Re Picturing the Feminine

Marnie Dean

New and hybrid realities in the art world- A survey of Indian and Australian contemporary female artists.

This exhibition will survey work from female artists from India and Australia, with a curatorial framework developed from combining key aspects of feminist critical thinking. With contemporary art practice situated within the structure of feminine representation, the exhibitions primary objective is to explore the collective effects of such practices in an international context, showcasing work from South Asia and the Asia Pacific that expose new representations, myths, myth-making gestures and histories relating to the feminine in artistic process.

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In the 15 years since the revisionist discourses of the second wave of the 1980’s and 1990’s in feminist art practice and theory, the visual arts and feminist critical thinking have introduced fundamental changes that built on the activism and interventions of the previous waves with third wave and post-feminist discourses theorizing recent developments. In 2007 MOMA in New York conducted the Symposium—The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts with a small representation from Asia (Geeta Kapur the only representative for the whole of Asia1). With such under-representation in this international context it can be difficult to move beyond the strong-force and imagining of American Feminist Art to measure the collective contributions of female artists from other regions. It is therefore the aim of this exhibition to address this imbalance, while situating the survey in relation to shared concerns regarding gender politics by female practitioners from South Asia and the Asia Pacific, by borrowing from two of America’s leading author’s to structure the subject and context of the curatorial framework for this exhibition.

Author Donna Haraway concluded her infamous ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ with the words “I would rather be a Cyborg than a Goddess”.2 in this statement she summarized her findings. That is that women needed to create new mythology to provide a conclusive account of themselves in modern times and that the old archetypes and goddesses were no longer adequate in gendered representations of women. Society had moved beyond those confines, to a new episteme (way of developing

knowledge) and place of potential for imagining who women are and indeed what they could become. This work also scrutinized the general identifications between women and nature; instead Haraway imagined her cyborgs’ capable of identification with both nature and technology, that the character of Cyborgs and of women was derived from hybridity and multiplicity. Re- picturing the Feminine: new and hybrid realities in the artworld—a survey of Indian and Australian contemporary female artists’ takes its lead from Haraway’s notion of new mythologies. The exhibition will survey the way in which artists are re-picturing, re-contextualizing and re-imagining the feminine and in this process, creating new mythologies. The new mythology referred to, is the collective embodiment and themes of the stories, histories and images in the body of work and history of practice of each artist. The feminine in this exhibition is many things, including: the female body, the female experience, female roles, women’s sexuality and all the myriad associations with female as a gendered identity. In particular, we are presenting works from artists that represent images of women who move beyond binary classifications of the female gender, offering new formulations of Haraway’s conception of multiplicity. Further, the artists in this show utilize Lucy R. Lippard’s essay The Pink Glass Swan: Upward and Downward Mobility in the Art World, to specifically situate this survey in the context of women artists and their movement in the international art world. Lippard idealized a grand movement of art in a sisterhood and in the conclusion of her essay asserted,

“Despitetheveryrealclassobstacles,Ifeelstronglythatwomenareinaprivileged positiontosatisfythegoalofanartthatwouldcommunicatetheneedsofallclassesand genderstoeachother,andgetridofthewe/theydichotomytoasgreatanextentasis possibleinacapitalistframework.Ourgender,ouroppressionandourfemale experience—ourfemaleculture,justbeingexplored—offeraccesstoallofusbythese commonthreads.”3

The context for survey is the place that each artist occupies in this international-art-world- framework and the influence that each exerts in their mythologizing or ‘re-picturing’ of their agency and position within that world. In surveying the collective arrangement of each artist’s place, it is hoped that an inclination for the propensity of market value for female artists will emerge as well as the strength of women’s art in India and Australia, demonstrating an amalgamated impact in Asia and internationally.

In choosing India and Australia as key regions for this dialogue, it is hoped that this cultural context (defined below) will represent an eclectic, wide, and yet defined set of circumstances that will prove fertile ground for new knowledge to surface. With this curatorial framework in place, any new knowledge or awareness about female contemporary art practice and its wider impact and contributions in relation to culture, gender, theory, semiotics, etc. etc. will be easily traceable.

Commissioning this exhibition and its basic premise to coincide with India’s first Biennale of Contemporary Art in—The Kochi Muzuris Biennale in 12/12/12, Exhibition Director Dilip Narayanan is re-affirming the pluralism of local, pre-colonial traditions in Cochin that date back to the time in which this location was an ancient trading port. In this act of patronage and support Narayanan invokes firmly rooted tradition with innovative gusto, while showcasing the importance of Indian female artists and their counterparts to an international audience. This bold indication is taken to reinforce the rhetoric apparent in this exhibition, which speaks to the value, importance and strength of female artists. In addition, it provides a platform to trade in an emergent currency of female artists with roots in wider Asia creating a unique visual language that redefines feminine myths. By locating these in a popular culture, the work in this exhibition moves beyond the boundaries of race, religion, sexuality, economy and class to negotiate the terrain of the international art world. This exhibition will celebrate the history and legacy of this developing female culture with its new mythologies and histories that has originated from the shared knowledge of female artists.

