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