Why feminism doesn’t work in Asia?

“The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those boundaries.” (Andre Lorde)

Bharit Kher, Hybrid series self portrait, 2007, digital C-print, 45 x 54 cm,Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai

Bharti Kher, Hybrid series self portrait, 2007, digital C-print, 45 x 54 cm

She gazes boldly outside of the frame, her eyes fixed on the lens, confronting the viewer with the piercing look. In conventional feminist theory, the return of the gaze signifies resistance – once an object of the gaze, the woman asserts herself as a daring subject; like Manet’s Olympia she addresses the voyeur, challenging his position of power. As such, Bharti Kher’s Hybrid series self portrait is not dissimilar to artworks of western feminists such as Claude Cahun, Hannah Wilke, or Cindy Sherman all of which, like Kher, use the return of the gaze and the performative self-portraiture to assert their presence, reclaim their female bodies and subvert the patriarchal power dynamics.[1] Furthermore, as they use their own bodies and perform variety of roles, these artists point to the fluidity of identity and to its construed (rather than innate) nature. Kher, as noted in the recent Biennale of Sydney catalogue, “sees the body as a literal and metaphorical site for the construction of ideas around gender, mythology and narrative.” Fusing human and animal body parts into “strangely beautiful but quietly grotesque hybrid figurative sculptures,” she creates “mythical urban goddesses, creatures who came out of the contradiction of the idea of femininity or the idea of womanhood … she is the goddess, the housewife, the mother, the whore, the mistress, the lover, the sister … everything’.”[2] Continue reading

Countess Le Castiglione: author, scribe, or trickster?

“Mirror of male desire, a role, an image, a value, the fetishized woman attempts to locate herself, to affirm her subjectivity within the rectangular space of another fetish – ironically enough, the ‘mirror of nature’.” Abigail Solomon-Godeau

Figure 1: Louis Pierson, The Eyes, c1864.

Figure 1: Louis Pierson, The Eyes, c1864.

A mysterious femme fatale of the nineteenth century Paris, Countess Le Castiglione immortalised herself through a fascinating series of more than four hundred photographs taken over a period of forty years, the majority between 1856 and 1865 “at the height of [her] fame and beauty.”[1] Rather than conventional portraits, these photographs record her elaborate performances in which she either restages scenes from her life or plays a variety of mythological and fictional characters.[2] The costumes, the set-designs, and the overall scenarios were all meticulously designed and directed by the Countess herself, the photographer being there as a mere technician.[3] More than a means of self-expression or signs of narcissism, these photographs could be understood as the Countess’ attempt to take control over her own representation and challenge the narrow, patriarchal view of previously assigned identity inscriptions, thus, asserting herself as an autonomous subject rather than a fetishized object of the gaze.

According to theorist of fetishism and photography, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, such a reading of Countess’ photographs is presumptuous because it is impossible for the Countess to occupy a critical position from which she would desire to overturn the patriarchal principles of fetishisation. As she watches herself, explains Solomon-Godeau, the Countess automatically assumes a position of a patriarchal surveyor and can only relate to herself through this patriarchal gaze.[4] From this position, which is tainted by an inherent patriarchal scopic regime, she is unable to radically reimagine herself as anything but an object of sight. Rather than disavowing patriarchal prerogative, she participates in it and even endorses it. Solomon-Godeau writes: “a living artifact, the countess has so fully assimilated the desire of others that there is no space, language, or means of representation for any desire that might be termed her own.”[5] Rather than an author, she is nothing more than “a scribe”.[6]

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Queer Art & Identity Politics

“I don’t believe that gender, race, or sexuality have to be identities, I think that they’re vectors of power.” Judith Butler

Drew Pettifer, The Decisive Moment, 2009.

Drew Pettifer, The Decisive Moment, 2009.

