women, art and the body

Writing about the inclusion of her video in “Body Anxiety” in an e-mail, Black reflected that the piece is “partly a critique of the white-feminist conception of the body, the heritage from the ’60s and ’70s which involves the affirmation of white nudity, displaying the agency of white naked bodies.” It’s a heritage that informs one of the central artistic strategies of the show. When we spoke, Chan expressed self-critical despair—prompted in part by comments on ☆ミ—over the inadequate presence of women of color and of queer and trans artists in “Body Anxiety.” She wondered whether the focus on work that took pleasure in performances of femininity—all those Internet babes—played a role in the unconscious skewing of the curatorial selection toward conventionally attractive white women artists. While many of the show’s artists—unclothed and not—contest the appropriation of women’s sexuality in porn, mass culture, and men’s art, fewer challenge popular feminist representations of sexual liberation. Which bodies (or artists) get to be freedom’s icons and emissaries? Our conversation underscored the show’s place in a history of bold and imperfect feminist artists’ attempts to provide political correctives—or simply provocative counters—to sexism in the art world, in mass culture, and in everyday life.

– From Women on the Verge by Johanna Fateman, in Art Forum

There ceases to be nothing easy about making art as a woman that tackles the body. Even now. From my standpoint, as an onlooker as a opposed to an artist, I am not sure what is in fact the easiest, best, most worthwhile or powerful way in which to do this.

On a personal level, I have never really been drawn to art by women that is firmly fixed on the dangerous contours of the woman’s form. It has always seemed to me that art which addresses woman’s experience through more covert mechanisms was ultimately a more robust and thought-provoking way in which to intervene in a patriarchal sphere. But, sometimes, I think, maybe I might be wrong: maybe there are ways to intervene by using the body but it’s just more difficult, and paradoxically more complex even if it initially appears more obvious.

With the exception of Hannah Black, I don’t think the above article (and that’s just on a gut-level, I have not yet looked into these artists) changes my viewpoint entirely. I want to be proved wrong though. But even the sheer fact that I am not yet convinced continues to prove the problematic nature of this ongoing question: how does a woman artist best address questions of the body and of sexuality: is it with or without using her body? I don’t know the answer to that question, no one does, but it must still be asked, considered and grappled with as long as women’s bodies are misrepresented in the media, in porn and in art, and misconstrued in daily life.


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