Kara Walker, Black Lives & White Lies

Kara Walker is a U.S contemporary painter, silhouettist, installation artist, print-maker, and film-maker, known for her exploration of themes on race, gender role, violence and cultural identity.

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She was born in 1969 in California, however her family moved to the state of Georgia when she was 13 years old due to her artist father’s work commitments. Her new home was an area that still held rallies by the white supremacist Klu Klux Klan, a shock to Walker after the more relaxed atmosphere of her early years. It was here that she faced regular racial abuse during her education. The young artist, therefore, was often afraid to address issues of race during this period in her artworks, however her youthful experiences would fortify her expression in later life, on a journey leading to international artistic acclaim.

Walker states of her early years;

“I was really trying to explore the problematics of making art as a young black woman, when constantly barraged and faced with a host of stereotypes about what it even means to be a young black woman.”

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After later gaining a Masters In Art at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994, one of her first works to capture world attention was her 15 meter long panoramic frieze entitled ‘Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart’ (1994). The work sought to rewrite a ‘Gone with the Wind’ style, mythological past on slavery and power relations by exploring, as the artist herself said “a sadomasochistic construct that underlies the American history narrative”.

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Walker sought to lay bare the injustices of racism and abuses of white cultural and economic power by using the medium of the black silhouette on a white background. The information for the viewer is literally in black and white, a metaphor for race, created as a powerful, stark and confrontational message. However, the medium of the silhouette also bypasses details, so is paradoxically unclear and potentially misleading. Walker states of her work;

“I really liked that association, there’s a similarity between the silhouette and other types of stereotyping, racial stereotyping in particular”.

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Continuing to create a huge body of work, Walker has reimagined, subverted and challenged ideas embedded in historical art and genre painting by exposing the rotten underbelly of a dark past.  She pays particular attention to the plight of African American women and the combined attacks of racism plus misogynistic abuse and in doing so, does not shy away from images such as rape.

Walker created a huge sculptural work using materials such as sugar during 2014 of a naked black woman in the form of the Sphinx entitled ‘A Subtlety’. It is a work that has layers of meaning. The story of Western sugar consumption is entwined with slavery, but the artwork not only reminds the viewer of the interactive relationship between capitalism, power and gross oppression. The positioning of the sculpture links to the abuse of women, a not so sweet consequence of white male power.

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Walker also does not hide from images of lynching or mutilation and many other horrors inflicted on those othered as subhuman. The artist’s work, however, was never intended to simply address a bygone age, but how historical attitudes and events relate to our present. Walker, herself, recognises the Black Lives Matters campaign as “the current incarnation of a civil rights movement” under the shadow of racist figures such as Trump. Her latest works explore not only the history of black oppression but also efforts to create change, which the artist reflects without sentiment and often in terms of nightmarish violence and grotesque suppression.

kara blog afrika.  The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads, 2016. Kara Walker

Whether in the fields of Southern states U.S. plantations or on the streets of Minneapolis, Walker captures a centuries long struggle. Her work is a shocking kick to the guts, created to express an absence of humanity, coupled with a vital and ever needed reminder of it. In doing so, Kara Walker is one of the most significant artists of our age.

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“As soon as you start telling the story of racism, you start reliving the story,” Walker states “You keep creating a monster that swallows you”.

Tove Jansson, Moomins Creator, Artist & Author.

Tove Jansson was born in the capital of Finland, Helsinki, the eldest of her siblings. Both her parents were artists and from a young age Tove aided her mother, illustrator Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, with her commissions. As an adolescent she began created books with her own illustrations. It would be the start of a lifelong love affair with creativity for the future artist, illustrator and author.

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Signe Hammarsten-Jansson’s self portrait.

Tove’s enrolment at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1938, after studying art in her homeland, would eventually lead to exhibitions of her work. During the pre World War 2 era, Tove would regularly have illustrations published in magazines. It was at this time, the artist began to be involved with Garm, an anti-fascist Finnish-Swedish satirical magazine for whom she created many illustrations.

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Tove’s illustrations for ‘Garm‘ magazine (c.1939)

Although she was once briefly engaged, Tove met her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä, a US born, Finnish graphic artist who was also a professor in Seattle, during the 1950s. The two began working on projects together, a circumstance that would later lead to a deep romantic connection. Same-sex relationships were illegal in Finland at the time and would remain so until as late as 1971. Their early love affair had to be hidden and at first demonstrated through coded messages and discreet meetings.

