complete lack of outward-looking; a lack of acknowledging one’s privilege and keeping it in check; a lack of consideration that what is good for you may not be good for others; a lack of realising that feminism is about all women (and men coz ya know patriarchy sucks for us all right?). That if it doesn’t serve us all then it doesn’t serve any of us. I knew this before, but I’m not sure I totally KNEW it. I always felt anyone calling themselves a feminist was a good thing; that any type of feminism is a good thing; any action in its name is good. Lets not in-fight, I always thought.

As I have noted we struggle as an organisation, we are a feminist not-for-profit arts organisation, I mean of course we would struggle, the struggle is the point right?

Well when one of our interns pointed out that an arts organisation run by two white guys, on our doorstep in Shoreditch were calling for artists to take part in their next Nasty Women exhibition, that will take place this time on International Woman’s Day 2018, I struggled with this news, actually my heart sank. The last Nasty Women exhibition this organisation hosted as far as I can tell was a great success in terms of turnout. As far as I know all artists are exhibited for free. I also believe that all art that is submitted will be exhibited.

Firstly if all artists exhibit for free the money must come from somewhere and this organisation, that sprung up a couple of years ago seems to have a lot of it. Good for them I say! They also seem to have good contacts, good sponsorship deals and even give profits for the Nasty Women shows to charity. Good for them I say! I’m sure they work hard but I know for a fact that they won’t have had to work as hard as us and they will have had privileges we haven’t…. but ya know….good for them!

…but unfortunately it will be bad for us. Despite the fact that we have been doing this for years, that we are women that live the feminist cause (I write on the subject and lecture on integrating feminist intersectional thinking into art psychotherapy practice. I have worked front line with women who are survivors of all that the patriarchy has had to throw at them and been a casualty myself.) Despite the fact that we curate seriously, we don’t just exhibit everyone, because a naïve belief that all art by any women is feminist art is dangerous in terms of activism. We don’t just pop #feministart next to all of our insta posts and hope it makes it so. We actually do a fair bit of thinking.

Despite all of this, of course artists will not pay to exhibit their work with us, so we can cover our costs, when the big boys are doing it for free.

So…the irony that a rich white male run organisation will host a ‘feminist’ exhibition on International Women’s Day and sink and ultimately silence an actual women run feminist not-for-profit arts organisation in the process, does not escape us. You have got to love that patriarchy right?! In fact this organisation seems to be hosting quite a few ‘feminist’ exhibitions now, it seems to have become their thing.

Nasty Women was and will be curated by a woman, it isn’t all men at the helm as I’m sure they will argue. I am of course glad a young women is interested in feminism and wants to host this show, but surely I can be forgiven for being slightly irked when I read her instagram posts, naïvely asking if people have been watching the news lately about Harvey Weinstein. “It’s so relevant right now. (heart eyes emoji) It’s important in society today and bringing this to London, it’s important to me that women have their voices heard”

It’s so relevant right now…. Let’s listen to women’s voices….. Well listen to this….

This is what privilege does, it makes you feel everything is yours for the taking and every thought you have is the first; that you are doing it all for the right reasons and that you will save everyone with your idea. It makes you throw money at a fashionable skinny white girl version of a ‘movement’ that actually silences the voices of some women, of the people who have been slogging away for years at this so “relevant now” cause, and it enables you do it all without even noticing, because you haven’t looked further than your own instagram likes, read a book or acknowledged the shoulders on which you stand that laid the foundations for you to do it all in the first place.

So as I pondered the situation, of two white men taking our thing for the lols, it suddenly hit me, all of a sudden I KNEW, something that before I had only known, and I felt a bit ashamed.

I knew that this is what it feels like to be silenced by your lack of privilege by people who have that privilege and just don’t see it, in the name of a movement you thought could do no wrong. I wondered if at Sweet ‘Art we ever did that. I wondered if I ever did that. I thought about women of colour who talk about white feminism. I thought about trans women and sex workers who talk about feeling excluded from a certain type of feminism.

Its not the same, I’m in no way saying it’s the same but it none the less made me KNOW a bit more.

We may or may not host our own women’s day show again in 2018, but what ever we do, we will do it with this knowledge and if we continue we will continue to honour our values. We will try harder to reach out more, to look out more, and we will continue our dedication to partnership. We will try and build stronger relationships with other feminist arts organizations, particularly those that are run by women of colour and trans women. We will do better, because we have a lot to learn.

I’m sure the Nasty Women IWD show will be a great success. I hear from lots of sources that the curation and organization of the last one was, well, interesting! It takes experience to get it right, it takes years of getting it wrong, and I hear the curator is very new to feminist art show curation, so let’s give her time. If only she had a women run feminist arts organization with years of curating experience, just on the doorstep that could have and would have been happy to help!

 

 

 

If you are an organisation that would like to partner with Sweet ‘Art, if you would like to make a donation or would like to get in touch about the content of this blog post please do so via our website wearesweetart.com