Artists: Sara Anstis, Pauline Beaudemont, Mathilde Denize, Cecilia Granara, Susie Green, Moshtari Hilal, My-Lan Hoang Thuy, Cathy Josefowitz, Lucile Littot, Mélodie Mousset, ORLAN, Hassina Taalbi
Exhibition title: Canons
Curated by: Bettina Moriceau Maillard with the collaboration of Marion Coindeau
Venue: Galerie Derouillon, Paris, France
Date: January 9 – February 6, 2021
Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and Galerie Derouillon, Paris
The invisibility of women artists and the representation of women in art are two pillars of feminist questioning in art history. We all know the story from the point of view of a white, cis and heterosexual man who wants to be the standard of a disembodied objectivity overlooking the object he is looking at. Women have been portrayed many times over the centuries but very rarely as creators, most often objectified and subjected to the roles of muses or models. They are passive, often naked, embodying an unrealistic ideal without any trace of their own desire, but offered to the viewer’s desire. Centuries of image production have thus participated in the normalization of this domination by glorifying biblical and mythological themes that very often depict scenes of rape or violence against women, without being questioned. Until the 20th century, it is very rare that we are offered a feminine gaze, which does not objectify the body it presents, but which witnesses an experience, a feeling at an identified moment – political, social and cultural. But if any detour seems inevitably to bring us back to the body, it is then a question of questioning the narratives that accompany these representations, the different voices they carry.
By bringing together a dozen women artists of different ages and cultures, the exhibition «Canons» opens up these questions – without providing definitive answers-: how to represent oneself while overcoming any subject-object duality? What place to give to the body and how to reincarnate it? What (women’s) stories should be told in the hollow of the history of dominant male art? We are not trying to bring out one voice, one line, one way of existing, but rather to multiply identities, to make stories and figurations swarm here to get out of the inherited norms and canons. This multiplication of points of view participates in the exploration and constitution of «situated knowledge», as defended by Donna Haraway: knowledge produced «from the experience of women» and the body, without falling into essentialism. The works of Moshtari Hilal, for example, show bodies that do not correspond to the criteria of Western beauty. By narrating and imagining her story anew, Moshtari Hilal gives beauty, dignity and tenderness, where before she saw only shame and otherness. Sara Anstis, for her part, builds a world of science fiction with codes and figures taking the heteropatriarchy in reverse, where Mathilde Denize traces the outlines of an oil painting left to itself, of the almost haunting absence of a body that would have escaped from it. This positioning is a political gesture through which we have a reflexive return on our experience and which testifies to a consciousness of gender, class and race.
The works in the exhibition manifest a form of ambiguity, a sometimes fine line between benevolence and violence. Susie Green’s watercolours plunge us into a blurred world where the characters overflow the limits of their bodies and seem caught in a movement that oscillates between hard struggle and dripping pleasure. For every story told, every representation is as much a source of empowerment as it is of vulnerability. ORLAN’s Le Baiser de l’artiste (1977) fully embodies this conquest strewn with pitfalls. This performance offered FIAC visitors the opportunity to kiss ORLAN (with the tongue) for the modest sum of 5 francs or to lay flowers at the feet of Sainte-ORLAN, thus reducing the artist to a Sainte/Putain alternative. Carried out in 1977, it earned ORLAN a scandalous reputation, the loss of her teaching job and daily harassment for months on end.
«Canons» is constructed as a multiple arrangement: there is not one story to tell, just as there is not one woman’s body to represent or one way of living one’s gender. We find this permanent (trans)formation in Cecilia Granara’s paintings, which tracks an identity as a process in motion, making emotions and inner life spring forth from it. In the exhibition we can see the reconstitution of a fragmented being, body and mind, made of multiple experiences scattered in space, mutually influencing their appreciation. The exhibition affirms a decade-shifting that is not divisive but on the contrary multiplying, generating new assemblages. We then join Hélène Cixous’ gesture which traces a feminine writing becoming «endless, without «end», without main «parts», if it is a whole, it is a whole composed of parts which are whole, not simple partial objects, but together moving and changing».