Exquisite Corpse, an exhibition examining female form, self identity, feminism and stereotypes, recently wrapped a run at GOLD + BETON gallery in Cologne, Germany. Though its curator, Sarah Faraday, says it was a coincidence of timing that the show occurred so soon after the terrible sexual assaults and violence towards women on New Year's Eve in that city, the circumstances nevertheless proved that it's more important than ever to examine the issues being raised in the show. The exhibit, which featured works by 11 artists from around the world like Toronto's Rupi Kaur, Norfolk, England's Poppy Jackson, and Los Angeles' Kate Durbin, included painting, photography, video, performance, and illustration, all of which aimed to challenge sexist and patriarchal ideals, and explore why the male gaze remains so pervasive.
Splash photo: Kate Durbin, "Hello Selfie" (performance). Photography by Jessie Askinazi
The exhibition also took a look at feminist artist Barbara Kruger's statement "your body is a battleground" and set out to prove that her thesis is still as relevant as ever. "The internet poses significant problems in female representation from pornography to use of the female form in advertising and notably the use of sexually violent language as a form of censorship and aggression towards female expression," explains curator Sarah Faraday, who originally created the exhibition in July 2015 for Fuse Art Space in Bradford, UK, which she runs with James Birchall.
Anastasia Vepreva, Bag [detail from video], 2014. Reprinted with permission from the artist.
For Kaur's part, she understands all too well how pertinent Barbara Kruger's statement remains. Her photographic series Period, on display at Exquisite Corpse, featured a selfie showing the back of Kaur's blood-stained pajamas. The picture was originally posted on Instagram but was taken down repeatedly by the social media platform, which seemed to reaffirm the power of the male gaze when it comes to female bodies, sexuality and normal reproductive functions. "The isolation and shame felt around this issue is something I wanted to explore," Faraday says of the inclusion of Kaur's work.
The exhibit further explored the unfortunate shame still associated with menstruation with performance artist Poppy Jackson's performance piece Constellation, which was created especially for Exquisite Corpse and involved an online call out for donations of menstrual blood. Constellation entailed a two-hour live performance, where Jackson was painted with drops of the menstrual blood that she collected and also applied them to the ceiling of Fuse Art Space. "I see menstruation so positively and as such a collectively unifying matter, so it is disturbing to me how negatively it is still viewed," Jackson says. "I love the feelings of creativity and connectedness I have when I bleed, and the way it tunes me into my body." Through her performance, Jackson attempted to "de-stigmatize periods whilst unpacking their taboo status in our society, and used the donations of blood as a way to link all the artworks in the exhibition," she says. "I have had such fantastic discussions with both men and women since Poppy and Rupi's work highlighted this issue," Faraday says of the dialogue Kaur and Jackson's pieces sparked.
Constellation by Poppy Jackson
The show also featured powerful works by Kate Durbin, Lacie Garnes, Sue Williams, Faith Holland, Julia Kim Smith, Evelin Stermitz, Anastasia Vepreva, Sheena Patel, and Faraday herself. "All of the artists in the show I respect and admire and I believe have something significant and powerful to say in a clever, forward thinking and beautiful way," Faraday says. "It's all powerful and tense work and it's hugely satisfying to experience the power of collective female work. I think it is really interesting to use the tools at our disposal, technology, to disseminate empowering messages. Through video, painting, performance and illustration, the exhibition also considers the potential of contemporary technology as a tool to examine female self identity and evaluates the impact that it has upon constructs of 'femininity'."