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CWA Picks for September 2018

posted by CAA — Sep 10, 2018

From the exhibition She – A Cathedral, Moderna Museet, 1966 Photo: Hans Hammarskiöld / Moderna Museet © Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Per Olof Ultvedt / Bildupphovsrätt 2018

CAA’s Committee on Women in the Arts selects the best in feminist art and scholarship to share with CAA members on a monthly basis. See the picks for September below.

THE UN-HEROIC ACT: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the US

September 4 – November 2, 2018
Shiva Gallery (New York)

The representation of women’s rape by women artists in the US is the theme of this groundbreaking exhibition curated by independent curator Monika Fabijanska. The exhibition’s title, THE UN-HEROIC ACT, is an ironic evocation of Susan Brownmiller’s characterization of the rape scenes underpinning historic masterpieces by male artists as “heroic acts.” The exhibition puts the subject under a different feminist art-historical lens, while its subtitle redresses the lasting avoidance of the word rape in favor of all kinds of euphemisms, the most prominent  being “sexual abuse.”

Fabijanska claims rape as an understudied but central theme in women’s art. With this exhibition she seems to only begin sharing the results of her extensive research by illustrating and analyzing its rich iconography in light of works by a select roster of three generations of artists: Yoko Ono, Ana Mendieta, Senga Nengudi, Suzanne Lacy, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Carolee Thea, Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, Kathleen Gilje, Angela Fraleigh, Natalie Frank, Jennifer Karady, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Andrea Bowers, Ada Trillo, Kara Walker, Roya Amigh, Naima Ramos-Chapman, Bang Geul Han, and Guerrilla Girls Broadband.

What makes women’s works radically different, says the curator, is the focus not on the action but on the lasting psychological devastation of the victim: her suffering, silence, shame, loneliness, as well as regaining control over the victim’s sexuality and psyche, thereby reclaiming the cultural narrative manifested in the most recent works. The exhibition presents subjects specific to American culture, rather than the artists’ countries of origin, and explores key themes underpinning their representation of rape, such as fairy tales, art history, war, military culture, slavery, gendered violence in Indian reservations, trafficking, college rape culture, domestic violence, criminal trials, the role of social media, etc. While its focus is on iconography, THE UN-HEROIC ACT showcases the variety of media and visual languages employed by artists addressing rape and their different effects. Redressing an art historical gap, it also timely advances a much-needed conversation about one of the most detrimental threats and traumas of women’s lives across time and space.

For details on the upcoming symposium scheduled on October 3, and other educational events see the exhibition’s website.

Hayv Kahraman: Silence is Gold

September 8 – October 27, 2018
Susanne Vielmetter Gallery (Los Angeles)

In 1991, in response to a sequence of uprisings by Kurdish nationalists within Iraq, Saddam Hussein began a brutal bombing and chemical weapons campaign of majority Kurdish towns and settlements within his country. Almost a year after the atrocities began, Human Rights Watch issued a report that reported the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, “as security forces crushed the most serious internal threat of Saddam’s 12-year rule, and thousands more subsequently perished during one of the largest and most precipitous flights of refugees in modern times.” Hayv Kahraman was one of those refugees.

In Kahraman’s large canvases she grapples with the profoundly counterproductive ways in which rape and sexual violence survivorship is scripted into international appeals for asylum-seekers. What they reveal are the continuing violences of white colonial narratives concerning saving brown women from brown men (as per Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and miriam cooke) and the need for verifiable, “reliable” data so central to NGO human rights operations. The paintings in Silence is Gold deliver a scathing critique of such do-gooderism that nevertheless reinscribes these fundamental inequalities.

As Dr. Miriam Ticktin writes of Kahraman’s work: “Is there a way to represent suffering respectfully, to call people into solidarity with those in need on the basis of equality? The United States government clearly does not think so, as they refuse to allow their soldiers to be photographed dead or dying: there is no dignity in this. To me, Kahraman’s haunting work confirms this; she suggests that humanitarian imagery requires commodification, sexualization, hierarchy. But thanks to her, we can see this directly, stare it in the face; she exposes humanitarianism as both compelling and corrupt, beautiful in theory and dependent on racialized, non-innocent desires. But in so doing, she creates an opening, giving us a chance to take a different type of responsibility.”

Sondra Perry: Typhoon coming on

July 13 – November 4, 2018
Miami Institute of Contemporary Art

Sondra Perry (b. 1986, Perth Amboy, New Jersey) is an interdisciplinary artist who works with video, computer-based media, and performance. Her innovative work foregrounds the tools of digital production to critically reflect on new technologies of representation and remobilize their potential. She is known for multifaceted narratives that explore the imagining and imaging of blackness, black femininity, and African American experience as well as the ways in which technology and identities are entangled.  “I’m interested in thinking about how blackness shifts, morphs, and embodies technology to combat oppression and surveillance throughout the diaspora. Blackness is agile,” as put by the artist.

