Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kara Walker - Feminist Artist

Kara Walker is an artist who uses a victorian style of silhouettes cut from black paper and pasted onto the walls of the gallery. She "uses over head projectors to throw coloured light onto the ceiling, walls, and floor of the exhibition space. When the view walks into the installation, his or her body casts a shadow onto the walls where it mingles with Walker's black-paper figures and landscapes. With one foot in the historical realism of slavery and the other in the fantastical space of the romance novel, Walker's nightmarish fictions simultaneously seduce and implicate the audience."

Walker, like Cindy Sherman, uses stereotypes in her work. She will use the stereotypes of black people, women mostly, to get her message through. You can see in the picture on the right, Do You Like Cream in your Coffee and
Chocolate in your Milk? (1997), the use of stereotype. There's the dancing slave with a coconut bra and a leopard skin toga. Today we see this as a shocking image because we feel, as Americans, this is an ignorant image of the past, not today. And, as we all know, racism is still quite alive today, and I think that's what Walker is trying to say with her wor
k. We see these stereotyped images that she produces and we think we're past that sort of idea of inequality. But in reality, we're really not. People are still racist and why not put that racism in their faces to make them see that.
Also, look at the woman's face and her body stance. She's obviously not happy. She has a collar and chains around her neck. I see this as a comment on racism as well. Black pe
ople may not look like this today, but they still feel that way. They feel like they have a collar and chains around their neck because they're still, unfortunately, seen as unequal to white
Another interesting point I noticed about this piece is that the woman's skin isn't even coloured, but yet you know she's black. The stereotyped features and her clothing immediately clue you in on the fact.

"Blackness became a very loaded subject, a very loaded thing to be—all about forbidden passions and desires, and all about a history that’s still living, very present…the shame of the South and the shame of the South’s past; its legacy and its contemporary troubles."
- Kara Walker (Walker Art Center, NA)

The piece on the right is called Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a GRAND and LIFELIKE Panoramic Journey into Picturesque South Slavery of "Life at 'Ol' Virginny's Hole' (sketches from Plantation Life" See the Peculiar Institution as never before! All cut from black paper by the able hand of Kara Elizabeth Walker an Emancipated Negress and leader of her Cause (1997). Through this title,
I think you can see the humour that Walker manages to put into her work as we
ll. "The impulse to find these images funny comes from the deep sense of discomfort they cause. Walker’s amusements intersect with shame when one realizes one is laughing at suffering. In this way, Walker navigates the limits of humor and challenges the viewer’s sense of what is comical." (Walker Art Center, NA)

Also through this piece, you can see how Walker's art also tells a story. It's usually a story of slavery in some way. But, the plot line is never really clear. It's really up to the viewer to figure out what's going on, or even interpret the story their own way. Some scenes and images are easily recognizable, but some you have to look at for a while. I love her super simplified style that she uses. It's simply just black cut outs on a wall. The black of the paper is signific
ant here of course because of the issue with racism. But in all of this simplicity, there is the representation that those silhouettes stand for.

I think she fits in well with the other protest artists that I've covered because she is protesting racism in this country. She's showing us the stereotypes that have always been used and that were created by us. She's throwing them back into our faces and making people notice that this is still happening, whether we want to believe it or not. She's not only dealing with the stereotypes of black people, but also of women.
Out of all oppressed groups out there, I think that black women have it the worst. And they alw
ays have. She's fighting that stereotype by using it, just like Cindy Sherman does. I think her simplified style works wonderfully for what she's doing. I love how creative she gets with using it as well, with the colour filter projections on the wall and how the shadows of the viewer is not interacting with the scene on the wall. Maybe if the viewer feels as though they are a part of this world that they're looking at, maybe they'll think differently about what issues Walker is trying to hit on.

Art21. "Kara Walker: Biography." Art21. Art21, Inc, 2007. Web. 29 Apr 2010.

