To create this piece of work I must be able to show why I have chosen the concept and what contextual references and relevant practitioners have inspired me.
So, why have I chosen this concept?
I have chosen to look at the place of women and people of colour in the art would because I am a woman and I feel that this issue involves me – to challenge the typically ‘all male, all white’ art industry women including myself must attempt to cross the boundaries of restriction set in front of us, to fight for the right to create, and to do so without restrictions.
To begin proper research into this concept I started looking at why there are still so few ‘successful’ female artists.
I came across an article by The Independent in which German post-war artist Georg Baselitz commented that “Women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact,” (Clark, 2013). The article details how Baselitz has dismissed women artists despite facts and figures that disagree with his statement.
Jackson Pollock, American born painter, argued during his time that he ‘..could run rings around you with great women artists but there isn’t space in the cultural imagination.’ (Clark, 2013).
Pollock refers to the cultural imagination, a general opinion that has been formed by the repeated celebration of white male artwork against the repeated ignoring of female/POC artwork. Due to the art industry retaining their male dominated space in society, society itself has come to believe that there is a reason for this. Society has come to believe that if male artwork is always being displayed it must be for a reason, it must be because it is better. This is the opinion I am working against.
Although Baselitz’s argument is a matter of opinion rather than facts his quote caused controversy as quotes like this are part of the reason the boundary women are up against exists. There is no room for change in the art industry unless artists who are active in the industry fight against the outdated boundary.
In the article many artists, both current and deceased argue for and against the point of women painters not being as talented as their male counterparts.
This article is one of many reasons I feel that the artwork I am to produce must be forceful in it’s concept, it must be unsympathetic towards the boundary it aims to breakdown, approaching the gender bias in a similar way to the way the Guerrilla Girls did. I am driven to create this work by the opinion of male artists who believe that talent lies in biological gender and not in practised skill or born talent.
As I am already well aware of the bias against women and people of colour I have chosen from this point to focus more on the counterargument that comes from women and people of colour, rather than the already too well broadcast opinion of women and POC not being ‘good enough’.
I am well acquainted with a female duo who call themselves The White Pube. They are an art criticism collective who run mostly residencies to showcase art produced by minorities. Each week they review an exhibition or body of work in such a way that draws attention to cultural backgrounds, social issues and the artist themselves, their aim as a duo is to be different to the steady stream of monotonous art reviews that only scratch the surface of a works meaning, and only review it if it is deemed popular or easy on the eye, or more interestingly – created by a man.
For September 2016 their resident artist was Rene Matic. Rene is a 20 year old painter residing in Liverpool with her wife, her work is based around the fact that she is black, female and part of the LGBT+ community, and the issues she faces as a person of all of these qualities.
Rene’s work was featured in an exhibition The White Pube curated titled The Leaf of Pablo. The idea behind the exhibition was that artists were reclaiming what was local and personal to them. Rene wrote a short essay that detailed how being a black woman in the stereotypically white male art world felt.
Brown girl in the art world.
Do you remember catching sight of your mum after loosing her in the supermarket? That soft landing when you see her down the isle and you are safe. This is the way it feels when seeing another brown girl in a room full of white people… Safe.
My favourite poem is by a great friend of mine, Jemima Khalli. Someone who gives me that safe feeling.
There is an awareness within us
of one another
when we cross footpaths
and sinking into where we are
– women of colour
When you are a woman of colour you are a part of something so so soft. A link in a chain. Hand in hand, always. Being 6 years old, alone down the cereal isle in Aldi is how it feels, for me, to be alone in a room of white people.
Actually, that’s a good way to describe the art world: A room of white people.
The other day I went to my first symposium that my wife had organised on ‘artist led spaces.’ I have just become and artist in an artist led space so I felt as though this may be something I could resinate with.
I am the only person/artist of colour in the artist led space that I am involved in. I was also the only person of colour amongst the 20 plus people that were in that room, sitting opposite a panel of white people.
I sit and observe, I’m uncomfortable as I am the only person not having a conversation. Small electric shocks of anxiety keep pulsing through my veins as time goes on and still no one has even dared to make eye contact with me. The coffee encourages the anxiety and I am left thinking about how if someone was to talk to me perhaps we’d spark a real good conversation and exchange instragrams. Networking, the dream.
