As in most fields of work, art is an extremely sexist environment for women artists. The majority of known artists are men, and as a consequence art galleries and museums tend to display pieces made by men.
So the ELLES exhibition was refreshing: all the works of art were produced by women. It’s exciting because only 3% of the art in the Metropolitan Museum are made by women. As for nude paintings, 83% are women. These facts were displayed in a Guerilla Girls poster, a group that dedicates itself in pointing out the misogyny and sexism in art. The title of the piece was ‘Do women have to be naked to be in the Metropolitan Museum?’
These women reflected on beauty, sex, life and love. In the beginning of the exhibition two huge photos were placed opposite each other, one with a woman who had chiselled features and another of a girl with an orange bikini looking extremely uncomfortable about being photographed on a windy beach. They were opposing ideas of beauty, one perfect and another real. And I say ‘real’ because the chiselled featured woman was in fact a mannequin made to embrace the traditional beauty enforced on women. The shy girl was a real woman.
The following pieces also challenged beauty. One of them was by Frida Kahlo who is known for painting her self-portraits with much realism. Her uni-brow, moustache and colourful clothes make her unique but not exactly beautiful. Being beautiful was never her intention – she wanted to depict the ugly. A tortured soul, she expressed her pain through art and one of her more disturbing portraits is about her second miscarriage; full of pain, blood and suffering.
An abstract piece that stood out for me was the painting of a woman called ‘Behave or be Joan of Arc’ by María Blanchard. The painting itself was interesting but the title was what most intrigued me. I always talk about how women shouldn’t have to be ‘nice’ just because it is entrenched into gender roles of society. I’m not saying women should be rude, but when women have to confront people because of genuine problems they are called bitter, bitchy, drama queens, etc.
And this painting seemed to be all about that. Women must either behave or become some kind of rebel. It reminded me of the current campaign called ‘Stop telling women to smile’. Sometimes, like all human beings, we are not up to it.
‘S.O.S. Starification Object Series’ by Hannah Wilk was impressive not only because of its weirdness – it is a topless woman with bits of chewed up gum on her body posing for a camera – but also because of the confidence in each photograph. The woman posing owns her body, she is confident and sexy.
Some of the pieces were quite difficult to understand. Many of them were short films of women performing art, but I really struggle to understand if there is supposed to be a plot or if they are just making a continuous point throughout. The oddest one was probably a black and white film of a naked woman holding a headless dying chicken out in front of her.
Overall the experience was empowering. I loved it and I want to seek out more female artists. If I take them seriously maybe more people will.