Walker Art Center . "The Art of Kara Walker: A Companion to the Exhibition." Walker Art Center. Walker Art Center, NA. Web. 29 Apr 2010.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sue Williams - Feminist Artist

"Sue Williams work has been driven by the desire to understand and interpret the psychological world of the human condition and the ever-increasing pressures that drive us to behave in certain ways. The inspiration has been founded on the notion of the ‘….tit bits…’ a play with reality and fantasy from a feminine perspective, often subverting the truth through image and text, in both a serious and playful manner. The main thrust in the work is drawing - drawing been used as an urgent and immediate tool for visualizing my responses..." (Williams, 2010)

Sue Williams is another artist that relies heavily on her past as an inspiration for her artwork today. She uses both words and drawing to convey her message. She has been in brutal relationships, one of which she was shot and left for dead. She often draws the phrases that she uses in her artwork from things that have been said to her. The autobiographical nature of her work acknowledges that other women go through this violence as well. (Smith, 1992) "I couldn't imagine doing any of these things a little while ago. I think men don't know the experience of being a woman, just like I don't know the experience of being black. There's just so much more that you don't know until it's put out there." "It became an outside anger instead of just my life."

‘I am a woman making self-reflective work, this naturally leads to its categorization as feminist art, though I have not tried to define my practice in that context.’ ‘My work partly focuses on my own vulnerability, and at this time it has to be said, ‘as a woman’.

The piece above is called Irresistible (1992). It's a rubber sculpture of a woman, laying in the fetal position, beat up with words written all over her body. She has bruises all over her body as well as cuts and boot marks. Some of the statements are "The No. 1 cause of injury to women is battery..." "Look what you made me do." "If you don't care about yourself..." To see all of these statements you need to walk around the whole piece and read them. This isn't something that you can glance at and then walk away, gaining nothing.

Just like Kahlo, I see Williams' art as empowering. She frankly shows a beaten and broken woman, but you know that that woman can rise from her ashes. She exposes the violence against women and wants to make it known that it is horribly wrong. Her pieces are thought provoking, I think. She's shedding light into what happens to women in the private world. She's showing that feminist mantra that "the private is political" is quite true. She's saying "domestic violence happens - and here's what it looks like. Look at it. Recognize it."

Smith, Roberta. "Up and Coming: Sue Williams - An Angry Young Woman Draws a Bead on Men." New York Times (1992): n. pag. Web. 26 Apr 2010.

Williams, Sue. "Info.", 2010. Web. 26 Apr 2010.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hannah Höch - Feminist Artist

Hannah Höch was one of the few women who participated in the Dada movement that happened in Berlin. She was the only female artist to show at the First International Dada fair in 1920. (Printz, 2010) " of Höch's primary preoccupations was the representation of the 'new woman' of the Weimar Republic, whose social role and person identity were in a complex process of redefinition in the postwar period. ... Juxtaposing photographs and text to both endorse and critique existing mass-media representations, Höch parodied elements bourgeois living and morals and also probed the new, unstable definitions of femininity that were so widespread in postwar media culture." (Dickerman, 2005)

For some reason, I've always been drawn to the Dada artists. I love the 1920s era and I love the absurdity of the Dada artists. They were anti-art, but yet they created an art movement. Höch was one of the artists who perfected the photomontage. I love looking at her pieces because there is so much to look at. You could spend a good amount of time looking at every aspect of one of her photomontages.

The piece on the right is titled Cut With the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany.(1919-1920) It's hard to see anything with the picture being so small, so click on the link to see a bigger version.
Strewn throughout the piece are sayings about the Dada movement that have been cut and pasted from newspaper articles. One says, roughly, "He he, the young man / Dada is no art movement" and "the anti Dada." The photos she's put together are some of a woman's body with a man's head, a dancer who's head has been removed and put into her arms, a woman who's face has been cut out, and so forth. She really likes to remove other people's heads and place them on different bodies. This is an example of how closely you must look at one of her photomontages to see everything she's done.

The next image on the right is called DADA-Dance. (1919-1921) Chadwick states: "Höch's DADA-Dance juxtaposes machine parts with a female dancer and a model who is elegantly dressed and posed but whose head has been replaced by that of a black. Violent distortions of scale and a rejection of conventionalized femininity undermined the commodification of the idealized female body and its relationship to mass-produced goods." (Chadwick, 2007)
This idea of challenging the view of the idealized female body seems ever present in Höch's work. This seems to fit with the ideas of the 1920s. Women were become, really, more free. You had the flappers and women expressing their sexuality more freely. You also have the industrial age starting too, so this feeling of the 'mass-produced goods' is very present in her work as well. She's using images taken from newspapers or magizenes to make her work, which are, of course, mass-produced. You can also easily make the connection from Höch and the photomontagists to Warhol and the Pop Artists as well.