It is necessary to “radically challenge the entire concept of an identity based upon sexual orientation,”[1] wrote Elizabeth Ashburn in her 1996 publication on lesbian art. Twenty years on, American feminist and queer art theorist Amelia Jones finds it necessary to echo Ashburn in her 2012 book Seeing Differently reminding us to “think beyond […] the grain of binary models of identity in favour of multiple, intersectional, and relational processes of identification.”[2] Sexuality must converge with issues of race, gender, geographical and socio-political location, class, religion, age, etc. to reveal the immense complexity and diversity of subjectivities. Jones likens this intersectional approach to anamorphic viewing which distorts the one-point perspective to reveal a new, previously neglected viewing angle.[3] The result of this perspectival distortion is de-objectification, de-fetishisation, and abandonment “of oppositional othering.”[4] Continue reading

Queering the Language with Astrid Lorange

Nick Cave's personal dictionary

ASTRID LORANGE is Sydney based poet, performer, researcher and academic whose recently publish book ‘How Reading is Written’ explores the legacy of Gertrude Stein and challenges the settled conventions of language. Astrid believes that language – both in writing and reading – should be open for experimentation; always kept fresh and innovative. Language, in other words, should be a constant discovery. On Friday 27 February, I interviewed Astrid on Eastside Radio 89.7FM.  Continue reading

Challenging the notion of Queer Art with Zvonimir Dobrovic

German choreographer Raimund Hoghe.

German choreographer Raimund Hoghe

Internationally acclaimed curator, Zvonimir Dobrovic is currently in Sydney as guest of Performance Space and 2015 Mardi Gras festival. On Friday 27 February, he joined me on Eastside Radio to talk about his practice and the new, extended meaning of queer art.

Zvonimir is known for his unconventional approach to curating queer. His vision of queer art widens the common association of queer with the LGBT related content and includes all art that is subversive (but never violent); all art that questions normativity and conventionality. The art, in other words, that is a disruption to business-as-usual, to normative assumptions that lead to marginalisation and discrimination of any kind.

Hear Zvonimir reflect on socio-political relevance of queer art and explain why he believes that art (and non-didactic art in particular) has a power to broaden the per-existing limiting and marginalising narratives, more effectively then some other initiatives. He also explains why it is important to keep queer art indexical rather then iconic, where iconic is seen as repetitive and formulaic while indexical points to something new and unexpected, something that we have not yet though of. The indexical art is an art of discovery. If we follow Zvonimir’s definition of queer art as disruption of status-quo then we could say that indexical art is by its very definition queer. Or, in other words, that art that is not indexical stops being queer.

“When trying to understand or determine queer art, let us remember that the beauty of queer is that there is no essential queer art object or subject. Queer art is not an objectifiable identity, domain, or dwelling, but is rather produced as a contrast against which normalcy is produced and codified. Hence, queer art never is, it never fully arrives. It is always, disrupting, refusing, and resisting the ever-shifting power of normativity and dominance, …” ~ tinyurl.com/nnxhv5j

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Dear Sylvia ~ Plath

Dear Sylvia

‘Dear Sylvia’, a group photomedia exhibition inspired by life of American poet Sylvia Plath is currently on at the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) featuring the works of nine female international artists who examine the representation of the female body and the female condition in contemporary society – whether this society is developed, Western world (i.e. France, UK, Australia, Netherlands) or a country such as Romania, Ukraine, Palestine, South America, and Israel where not only female, but human rights in general are under constant and extreme threat.

Through variety of photographic styles and genres, these nine female photomedia artist depict female body as both fragile and suffocated, as well as a powerful and vibrant agent of revolutionary change. In doing so they portray the complexity of Sylvia Plath’s own condition as unconventionally passionate women, a spirit eager to fly high and free in a society where freedom, joy and superfluous love was discouraged, perhaps even ridiculed.

On Thursday 5 February, I spoke to Claire Monneraye, the exhibition’s curator and Marlous van der Sloot, a Dutch photographer whose body of work features in the exhibition and examines the ways photography can be used to restore physicality to our overly rational minds; to encourage return to senses in what could be seen as a “touch starved” society. Marlous images re-establish connection between animal and human creating distortions that prompt us to re-learn to see.
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