 

CULTURAL CONTEXT

Uniting the artists in this exhibition, reveals the importance in establishing the parameters for mutual experience that have contributed to shaping the lives of women from these areas. Through their personal relationship with India or Australia artists invited to participate in this survey, share a cultural milieu that makes its initial point of contact in the matriarchal space of India’s and Australia’s ancient past—when both countries were part of the one land mass known as ‘Gondwana’. While the focus of this exhibition is not in primordial space or the inferred implications for debate that come with such associations, in surveying works from women about ‘the feminine’ from these regions, ‘Gondwana’ must remain as a point of reference from which to navigate the rich cultural treasury impacting on the formation of new mythologies, that pervade this terrain. While Gondwana is the ancient reference point for shared archetypal memory in this exhibition, its contemporary expression extends to include a colonial and post-colonial history. Colonialism and post- colonialism have produced unique events that impacted unfathomably on indigenous experience in these areas in distinctive ways, leading to a present time rooted in multiculturalism, hybridity and new forms of communication derived from the digital and human interface. It is at this juncture, the location of our current popular culture that this exhibition interjects, to highlight and expose to an international audience, the particularities and unique myth-making gestures, articulated in the artwork of these women from ‘Gondwana’.

To present a substantial survey, indicative of the formation, current expression and possible future of new feminine mythology in these regions and in the larger artworld, artists in all stages of their careers are represented. This exhibition showcases work ranging from senior artists that pioneered practices re- contextualizing female representation in their region, creating a space of value in the market for such work, to established and emerging talents at various stages in their own occupation and relationship with the art world. All are navigating a complex and interconnected web, creating new expressions and culture from their individual experiences as women and as artists. There can be no doubt that women from developing and western nations, are subject to different worlds, however, this exhibition will utilize this juxtaposition as a rhetorical device, to highlight how, despite cultural difference, there is a collective momentum towards re-picturing the feminine with a unique visual language, gesticulation and oeuvre indicative of the current global society, feminist practice, art history and Gondwana.

CONCEPT NOTE— ARTISTS

Artists, I am seeking works that re-picture the feminine, in any medium of current contemporary practice. In particular I am seeking works that re-picture the feminine in ways that embrace hybridity, whether you have created personas or female characters that move in cross-cultural worlds or re-contextualize the history of dis-enfranchised women, whatever the practice or the re-picturing is, I want it to speak to the current popular culture, which is leaning towards globalization in society and in communication.

Re-picturing the feminine includes working and re-contextualizing current stereotypes or archetypes from history or from your own culture (what is currently acceptable or representative of collective thought), the re-picturing of such female figures represents a new definition of the old; a new way of perceiving what was familiar. Whether you are currently playing with such gestures or fully immersed in creating narratives around your own characters, all levels of such re-picturing are sought in an effort to present an overall depiction of feminine representation that is unique to Gondwana. In my own personal research and experience that has seen me living in Los Angeles, while working as a cultural director promoting South Asia, trying to maintain my personal arts practice, I have noticed similarities in the ways female artists from Australia and India, embrace hybridity in representing female imagery and in this exhibition, I will attempt to locate this as a larger collective (not strong enough to represent a movement as-of-yet) in the international art world. In particular I want to highlight the relationship between such re-picturing practices with a personal agency to maneuver ones own place and image in the art world. What I invite you to consider then, whether you are creating new work or if you are writing an artist statement for existing works, in relation to your established practices, are the ways in which you might summarize your own re-contextualizing of female imagery. This summation may or may not include a personal mythology or myth that you might develop from the collective themes and gestures in your work. I also ask that in looking at these themes, stories and gestures you consider how they use multiplicity or hybridity as a methodology in re-contextualizing female imagery. Lastly I ask you to consider the concept of agency in relation to the overall myth or mythology or gestures you develop. Agency is the power and knowledge to move and to negotiate engagement from this movement, authors Emibayer and Mische explain that:

“tobegintoconceptualizehumanagencyasatemporallyembeddedprocessofsocial engagement,informedbythepast(initshabitualaspect),butalsoorientedtowardthe future(asacapacitytoimaginealternativepossibilities),andtowardthepresent(asa capacitytocontextualizepasthabitsandfutureprojectswithinthecontingenciesofthe moment,”4

You can actually use this concept of agency, to explore both the mythology and myth you develop and your own relationship with the art world. Are there any similarities? Do your own personal myth-making gestures help you to negotiate the art world? Does the hybridity in your work translate to hybridity for an audience or location for your work? These are all the types of questions I am looking for you to personally reflect on, so that you bring awareness to your own personal and individual agency as a female artist who is actively re-working female imagery and discover (if any) the relationships between your practice, your place in the art world and your ability to move to where you wish to go as a female artist (all of which are personal desires).

-Marnie Dean.

  • Benitha Perciyal
  • Chitra Ganesh
  • Dhruvi Acharya
  • Di Ball
  • Fiona Hall
  • Kate Bynon
  • Laini Burton
  • Mandy Ridley
  • Marnie Dean
  • Megan Cope
  • Monali Meher
  • Nalini Malani
  • Nicola Durvasula
  • Pat Hoffe
  • Pushpamala N
  • Remen Chopra
  • Sangeeta Sandrasegar
  • Simone Eisler
  • Simrin Mehra Agarval
  • Sonia Khurana
  • Yvette Vexta