One major drawback for me with the Dadaists is the language barrier. If you don't know German or French, then you're not going to get the satire in the piece. Höch incorporates so much text into her pieces, I see it as an important part of understanding her message. The piece on the right, Proverbs to Live By (1922), I really wish I could understand what she's written on it.
But even despite this, I still love the Dadaists. I think that they're such a unique movement with so much to say. If only I could understand it...

Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. 4th. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson World of Art, 2007. 270-271. Print.

Dickerman, Leah. DADA. New York, NY: National Gallery of Art, Washington and D.A.P. Inc, 2005. 90-93, 474-475. Print.

Printz, Ali. "The Dada Movement." Dada and Dadaism: Berlin. Dadart, 20 Apr 2010. Web. 20 Apr 2010.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jenny Holzer - Feminist Artist

"Holzer has carved texts into marble and written them in blood-red ink on flesh. Often the phrases hurtle by with ferocious speed, sometimes too fast to read. But the resistance that Holzer encounters in choosing them remains central to the challenging experience of reading them, and to her contentious engagement with subjects that are themselves of surpassing difficulty: injustice and deprivation, political and sexual violence, death, rage, grief." (Princenthal, 2007)

I've already mentioned Jenny Holzer in my previous post, but I'd like to revisit her again. I love her words, even though she's proclaimed, "I hate to write. I really hate to write." (Princenthal, 2007) I much prefer she short, concise messages to her longer ones. I think these pack more of a punch and can be more easily recognizable. The every day person can walk by and read this message. They don't have to stop and read the whole thing, they can read it quickly and get the message.
I think that's so important to both the feminism and art movements. People today don't want to have to go into a gallery and look at art. They want something public, something that they can walk by every day. Something public that gets people talking about the subject. Be loud, be brash, and be out there. I don't think there is any other way to better get what you want to say out there.

Holzer states: “I want the meaning to be available but I also want it sometimes to disappear into fractured reflections or into the sky. Because one’s focus comes and goes, one’s ability to understand what’s happening ebbs and flows. I like the representation of language to be the same. This tends not only to give the content to people, but it will also pull them to attend.” (Shindler, 2007)

The thing I like most about Holzer is how she spread her Truisms. "Printed cheaply and without emphasis on visual style, they were pasted by night on walls and windows in the SoHo and less art-friendly Manhattan neighbourhoods." (Princenthal, 2007) Some of these Truisms include: "Everything that's interesting is new", "Any surplus is immoral", "Children are the cruelest of all", "An elite is inevitable", and "Crime against property is relatively unimportant." (Princenthal, 2007)

Since Holzer's work is so straightforward, I would just like to post a few of her word art pieces. I feel that they speak sufficiently for themselves.

Princenthal, Nancy. "Jenny Holzer: Language Lessons." After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Prestel, 2007. Print.

Shindler, Kelly. "Spotlight on Protest: Jenny Holzer." Art:21 Blog. Art:21, 1 Nov 2007. Web. 19 Apr 2010.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Conclusion...

I think this piece by Barbara Kruger says it all. She also states: "I mean, making art is about objectifying your experience of the world, transforming the flow of moments into something visual, or textual, or musical, whatever. Art creates a kind of commentary." (BrainyMedia)Kruger works mainly in this graphic style with short, concise messages. This particular piece is making a statement about abortion, but I feel that it can have a much broader statement on feminism in general.

I really like the graphic arts. I think the simplified messages are more powerful than the long, drawn out ones. A simple graphic, or maybe only just words (see Jenny Holzer at the bottom of the page). Clear. Concise. And to the point. Something that captures your attention and makes you think a little bit.
Women in the art world have come a long way. They've had to fight their way to be recognized by the art world and art historians. They've also used emerging styles and made them somewhat uniquely theirs. One of these styles was postmodernism.
"Feminist art and art history helped to initiate postmodernism in America. We owe to the feminist breakthrough some of the most basic tenets of postmodernism: the understanding that gender is socially and not naturally constructed; the widespread validation of non-'high art' forms such as craft, video, and performance art; the questioning of the cult 'genius' and 'greatness' in Western art history; the awareness that behind the claim of 'universality' lies in aggregate of particular stand-points and biases, leading in turn to an emphasis upon pluralist variety rather than totalizing unity. " (Broude, Garrard 10)
Postmodernism questions everything. So clearly this is going to work well with the feminism movement in art. An artist like Cindy Sherman will question the stereotypes of women in her photographs. Louise Bourgeois questions the woman's placement in the house. Kollowitz questions what she's seeing right on her doorstep. Kruger is questioning the pro-life movement.

