Thursday, 13 March 2014

THE ISLAND, BRISTOL No Images of Women 16 - 21 April 2014

No Images of Women

16 - 21 April 2014
No Images of Women

This group exhibition purposefully brings together work by artists using a variety of approaches in order to draw attention to and question how women are represented, and addresses concerns around female desire, sexuality and aspiration in contemporary culture.

‘No Images of Women’ alludes to the writings of 1970s feminist conceptual artist Mary Kelly.  Kelly questioned the use of images of women in art, including the work of feminist artists, since in her view any image of a woman is inevitably drawn back into the subject/object relationship between the observer/observed, male/female.

From pop stars to webcam girls, we continue to generate and be bombarded by objectified images of the female form in magazines, online and on TV, often impossibly stylized models to which we are meant to aspire.

Despite the successes of previous generations of feminists in challenging such positioning, recent work by writers such as Joan Smith, Natasha Walter and Melissa Benn suggests that the stereotyping embedded in many widely accepted representations of women have been recast in a contemporary guise that is to a large extent being driven by women as a form of ‘liberation’, self-expression or economic advancement.

Against a backdrop of an increasingly contracted range of acceptable femininity, the global rise of violence against women as witnessed by the One Billion Rising campaign, the comments made by a barrister during of a rape case involving a young girl, and increased awareness of FGM, 2013 was a year in which women once again started to call themselves feminists. They ran campaigns to raise awareness, were attacked for it and did it anyway, as in the cases of Nimko Ali of The Daughters of Eve (anti-FGM), and Caroline Criado-Perez who campaigned to have a woman put on a banknote.

Inspired by renewed discussions around what it is to be female, the exhibition offers a number of ways in which women might be portrayed in art - from the textual and documentary to the parodic and performative - as well as the challenges and contradictions implicit in any attempt to depict women within a patriarchal culture. 

Are the images presented here ‘a cynical act of affirmation’ of patriarchy[1]; a valid expression of female sexuality, empowerment or ambition; an unostentatious refusal to play to the camera or conform the stereotypes offered to us; or a ‘parodic mode of self-reflexivity’[2] dependent upon a disruptive mixing of codes that seeks to both exploit and undercut such dominant representations?

[1] Mary Kelly, Desiring Images, 1984
[2] Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody, 2000

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