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Tuulikki and Tove (c.1960)

Tove’s first Moomins book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, was created in 1945 at the end of a very grim period of European and global history involving two world wars and the unleashing of atomic bombs on Japan. Her early books often metaphorically reflected such times as a result. In her first work Tove invented a forested world beset with hidden dangers for her Moomin characters to navigate, while her second, Comet in Moominland (1946), contemplated a world of catastrophes and natural disasters. Highlighting the darkness often found in traditional folk and fairytales, the books however, would also reflect the relationships of family members and the values of kinship. In this way Tove explored themes for children and adults without simple sentimentality, but an honest awareness of life as consisting of both light and shade… and the world in-between.

“I love borders….Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.”― Tove Jansson

The Moomin characters related to Tove’s own family. The wise and practical Too-Ticky, however, who was introduced in Moominland Midwinter (1957), was based on her lover who had inspired and motivated her to write the book. It was a work which incorporated a theme of the dread of winter corresponding with Tove’s own depression, only to end with the eventual and inevitable light of spring. In turn, Tove saw herself as a combination of Moomintroll, a character portrayed as a dreamer and a thinker and the fiery and irritable Little My.

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Moomintroll and Too-Ticky 

Tove’s female characters were often far from stereotypical. The mischievous Little My, for example, represented a girlhood that could be bold and defiant. Meanwhile Too-Ticky, reflected a gender non-conformity and skilful practicality far from common in the era the character was created. Both, in turn, highlighting Tove’s own perceptive insights and progressive ideas.

In the 1960s, the partners created their own house on a small uninhabited island in the Gulf of Finland. Klovharu would became their summer home for almost 30 years. Tove and Tuulikki captured many of their experiences there on 8 mm film, documentation of romantic lives entwined in nature and creativity.

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Klovharu Island

Their alternating urban life was spent in the city of Helsinki, in adjoining apartments with connecting studios.

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Tove Jansson in her Helsinki home and studio,1956

In addition to her continuing Moomin books, Tove was a painter who worked in both impressionist and abstract styles and had a number of exhibitions. She was also a serious writer and, in addition collaborated in many theatrical works, including creating set designs for the Finnish National Ballet.

Jansson died in 2001 aged 86 years old, leaving a heart broken Tuulikki who survived her for eight more years.

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Tove’s legacy includes leaving the world with a lifetime of successful creative endeavours which have continued to fascinate and enthral people without barriers of age. The artist, author and illustrator herself once stated wisely …

“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”

Tove Jansson (1914-2001)

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Little My

The Muse, a Female Sacrifice

In contrast to the established ideal of the artist genius personified as male, traditionally in Western art the artist’s muse is widely perceived as female. While fetishized as the inspiration of the master, the role of the muse can often mask a much darker reality for women.

Elizabeth Siddal is perhaps most well known as the ‘flame haired English muse’ of the Pre-Raphaelites, having modelled for paintings by many within the Brotherhood, including her husband Gabriel Rossetti. Siddal, however, was also an artist and poet in her own right whose work is only beginning to be fully recognised. Despite her artistic abilities, the pressures of being a popular model in a culture that emphasised youth and beauty over female skills, impacted her greatly. Siddal’s fears of being usurped by a younger, more beautiful female model, plus the loss of her child, lead not only to her production of heart rendering poetry, but also manifested in addiction, depression and eventually suicide.

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Rossetti’s Wedding Portrait of Siddal, 1860

The muse, while being the object of desire and inspiration, is also an empty canvas to be manipulated by the whims and shaped by the expressions of the creator.

Known as ‘Picasso’s muse’ Dora Maar, a hugely inventive artist and Surrealist photographer, likewise suffered from her role in the life of a male painter. Not only did her association with Picasso overshadow her own talents, but his well-documented womanising and ill treatment of the women in his life certainly took its toll on the female artist professionally and personally. Perhaps it is unsurprising, therefore, that Picasso  so often represented Maar, his most utilised model, in tears.

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The Weeping Woman, 1937 by Pablo Picasso

The artist commands the active role in this relationship and therefore the muse assumes the role of passive and decorative object on to which he may project his deepest desires, fantasies and fears.

Like Maar, until recently the life and work of French sculptor Camille Claudel has been largely side-lined by a focus on her much celebrated partner and fellow sculptor Auguste Rodin. As Rodin’s lover, Claudel has often simply been reduced to his mistress and muse, within the backdrop of the life of one of the art world’s greatest masters. Rodin was a much more prolific sculptor than Claudel, but it is believed he was enabled in this task by the help of his younger lover. Their later relationship breakdown, coupled with professional jealously and a cruel family resulted in the female sculptor being placed, seemingly without reason, in an asylum for her remaining 30 years. Many now believe it was Claudel who was the more talented pioneer of the two.

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Mask of Camille Claudel, c.1895 by Rodin

The role of the muse is not only to provide inspiration, but often sexual, emotional and practical comfort too.