I have only been able to simply touch on a few of the important feminist artists that are out there. I've picked the most recognizable women to touch upon, but there are many, many more who are still out there. Some more famous than others, but still trying to get their messages through. Art history, among other disciplines as well, have left a large number of women out of their canon simply because they are women. It's still thought that the male artist is the superior. These women, both past and present, need to have their voices heard. So I hope that I have let them speak sufficiently for themselves here.

BrainyMedia, . "BrainyQuote." Barbara Kruger Quotes. BrainyMedia, 2010. Web. 7 Apr 2010.

Broude, Norma, and Mary Garrard. "Introduction: Feminism and Art in the Twentieth Century." The Power of Feminist Art. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994. Print.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Frida Kahlo - Feminist Artist

Frida Kahlo is another feminist artist who is very well known in the feminist movement. She was born in Mexico in 1907 and worked until her death in 1954. The style she uses is known as Surrealism.
Her story is so famous, it may even out shadow her own artwork. When she was 6 years old, she contracted polio which left one leg shorter than the other. The main event that changed her life was in 1925 when she was in a bus accident. She had injuries to her right leg, pelvis, and she could no longer have children. She also had to have many surgeries on her back which left her constantly in pain. To overcome this, she painted pictures of her suffering and of herself. (Lucie-Smith, 2010)

Chadwick states: "...Kahlo's The Broken Column (1944)... reinforces the woman artist's use of the mirror to assert the duality of being, the self as observer and observed. ... Kahlo used painting as a means of exploring the reality of her own body as her consciousness of its vulnerability; in many cases the reality dissolves into a duality, exterior evidence versus interior perception of that reality." (Chadwick, 2007)

The Broken Column (right) clearly shows Kahlo dealing with her pain. It may be hard to see in this picture, but Kahlo painted herself in the back brace that he had to wear and with nails embedded all over her body. The column represent her broken back that she received from the bus accident.
Not only does she deal with pain, but she also deals with self image. She's constantly looking at herself through her self portraits.

She's stated, "I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration." (Kahlo, 2007)

Another part to her story is that she had suffered a miscarriage. She, of course, turned to painting to deal with her suffering. This happened in 1932 while her husband, Diego Rivera (11 years her senior), was painting murals in Detroit. He later said, "Frida began work on a series of masterpieces which has no precedent in the history of art - paintings which exalted the feminine qualities of endurance of truth, reality, cruelty, and suffering. Never before had a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas as Frida did at this time in Detroit." (Mencimer, 2002)
The painting on the right is titled My Miscarriage in Detroit and was done in 1932. You can see how it affected her and how she expressed these feelings. Even though she was told she could no longer have children, she still wanted to be a mother.

Some have felt that Kahlo's work represents the quality of the "quietly suffering female" instead of any feminist empowerment views. "Kahlo painted herself as the quietly suffering female. In every possible sense, the mass-culture Kahlo embodies that now-poisonous term: victim-hood. She was the victim of patriarchal culture, victim of an unfaithful husband, and simply the victim of a horrific accident. But that's probably one reason why she's so popular."(Mencimer, 2002)
I must say I believe the opposite. Kahlo is one of my favourite artists and when I look at her work I see an empowering picture. I see a strong woman who has no other way of dealing with her pain other than painting it. "She dramatized the pain in her paintings, while carefully cultivating a self-image as a 'heroic sufferer.'" (Mencimer, 2002)

Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. 4th. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson World of Art, 2007. 315. Print.

Kahlo, Frida. "The Quotations Page." Quotations by Author. The Quotations Page, 2007. Web. 1 Apr 2010.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. "The Artchive." Frida Kahlo. The Artchive, 2010. Web. 1 Apr 2010.

Mencimer, Stephanie. "Washington Monthly." The Trouble with Frida Kahlo. Washington Monthly, 6/2002. Web. 1 Apr 2010.