Melissa Harris-Perry is the author of a book called ‘Sister Citizen.’ She’s also a professor in political science. She’s the definition of a boss ass bitch. In the book, she references research called ‘the crooked room.’ They would take someone and put them in a dark room and when the lights are turned on, all the angles of the room are crooked and everything is tilted differently. sitting on a movable chair, the persons responsibility is to find the upright. It’s basically asking how dependent are we perceptually on the things that we can see when figuring out what is up and down.
Most people are field dependent and they would get themselves tilted in that chair as much as 45 degrees but perceive themselves as straight up and down because they are inline with the crooked images all around them (lol society).
Harris-Perry describes being a black woman in america as being in a constant crooked room. Society presents to us a series of crooked images that makes it hard to figure out what the true upright is.
Mate, this shit is like being a woman of colour full stop. But lets talk about the hashtag ART WORLD which I am now describing as a crooked room of white people which I have snuck into and am standing in the corner. The art on the walls is exploring the identity of the white male. To the field dependent people aka the majority of the (art) world, this room is upright, they can stand peacefully even though its only at 45 degrees, because their chair is inline and adjusted perfectly to allow them to view the ceramic pot that’s been made by the white boy and his mum. The work “explores his identity and their relationship” – stuff that those people can really resonate with. They stand alongside it comfortably while discussing last weeks PV, wine in hand. Meanwhile the person of colour is well aware that the room is at a 45 degree angle and the blood is rushing to their head and they finna pass out while wondering what the relevance of this shit is. Is it just to take up space so there’s no room for PoC? Prolly.
And so what happens when the room is upright to the minority? The wine starts to spill from the glasses of the white people. The work on the walls is too political, too girly, too angry, too black, too scary, too confronting. I spot a woman of colour across the room and I am safe. BUT everyone else has lost their shit so we go back to the comfortable 45 degrees. An example of the journey back to the 45 degrees is when Tate Liverpool had Glenn Ligon: Encounters & Collisions along side Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots. I sat in the gallery and watched people walk straight past Ligon’s carefully curated show exploring race, gender and sexuality in visceral, vibrant ways. They had come to see Pollock, and Ligon’s show was “too political” for them. Apparently some white gallery visitors actually complained about the use of the word Nigga in one of his paintings.
Last night I went to a PV in someones flat (hold tight it’s 2016). A caucasian exhibition in a caucasian home. I didn’t speak to anyone. Some guy legit came up to my wife and I and only introduced himself to her and started a conversation. Must be nice. I spent my time looking out the window, the world was still beautiful. The more I make art the more I fall in and out of love with everything. I’m just trying to work out what the upright is. It’s exhausting and it hurts. To women and to artists like myself, you are not weak for struggling. This stuff is real hard. And to Basquiat, I apologise, as we are still tired of seeing white walls, with white people, with white wine. We will get there one day.
This piece of work really resonated with me on the topic I am exploring. Rene Matic talks about the art world as the Crooked Room experiment, the angles of the room feel all wrong to the person perceiving the room and they must position themselves so that the room looks upright to them. However, she then alikens the room to the white male led art world:
“And so what happens when the room is upright to the minority? The wine starts to spill from the glasses of the white people. The work on the walls is too political, too girly, too angry, too black, too scary, too confronting.”
This particular excerpt really inspired me, because she is right – the world has become so set on the belief that white male artwork is all that is worth looking at, and if you cannot resonate with a piece of artwork that’s because it’s ‘too political, too girly, too angry, too black, too scary, too confronting.’
The work of the Guerrilla Girls was discounted for being too political, society felt that there was nothing wrong with the art world, and these women who used statistics and facts just wanted to stir up trouble. The very notion that women could be angry about their status in society was seen as ridiculous, and the idea that they were confronting the institutes who upheld the typical white male art world was unnecessary and harsh.
Matic’s essay holds many valid points that inspire me to create work that really pushes all of these boundaries, after all art is about expression – who are the art world to curate who is allowed to express, and what is ‘too anything’ to be shown to the general public?
So, what am I taking from this research?
Alongside the work of the Guerrilla Girls I am taking inspiration from this essay by Rene Matic. It inspires me not to shy away from creating work that is powerful, that is controversial and that is not curated by the regular art world.
Her essay embodies why women and people of colour are not given space in the art world; because the work they create cannot be resonated with by the majority. Art that expresses the feelings of people of colour and women is not seen as work that resonates with the majority, after all – these two qualities are ‘minorities’. By keeping this idea in mind I want to create work that may not immediately resonate with the majority, but will instead show them how it does resonate with the minority, and why it is important that this knowledge is spread.