As US painter Anna Lee Merritt stated in 1900. “The chief obstacle to a woman’s success is that she can never have a wife. Just reflect what a wife does for an artist: Darns the stockings; keeps his house; writes his letters …It is exceedingly difficult to be an artist without this time-saving help”.

While not regarded as simply muses, the artist wives of husband artists are often either ignored or only perceived through male creativity. Viewed in the headlines of a 1930’s newspaper, Frida Kahlo was defined as a mere dabbling hobby artist next to her husband, the master artist Diego. Even recently, Lee Krasner was labelled as “wife of Jackson Pollock” at the Tate Modern, while in the same room Jackson Pollock was not likewise associated with Krasner. There are countless examples of ‘labelled’ or ‘lost wives’. Arts and Crafts artist/embroiderer Jane Morris has largely been disappeared behind her celebrated designer husband William despite contributing to and enabled many of his ideas. Glasgow School artist Margaret MacDonald’s partner, Charles Mackintosh, was also the one who received international acclaim. (Though at least her husband did recognise his wife’s ability: “Margaret has genius, I have only talent.”).

It is commonly the result of female sacrifice that the male heroic figure is created.

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On being overshadowed by her former lover and labelled his muse, German painter Gabriele Münter once complained….“In the eyes of many, I was only an unnecessary side-dish to (her lover) Kandinsky. It is all too easily forgotten that a woman can be a creative artist with a real, original talent of her own”. She reacted by creating her own small revenge. Her painting ‘Boating’ (1910) reflects the male artist standing authoritatively at the prow, while she presents herself clearly both powering and steering the craft- a metaphor for her input and guiding role.

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Boating, 1910 by Gabriele Münter

How women have achieved despite  labels, restrictions and a lack of parity should of course be recognised. Posthumously Kahlo did become a much more celebrated artist than her husband, creating a legacy which has had global impact. The Mexican painter commonly utilised herself as muse, creating paintings which reflected not only her personal life and emotions, but complex spiritual and political beliefs as well. Artists such as painter Sylvia Sleigh, have subverted artistic conventions by utilising a male muse. Gerda Wegener, likewise, challenged traditional power relations by featuring her trans partner and muse, Lili Elbe. In turn, painter Joanna Boyce and her model Jamaican-born model Fanny Eaton together created much needed representation of women of colour in 19th century Western art. Others, such as contemporary Moroccan artist Lalla A. Essaydi, have challenged the idea of women from whole cultures reduced to Orientalist ‘muses’, by subverting the ideas of artist colonialists.

The term muse, despite having romantic associations, has often been used to conceal injustices to women, allowing manipulation of their representation and devaluing of their own creativity. In this light, Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington had a point when she stated..

‘I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist’.

 

 

 

Käthe Kollwitz, A Vision of Humanity

Käthe Kollwitz was born in 1867 into a large Prussian family, whose religious concerns and passion for socialist politics would hugely influence her future work as an artist. As a child Kollwitz began to reveal a particular talent for drawing, a skill that would later become central to her life and eventually recognised and revered globally.

Encouraged by family support, Kollwitz developed her artistic gifts first in the home and then in her studies at the Women’s Art School in Munich. Here she was further inspired by the social concerns of the age and Kollwitz began to reflect the struggles of the working classes.

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The Weavers’ Revolt, ‘March of the Weavers’, 1893-1897

As the artist developed her artistic style, she found herself more attracted to printmaking, utilising lithographic techniques, woodcuts and etchings, rather than the more fashionable painting genre, in addition to viewing herself as a draughtswoman.

Kollwitz later moved to Berlin after marrying her doctor husband Karl. Through his practice attending to the poor of the city, the artist drew on her knowledge and understanding of the workers and the peasant community. Depictions of proletariat uprisings, the pain of poverty, toil, sacrifice and loss, became constant and highly emotive themes, emphasized in the artist’s stark, graphic compositions.

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Kollwitz’s 1903 etching Outbreak focuses on rebel peasant leader ‘Black Anna’ who incited a historic revolt. The idea of the female revolutionary appealed to Kollwitz so much that she created Anna in her own image in a series of work.

Kollwitz’s portrayal of her fellow women perhaps became the most striking phenomena within her body of work. The artist was able, for example, to capture and convey the strengths, anxieties and suffering of women by combining such elements as sensitivity and stoicism.

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In her 1942 work Seed for the Planting Must Not be Ground Kollwitz highlights an anti- war message utilising the female subject, the mother, as the embodiment of protection against the folly of human waste. There is no sentimental or delicate femininity here, but an impacting vision of solidity and determination. Kollwitz lost her own son in World War I and her grandson in World War II. Her work was therefore profoundly relevant to her own experience as a woman.

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Kollwitz also created over fifty self-portraits in her lifetime, without vanity but with a complex sense of self examination.

