AboutThe Body Politique presents women artists speaking to the continued reality that women are more often than not defined as objects of consumption and not as beings worthy of merit-based upon being, but on the external ‘pleasing-ness’ of the woman. The conversation within the exhibition also reacts to how when controlled by the patriarchal system, the woman is categorized into three distinct groups: Maid, Matron, and Crone. It is interesting that her categories are directly related to her ability to reproduce and how that ability when inside the realm of fertility is where the problem lies.
Immanuel Kant, in his Lectures on Ethics, speaks on how when within the condition of being sexually active, the woman -is - in his discussion victims of:” ‘degradation’, ‘subordination’, and ‘dishonoring’ of humanity when the exercise of sexuality is involved. He goes so far as to say that sexual activity can lead to the loss or ‘sacrifice’ of humanity (Kant Lectures on Ethics, 163–4). The loved person loses what is special to her as a human being, her humanity, and is reduced to a thing, a mere sexual instrument. Kant’s notion of objectification, therefore, focuses largely on instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a mere tool for the lover’s purposes.
Objectification, for Kant, involves regarding someone “as an object, something for use” (Herman 1993, 57). According to Alan Soble, for Kant, “both the body and the compliant actions of the other person are tools (a means) that one uses for one’s sexual pleasure, and to that extent, the other person is a fungible, functional thing” (Soble 2002a, 226). One blatant problem with the above reality facing the woman, above all the others, implied - is she no longer is the owner of her body, and thus, she is also no longer the owner of her mind. The truth of this can be easily seen in works such as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Gilman Perkins, as well as representations of women in TV series such as Mad Men, wherein both scenarios it is the thinking and sexual woman that becomes the cog in the wheel of the Patriarchy. The artworks are seen in this exhibition, though, define themselves as representations of women who refuse the social ascribed label and take to defining their representations of women as women - as beings of thought, of strength, of feeling and yes, as entities of sexual confidence.
The artists in the exhibition that take this challenge on are: Rosana Machado Rodriguez, Anna Ghilardi, Elena Monzo, B.L. Jesseph, Giulia Ronchetti, Laura Marsh, Silvia Trappa, and Natalia Schonowski; each address different realities facing the woman - some overcoming, some exposing and therefore calling on the view to look, to see, to acknowledge.
About the ArtistFocusing on private and speculative moments, Rosana Machado Rodriguez, strips the woman from all her external trappings and confines her within the constraints often imposed when one’s definition comes from another. One clearly witnesses the effect of these constraints as it isolates the woman from others and seemingly places her in an almost embryonic position both literally and figuratively as seen in the works. The figurative aspect of this condition shortens the distance that a woman can travel in her search for identity and autonomy as it is the burden of what society says about her as she searches, and how she becomes labeled by that apparent rebellious and unaccepted quest to be who she wants, needs to be - that leave her in the literal condition of forever trying to become. In Machado Rodriguez’s works, the viewer encounters that narrator from Gilman- Perkins short story - isolated in her creativity, abandoned and labeled by the patriarchal - and just as that character and the author understands the only escape from a stifling patriarchal order is through art, Machado Rodriguez also affirms that to navigate this world - the woman must wrap herself in her creativity and defy that which is expected and embrace her own, self-created identity.
Italian sculptor Anna Ghiraldi, in her works draws inspiration from the colors of the Gulf of Mexico drawing one to afford her works here with ideas of: symbols of birth and rebirth, the womb, and the location of the unconscious. Ghiraldi by incorporating this palette dances around the above, but with how her colors bleed across the faces of her works, the notion of rebirth and the power instilled in the action come across loud and clear. In creating these works Ghiraldi seems to say that the strength of the woman and her ability to overcome the constraints of a society deeply rooted in the patriarchy is found in her ability to return to the sea, immerse herself within its depths and then just allow the stain of that society to run off, and what remains is the woman in her purest and strongest form.
Italian artist Elena Monzo subverts the woman’s societally imposed position as an object to be captured and consumed through her beautifully grotesque mixed media paintings. Each woman, simultaneously self-aware and not, stares at the viewer in courageous defiance of the male gaze. The works appeal to the man’s sexual sensibilities with subtle insinuations of the female’s most enticing forms, namely her breasts and hips, and seemingly in the same second, Monzo repulses the viewer with red and inflamed wound-like marks adorning her body. These lesions can be interpreted as the damage done to a woman's grasp of her own self via the dehumanizing effect of the male gaze. Her works trap the viewer in an endlessly chaotic cycle of desire and aversion.
American artist B.L. Jesseph takes on how the woman is treated as she ages and in regards to what, externally, holds her together - her skin. In the works from Décolleté, the artist explores this region of the woman’s body, most often associated with her sexuality, and brings the attention to the actual geometric forms that make up skin and their interconnected and linking qualities. Interestingly, this area of the woman’s body, and her eyes, are the most vulnerable to time and judgment, and also the points that qualify her attractiveness and her sexual power. Jesseph, in focusing on the minuscule patterns of the skin reinforces the argument from Alan Soble, in that the ‘package’ of the female, beholden to definitions of sexuality and desirability decreed not by herself, leave her in the fragile condition of only being viable when desirable. One argues here, with Jesspeh, that the woman should not be broken down into the categories: maid, matron, and crone, but instead seen as a multi-faceted being, free from definitions based upon desirability, but instead be welcomed as the truth of her existence, of all the many parts that make a woman.
Artist Giulia Ronchetti, also from Italy, steps out of her usual artwork to present to the viewer the marriage of Ronchetti’s world - that of the mythical to that of feminism. Through a menu of mixed media, including ink, watercolor and embroidery threads, Ronchetti, draws the viewer back to symbols and the interpretations and how they connect with the female. For example, the series is entitled: The Second Sex, intentionally drawing parallels with Simone de Beauvoir, and her work on theory and criticism of the same-titled text. By calling on de Beauvoir, Ronchetti empowers not only the woman in the works exhibited but reinforces them with the symbolic meanings commonly affixed to the animals presented. What is also interesting is that all of the animals depicted are animals that ‘hide’ their genitalia, making one wonder is this a world the artist would prefer - one where gender does not come into play, but where the notion of true beauty, the beauty of existence, of being is what matters?
Laura Marsh Miami based artist Laura Marsh, a textile artist, who for this exhibition looks towards Cindy Sherman, an artist who has been exploring this subject for years. For Sherman she has countless works exploring the woman and her place in society and one of the many things that interests her is how the woman is perceived. Among some of her latest works are images of clowns, and what interests her is the layers under the makeup, which opens the conversation to the deconstruction of the woman in her public persona to who she is privately. Marsh in placing her homage to Sherman on one of her works continues this discussion, but adds a sense of chaos and the inability to control the external perception of a woman by the very nature of Marsh's piece; just as these spherical works are hard to position and control - due to gravity, so too is it both for society to control the woman, so too is it difficult for the woman to sit in just one position - one role - one identity.