Women’s art and sexual representation

On Feb. 3, 2014, Mary Reid (School of Art) situated Bev Pike’s artistic practice as part of an impressive lineage of artists who grapple with sexual and reproductive representations. Reid began by speaking about the famous painting titled Olympia, by Manet. The painting was of a prostitute and created an uproar because she was looking right at the viewer and making eye contact. The title of the painting was a word associated with prostitution at the time and other indicators were the orchid in her hair, and the way the slipper dangled from her foot. This was considered immoral and vulgar. Reid described this as a precursor to the type of artwork that was empowering to women. It opened up the door for feminist painters “delving into their own understandings of themselves.” Reid showcased representations of female reproduction and how the female body can be celebrated by artists including Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim, Joyce Wieland, Judy Chicago, Carolee Schneemann, Allyson Mitchell and Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan.

Bev Pike (artist) provided an overview of the inspirations and influences that led to her creation of a series of 20-foot-long paintings that feature mountainous bundles of clothing. They create a visual topography of overlapping social histories and constructions of gender. Pike started by discussing the Baroque period when women had started to demand some equality. Perhaps not surprisingly, this was the same time witch hunts became popular. Baroque was invented as a means of distracting people from important movements, Pike said. She explained that Baroque is a labyrinth of inner and outer and women are situated here in order to protect themselves from “gender bigotry.” Pike discussed how she developed a similar strategy while in art school in order to protect herself from the male faculty within the department.

“Invagination means the joining of the body-mind, the inside-outside, the self and the other, the ideal the real, the object the subject, and the object and its shadow.” She explained that this “permeates feminist writing, these things that are often overlooked in culture and then expressed through art.” She ended by “equating both the art of Baroque and feminism as being bizarre because both … use incongruous detail. Feminism ruptures classical forms.” Feminists associate the bizarre with how frequently only women help us, and how infrequently women’s thoughts and cultures are visible. She concluded by arguing that there is still a need for such feminist works. We only need to flip on the radio and television to hear how many men voices are heard compared to women.

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