The artist sadly died in 1945 only two weeks before the end of the Second World War and much of her work was lost in an allied bombing raid. However, her surviving artworks have inspired generations of art lovers.

Kollwitz herself once stated:

”I am in the world to change the world”

…and indeed, she did.

Yayoi Kusama, the Modern Alice in Wonderland

Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan. At an early age she experienced hallucinations which included seeing lights and dots. In addition Yayoi believed she saw talking flowers and patterns of stones from the nearby river which would come to life in her waking dreams. It was such imagery that stirred the imagination of the young artist, who soon began to draw artistic inspiration from her own visions.

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Yayoi’s home life was rather chaotic. Her parents could be abusive, and her father was often absent due to extra marital affairs. The artist was sent to work during the second world war, working in a factory sewing parachutes at the age of thirteen. It was a dark period of history for Japan which culminated in the atom bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

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After the war Yayoi began to study painting, however she rejected the popular styles of her homeland in favour of a more avant-garde European approach. By 1950 the artist was creating and exhibiting abstract works often incorporating dotted imagery from her hallucinations. Yayoi soon became disenchanted with the Japanese art scene however and moved to New York hoping for a greater appreciation of her work. Here she befriended fellow artists Georgia O’Keeffe and Eva Hesse.

By the 1960s, Yayoi was producing work at a fast pace, including her Infinity room installations. Among the daring and often naked impromptu performances or ‘happenings’,  she presided over during this era was one entitled ‘Homosexual Wedding’.

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After a period of ill health Yayoi returned to her homeland in the early 1970s. Here she would undertake various activities from art dealership to writing and poetry. However, suffering from exhaustion, the artist soon entered a hospital for those suffering from mental illness. Nevertheless, Yayoi continued to produce artworks, her style changing to a more colourful approach. By the 1990s the artist began to exhibit her famous pumpkins which she viewed as embodying something of herself, akin to symbolic self-portraits. She continues to work well into her nineties.

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In her later years Yayoi’s work has continued to achieve huge critical acclaim while also engaging and delighting huge audiences. Having worked in performance, film, poetry, installation, painting, sculpture, fashion and numerous other genres, it is true to say that Yayoi Kusama is a truly multitalented multimedia artist.

In her own words…..

‘I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland.’

The Story of Gerda and Lili

The artist Gerda Wegener (née Gottlieb) was born in semi-rural Denmark into a conservative and religious family. As a young woman with a promising artistic talent, she was later allowed to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. It was here, in 1904, that Gerda first met fellow artist and landscape painter whose given name was Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, but who would later become globally known as Lili Elbe.

It is believed they married at the ages of 19 and 22 years old.

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Gerda Wegener

After Gerda graduated in 1907 the couple travelled around Europe, eventually settling in Paris. The artist hoped that the French capital would offer her an artistic opportunity in the world of fashion. Gerda’s work was shown at various exhibitions and she eventually gained a living in advertising creating posters. Here she developed a specific art deco figurative style. Her work, often featuring women and erotica, was considered too risqué in her homeland, but was readily accepted in the more relaxed atmosphere of Bohemian Paris.

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Gerda Wegener, A Summer Day-detail, 1927

Gerda and her partner soon became well acquainted with the dancers, intellectuals, fellow artists and the radical lifestyle of the capital. It was at this time that Elbe began to present as Lili. The artist, like Gerda, had also worked as an illustrator to earn money and had been a successful landscape painter, even exhibiting at the Salon in Paris, but had ceased painting believing it was part of a former life.

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Poples along Hobro Fjord, 1908 signed in Elbe’s former name.

Gerda, however, continued in her work, sometimes utilising Lili as model. Little did her viewers know the story behind her new muse. The circumstances of their complex bond both on a personal and artistic level was somewhat unconventional, even for the relaxed atmosphere of Paris in the early 20th century.

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Lili Elbe, 1926

The couple continued a close relationship for many years despite Lili often being explained as a cousin of Gerda’s. In 1930 Lili became one of the first people to undergo reassignment surgery and became celebrated by many as a pioneering transsexual (a term appropriate to the era). However, due to complications involved in further surgical interventions Lili died. Elbe’s autobiography was published posthumously in 1933.

By this time Gerda had become involved in a new relationship which evolved into an unhappy marriage and a period of time spent in North Africa. Later divorced, she spent the last years of her life alone.

The story of Gerda and Lili, which inspired the film ‘The Danish Girl’, has been perceived by many as challenging the typical gendered power dynamics of artist master and model. Gerda’s work has also been praised for her bold depictions of independent women, including lesbian erotica, created from the female rather than typically male gaze.

 

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“Lili y Gerda” by Gerda Wegener

 

The entwined bond of artist Gerda and former artist Lili, is certainly one of historical interest, and has a significant place in the history of both culture and art.