All the above surface in this exhibition—the first solo Museum exhibition of the artist in the US—initially installed at the Serpentine Gallery in London. The title work Typhoon coming on, 2018, is an immersive large-scale video and sound installation visually referencing the J. M. W. Turner painting The Slave Ship, 1840, which depicts the drowning of 133 slaves by the captain of the British slave ship, Zong, to claim compensation for these ‘goods’ under the salvage clause of the ship’s insurance policy. The exhibition also includes great examples of Perry’s idiosyncratic approach to sculpture, such as Graft and Ash for a Three-Monitor Workstation (2016), an interactive exercise machine mounted with monitors displaying renderings of the artist’s 3-D avatar as she questions the current productivity and efficiency culture. The video installation TK (Suspicious Glorious Absence), 2018, features Perry’s iconic Chroma key blue walls along a large video projection of an extreme close-up of the artist’s skin. Found footage of the artist’s family, protests, and body cams mingle in the accompanying video, interlacing the artists’ sources and concerns.

Remembering “She—A Cathedral”

June 3, 2018 – February 3, 2019
Moderna Museet (Stockholm)

In 1966 Niki de Saint Phalle, along with her collaborators Jean Tinguely, P.O. Ultvedt, and Pontus Hultén (the director of the still-young Moderna Museet), installed a colossal, architecturally-scaled sculpture of a reclining female figure. Viewers were invited to enter the body of the woman through her vagina—collapsing reproductive birth and recreational penetration. Inside viewers could watch a Greta Garbo movie, sidle up to a bar, view a small exhibition of paintings, and enjoy a panoramic view from the top of the figure’s pregnant belly. HonKathedraal (trans. “She—a Cathedral”) remains an icon of de Saint Phalle’s output, and an enduring touchstone for the institution that showed it. Now, a little over fifty years after its original installation, the Moderna Museet dedicates an exhibition to the archival materials related to the installation’s making and reception.

All that remains of Hon is her head, and this is the exhibition’s point of departure, which explores collaboration, experience, and labor. Models, artifacts, film footage, and original works are brought to bear on one another to evince a critical-visual history of an iconic work.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Sunset, Sunrise

August 10 – November 25, 2018
Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin)

Titled after the eponymous first and last work of the show, Sunset, 2015 and Sunrise, 2015—in a poetic curatorial evocation of the sky that conjoins and separates West and East, the two cultures bridged through the artist’s life and career—this is the first major retrospective of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian in Ireland. Bringing together great examples of the nonagenarian artist’s practice ranging from painting, sculpture, jewelry, and embroidery to collages and works on paper, some previously unseen, it tracks a multifaceted multi-decade course punctuated by volunteer and forced exile in the US and several returns to Iran, including the loss of many of her works confiscated and destroyed during the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is presided over by Farmanfarmaian’s signature mirror-mosaic pieces that best encapsulate the idiosyncratic merging of traditional Persian techniques with Western geometric abstraction that characterizes her work, eloquently contextualized and framed by the diverse sources that have inspired her practice in the show and accompanying catalogue. While her early involvement with graphic design and experimental modern abstraction in New York City gave way to a period of intense research into traditional craftsmanship and folk art in Iran’s more remote regions, Western avant-garde principles were maintained when she delved into Persian mysticism, the socio-political Islamic landscape and the signature geometry of Iran’s artistic and architectural heritage.

Farmanfarmaian was born in Qazvin, Iran in 1924. One of the first Iranians to study in the US after the Second World War, she went to Cornel University and Parsons School of Design, joined the Art Students League of New York and befriended artists including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol whom she met during her early career as a fashion illustrator. In 1957 she returned to Iran, only to be forced leave during the 1979 revolution. While one of the most important living artists today in Iran, where she returned in 2004, acknowledged with a museum dedicated to her in Tehran last year, Farmanfarmaian has remained an understudied female pioneer and contributor to global modernism, and only in 2015 she had her first US museum exhibition at the Guggenheim.

Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System

August 25, 2018 – January 6, 2019
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Evincing its title from the sage words of author and activist Angela Davis—“walls turned sideways are bridges”—the work in this wide-ranging exhibition addresses the justice system and its support and continuance of racist and classist ideologies. The artists included in the exhibition leverage strategies of institutional critique and social practice to illuminate, critique, and offer alternatives to a judicial system that inscribes those it contains as inhuman and unworthy. As guest curator Risa Puleo puts it, “Walls Turned Sideways asks if the museum is the repository for all that society values, how is the prison the repository for all society seeks to disown?”

Artists included: Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Josh Begley, Zach Blas, Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, Luis Camnitzer, Jamal Cyrus, James Drake, The Estate of Chris Burden, The Estate of Martin Wong, Tirtza Even, Andrea Fraser, Maria Gaspar, Danny Giles, Sam Gould, Michelle Handelman, Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia, Suzanne Lacy with Julio Morales and Unique Holland, Alexa Hoyer, Ashley Hunt, Improvers, Richard Kamler, Titus Kaphar, Kapwani Kiwanga, Autumn Knight, Deana Lawson, Shaun Leonardo, Glenn Ligon, Sarah Ross and Damon Locks, Lucky Pierre, Mark Menjivar, Trevor Paglen, Anthony Papa, Mary Patten, Jenny Polak, Carl Pope, Jr., Laurie Jo Reynolds, Sherrill Roland, Gregory Sale, Dread Scott, Sable Elyse Smith, and Rodrigo Valenzuela.

Filed under: CWA Picks