Adding the Blue: the collected oil paintings of Chrissie Hynde – A book review

Giving yourself to painting is easier if you don’t live with someone. Get a cat instead.” Chrissie Hynde.

Without formal training musician Chrissie Hynde began painting in her later years. As with many women in the arts, she started when her children left home and a space in her life opened to accommodate time for the genre. Having been enthused by art from an early age, Hynde recalls that it was her saviour subject at school. Her life, however took her down the route of music with her band The Pretenders as she became a pioneering and iconic female figure in the post punk, rock scene.

Adding the Blue is a newly created book featuring a collection of oil paintings created by Hynde in recent years. Displayed chronologically, this includes numerous still lifes, nudes, landscapes, self-portraits and portraits of friends and family, in addition to a host of abstract works painted by the artist in both her London and French studios. While attractively displayed in colourful full-page presentation, what defines the book is not only the quality of the paintings-and it is certainly quite a vibrant talent that Hynde possesses, but also the insights provided by her own accompanying texts.

While sharing anecdotes relating to her artworks, Hynde’s commentary states she approaches her painting as she created her music, with unpretentious enthusiasm.

It’s pretty much like writing songs. I might know what I want to write about, but generally I just dive in and see what’s down there” – Chrissie Hynde

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Hynde expresses feelings of being outside the world of art and artists. Considering her incredibly successful survival in a hugely male dominated music business where women have always been treated as ‘outsiders’, she does not fear rejection in her current role as painter however. Within her appealingly pragmatic and insightful statements within the book, Hynde claims her earlier life encompassing menial jobs gave her a humble perspective and gratitude for her present creative life.

Her work presented here at times recalls the flat modernist organisation of Picasso combined with the colour palate of Matisse. In terms of female artists, the flower studies of Georgia O’Keefe and the still lifes of Suzanne Valadon come to mind, with suggestions of the expressionist figures of contemporary artist like Nicole Eisenman. What the book reflects is how Hynde’s work has progressed with an authenticity mirrored in the honest reflections of her accompanying commentary. Hynde’s nudes are created, for example without the need to beautify, while reflecting a refreshing awareness of real humanity in their vulnerability and awkwardness at times. Her abstract work, in turn, has evolved in boldness, with a uniting of geometric and organic shapes incorporated in increasing balanced compositions.

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Art is a way of connecting to the divine”-Chrissie Hynde

Her portrait work is especially expressive, created with thought to character and mood which avoids sentimentality or fawning. The painting of Hynde’s friend, dancer Michael Clark, for example, reflects a heartfelt intensity perhaps only conveyed by someone close to the subject. Her self-portraits such as Thursday Self 1 and 2 created with sharp angular, chiselled features and stretched pink muscle sinews, likewise present an intriguing impression of the artist, devoid of any sense of self-aggrandisement or vanity.

Conveyed in a book that is both a visual and informative treat, Hynde clearly enjoys her paintings, creating a body of work that communicates in a candid and meaningful way.

Most importantly Adding the Blue not only offers an intriguing insight into the development of the work of Chrissie Hynde as an emerging painter. It provides an accessible approach that thankfully avoids the usual language and clichés of the art book, appropriately reflective of the artist herself…. certainly worth our attention.

CH Adding The Blue Trade Edition Cover

More information

https://www.genesis-publications.com/book/9781905662531/adding-the-blue

Stitching & Swearing: Interview with Annie Taylor of the Profanity Embroidery Group (PEG)

I’m going to start with an obvious question, how did the Profanity Embroidery Group (PEG) begin as an idea and then form as a group?
The Profanity Embroidery Group came about by accident really.  I shared an old Rino Piccolo cartoon on my facebook feed.  My mum had always embroidered, and years ago I had torn this cartoon out of the New Yorker, I think, and sent it to her.  In the summer of 2014, mum was looking through her books and the cartoon fell out.  My dad then scanned it and emailed it back to me.  I laughed so much when I saw it, I decided to share it.  The cartoon shows a lovely older woman sitting stitching, covering everything with hearts and flowers and ‘Fuck the World’. The catch line is “Mrs Winchester finds a positive outlet for frustrated negative energy”.
The response from my friends, and friends of friends, was immediate. Within an hour, we had the name Profanity Embroidery Group, and acronym PEG, and myself and Wendy Robinson had arranged to loiter in one of our wonderful local pubs on the following Tuesday, and see if anyone wanted to turn up and join.
Much to our amazement, the door kept opening, and women sidled in muttering loudly “is this the Profanity Embroidery Group”. By the end of that first evening, we had a vague plan to make a Quilt of Profanity, and the group was well and truly launched. 
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‘Real Women Fart’ embroidery by Jan Lewis, PEG
Are there any skills required to join? Also what reasons do your members have for becoming part of the group?
No skills are necessary: we’ve had people join who are excellent at swearing but complete novices at stitching, who are now producing amazing work, and then fortunately (otherwise our Quilt of Profanity would have been a nightmare) we’ve had people join with brilliant stitching abilities, but lacking a profane vocabulary. I’m glad to say they are also coming along fine and their use of swearing has improved immensely.  One of my favourite reasons for someone joining was that they wanted to do something that was in no way ‘self improving’. 
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‘Can’t be arsed’ embroidery by Alison J Lee from PEG
 
I love the idea of pairing ‘stitching and swearing’. Embroidery can be perceived as a such a genteel pastime and yet profanity is regarded as opposing assumptions of ‘lady-like’ behaviour. Putting the two together is genius! While I love the humour, is there a feminist premise at all to this regarding, for example, female expression or ideas about the art women create?
There is indeed. Some of our work is more subtle than others, but there is something rather glorious in beautifully embroidering the word Cunt. It is an old old word, but is seen as vicious and derogatory, the worst of the worst, but if you can happily use it, and stitch it, the word has lost its power to hurt you.  The group is made up of around thirty people (at the moment we only have one male member) and we try to keep to this size as a manageable group.  Everyone has their own individual take on what they do, and why they do it, what they want to express, and indeed how they want to express their ideas, and sometimes the word is more serious. We collaborated with the poet Leah Thorne on her Older Women Rock project, which had grown out of her experience of ageing as a woman, interpreting her poems onto vintage clothing, which some of us then modelled. It was profanity free work, but really powerful. 
 
 What do you think women especially gain for joining a group like yours?
A damn good laugh.
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´Fucketyfucketyfuckfuckfuck´ by Annie Taylor from PEG
 
Rozsika Parker’s iconic 1984 book ‘The Subversive Stitch’ and the work of Miriam Schapiro, who created the artwork “Anonymous was a Woman” (1976), aimed to recognise and elevate the status of traditional women’s crafts. For me, groups like PEG are reflective of much more than the crafts created but highlight the value in collective experience within the tradition of women’s communal work. Would you agree?
Yes, I would.  Interestingly though, we have never planned anything, or thought about the ‘why’ of what we are doing.  As I say, we began by accident, not because of a particular concept, and have rather tumbled from one project to the next. The ideas are communally generated, and refined, with a bit of gentle steering. For example our recent Lady Garden project began as an idea for a workshop, using a Beaver design by one of our members, Alison Fitzgerald Lucas originally intended for the Quilt of Profanity.  It was an ideal image to give out as a template, and so much that could be done with it.  We then decided to make it our project for the Whitstable Biennale Satellite, and at that point discovered the Gynaecological Cancer Fund’s own LadyGarden campaign, and decided to use our Lady Gardens to help raise some funds for the campaign. 
Finally, would you encourage others to form their own groups and if so, any advice or tips for doing so?
Others have tried to form their own groups, but do seem to have fizzled out for various reasons. One reason for PEG’s success I think is that were not a group of close friends when we formed – most of the initial members I did not in fact know – they were friends of friends who had been told about this mad idea and wanted to be part of it.  We meet in the pub,The Duke of Cumberland,  a public space where people can come and join in on their own, or observe us from a distance and decide whether they want to join us.  If we met in a closed space, it makes it difficult for others to feel as though they can just rock up and join in, and if the meeting is in someone’s house, they are not necessarily going to want to welcome total strangers. So I think the ‘where’ of the meeting is very important.  We love meeting in the pub, even if, in mid winter, we cannot see what we are doing so well, and just have to drink…  the drink also helps the ideas flow. 
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‘TWAT’ hand embroidery by Wendy Robinson
 
Thank you Annie so much for this, love the group, keep up the brilliant work! x

The Abortion Pastels, Paula Rego

In 1998 Portuguese born artist Paula Rego created a series of work entitled Untitled. The Abortion Pastels.  Rego created her work in response to a referendum to legalise abortion in Portugal, which was very narrowly defeated. Each canvas depicted the image of a woman undergoing an unsafe abortion.

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Rego was born in Portugal in 1935, into what she describes as a repressive, middle-class Portuguese life in which women were highly encouraged to do nothing, while working-class women were forced to do everything. The painter recalls girlhood as a time of learning obedience to men, in addition to secretive and confused messages about puberty, sexual abstention and female propriety.  Then fascist Portugal was described by her father as a ‘killer society for women’.

After leaving her homeland in the late 1950’s to attend London’s Slade School of Fine Art, Rego recollected an era including coerced sexual encounters leading to secretive and often tortuous back street abortions. In turn, her Abortion series would be both inspired by her own experiences and that of her fellow female students, utilising what she had witnessed growing up around the small Portuguese villages of her formative years.

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While Rego’s series depicted a theme uncommon in a Western cannon of art often only concerned with the idealisation of womanhood, its harsh realism exposed a hushed up, yet very real world for many women. The artist, however, did not reflect any particular emotion, nor are her subjects portrayed as passive victims. In fact their eyes often gaze blankly outwards at the viewer, thus putting the emphasis of judgement, of guilt, of collusion on those passively spectating.

The artist’s brutal images question the idea of ‘respectability’ in what she believed was a denial of reality for many women. Rego was enraged at her country’s inability to truly face up to the experience of women who would have abortions with or without choice, and whether legal or not. She recalled the women who had died.

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Rego’s Abortion series is an intentionally unnerving and uncomfortable experience as a result. When the series was exhibited in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, Rego recalled the whispered secrets of women in the gallery while looking at her artworks. In turn, after being exhibited, her work is stated to have been integral in changing public opinion.

“It is imperative women have a choice” Rego stated.

Abortion laws in Portugal were liberalised to a greater extent on April 10, 2007.

 

 

 

Interview with Gail Orenstein, Photographer & Drone Journalist in Conflict Zones

Gail Orenstein has been a photographer for 23 years, and has travelled the globe documenting conflicts from Guatemala to Iraq. She was the first female civilian to drone in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq during the Mosul offensive in 2017 and her drone footage and photography work has been distributed globally to such organisations as CBS news, The Guardian, The Times, Washington Post, TIME, The BBC and more.

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Interview:

Q1:         What initially drew you to photography as a medium?

I was always very interested in photography and my father, when I was younger, this was in the 60s actually, I don’t really remember the original footage because we had them re-digitalised, but my father used to have a Super 8 Bell + Howell super video camera and make movies all the time. The old Super 8 cameras. So my father was always making movies when we went to school and when we went to go skiing and at a very early age my father just loved film making.  The problem was that he tried to make some kind of cool films but often times he forgot to include our heads in the shots, so you see all these little kids running around headless.  So, I think he wasn’t familiar with how to use the eye piece.  When we sit around as a family we recognise, oh that’s me running around, that’s me running around, so you see a lot of children running around on film and you have to identify them as best as you can.  My father’s intentions were great you know to make these family movies, but he wasn’t technically very good.  So, lots of headless films of children and the attempt was wonderful though, you can see us fighting and playing in the snow, but it’s hard to identify who’s through the snowballs.

Q2:         Can you describe how your arts education and career path lead you to become a drone journalist?

Well I’ve been a photo journalist for 25 years. I think it was just a natural extension really, I studied undergraduate photo journalism at the Art Institute of Chicago and I received a master’s degree there in art therapy. I used photo therapy as a way to help people sort of use cameras to solve problems.  So, photography was always a big part of my family as well because my mother through the years as I was growing up and I was college and there was 8 of us.  She had eight children.  We always sent her photos, my mother kept my father’s World War II photos, my mother kept both grandparents photo albums.  So as soon as you would walk into our house it was sort of like a photo museum.  So, I think that had a really big impact on me and using this medium, because I was very familiar with it from my mother and my father and also, I came from a very, very social family.  So, there was always people around my parents, for dinner, for lunch for breakfast, visiting on the weekends.  So, I think it was a sort of a natural progression for me to become used to people always in an environment around me and large crowds and I really was you know, fearless.  That came from my parents, they were very social, and I was used to all ethnicities, black, white, Indian, everyone was welcome into our family.  And my parents had a lot of friends and they are very much still deeply loved for that. So, I really didn’t know until I was older really what a lot of racism was because my parents had everybody over, so as a photo journalist that was amazing really because I sort of came from an early point of view that you know, you just go and do your art and really discrimination just was not there.  You start to think about politics later on, my parents were not political, they were business people and they were smart about it and they sort of just, they really didn’t use politics as any kind of weapon ever and it wasn’t until as I said I was in University that I really became much more politically aware.  But I had that openness about ethnicity and welcoming all ethnic people and from all diverse backgrounds and also my mother was in a lot of women’s groups, so my mother was a great inspiration.  My mother helped a lot of women, my mother had a lot of female grandchildren and there were 7 girls that she raised and one boy.  So, my mother was always giving to women’s charities and really caring for women.  When she grew up she grew up taking care of a lot of women during World War II, her mother had a convalescent home that they rented above their house and my mother nursed a lot of women back to health.  I think my mother’s mother was responsible for a lot of the males coming in, but my mother was responsible, for a very young age she would talk to me being 15, 16, 17 and 18 being really happy to be able to take care of elderly women so that she could contribute to helping her mother. I think maybe they made $20 dollars a week or $100 a dollar, but that was a lot right after World War II.  So, my mother was extremely aware of poverty, my mother lived through it, my mother never judged anyone for their social class because my mother was very poor.  My parents worked extremely hard and became affluent later in their lives after building a business together for 50 years.  But never during that time did they, the only things that they put in their background from growing up poor was the determination to not to discriminate against the poor. And that a profound impact on my work.

Q3:         Can you give a description of the work involved in photo/drone journalism?

Yes, I think my photo journalism is a wonderful thing.  It’s wonderful to be a photo journalist and it’s a very unique thing to be able to do, to be able to tell a visual story.  And you know create some text with it.  I remember when I was smuggled into Syria in 2014 and I was with the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit and I was very interested in covering the female fighters the YPJ.  The Kurdish People’s Protection Unit, that’s the female fighting unit.  And they took care of me, I was on the front line with them and I had a Nikon D3 and I stayed there and documented for a week the female fighters.  But I also documented the fight against Islamic State and I left around after Christmas.  So, when I got back to London after I was smuggled out of Syria in December 2014.  I came back and saw some footage by a Brazilian photo journalist named Gabriel Chaim, I saw Gabriel’s drone footage of his work in Kobani and it completely changed my life and it changed everything. I decided at that point once I saw Gabriel’s work that drone journalism would now be, using drones in part of my arsenal, my traditional cameras.  Using drones would always be the way that I would work from now on.  I thought that Gabriel’s, I thought that looking at that footage really got a much more in-depth story from using aerial shots. So, I studied that, and I brought from that really changed me and changed the way that I told stories.  Because you could really see the whole damage done in Kobani and using a done.  So, from that point I went to Iraq and I went to continue my work and now I carry a fleet of small drones with me. I started out using larger drones, but now I carry smaller drones and I use traditional methods such as my still cameras, my video and now I use drones.  So, I have quite a mix of hybrid technology now.

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Q4:         What particular issues arise from working in conflict zones?

Well as you can imagine one being danger because there are a lot of you know you have to be careful of a lot of different things, one is you’re at war, so there’s going to be a lot of gun battle, there may be bombs, airstrikes, drone strikes. I think you have to be very, very careful and one thing that’s changed using this drone technology as drone journalists, is that I can fly over an area now and review the footage and perhaps see maybe some areas that I want to stay away from now that before I might have had to walk to, I can use the drone as sort of a safety mechanism prior to.  So, I do a survey of the area before I decide now to walk around it.  I do a lot of pre-assessment drone journalism work of the areas, also its been fascinating change to work so closely now with Humanitarian Agencies and to work with mapping agencies and geographical agencies because I can now give mathematical formulations about the size of refugee camps.  You can use this footage when you drone over a refugee camp or a conflict area to really get a different picture and use it to help and assist aid and NGO agencies in a different way.  So, there’s picture telling still through traditional mechanisms and then as a drone journalist I have so many different other ways of using storytelling and assisting agencies using drones in conflict areas.

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Q5:         In your career have you encountered any issues relating to the fact that you are a woman?

That’s a great question because the answer is yes, and I think one of the biggest issue is that I don’t see many women in my job and I’ve always advocated.  I would love to see female photo journalists working in humanitarian and conflict zones very carefully of course.   I don’t encourage somebody to just go straight to Syria. I encourage that you study hard, you work hard and do a kind of internship perhaps with a news agency before you just start hitting the ground.  Other people may just say just go, but I’m a little more careful, I do realise I have a responsibility because these are very dangerous places.  And you really have to know what you’re doing.  So, I would say look around and see if you can do an internship and also take a hostile environment course, take all hostile kinds of training you can, and the Rory Peck has a hostile environment training.  Also, if you’re in University I would study war correspondence and journalism, I would really, really work hard at getting as much knowledge as you can before you go into any of these areas and that’s what I highly recommend.  Especially as a female, because you’re going to see a lot of male photo journalists, a lot of male film makers, a lot of male soldiers, a lot of male military.  So, you may encounter a bit of alienation, but you know work with everybody, I worked a lot with mainly with my male colleagues and when I do see any female colleagues of course you know I am so happy. But there are not as many, but I’m trying to encourage drone journalists, as many females to become involved as possible.  And I am starting a charity for teaching young females how to tell stories in their area, say in Rwanda or Uganda or Bangladesh. Training them as drone pilots, so that they can tell local stories using both traditional means which is photography and videography but also using drones. So, I am hoping that we will see a lot more women using this technology, using and becoming drone journalists.

Q6:         Do the specific problems of women globally have an impact on your work?

I think that’s a very important question as they all are. Remember I see a lot of women and children and when I’m working in conflict or humanitarian areas and it is usually the impact on these crisis’ the first affected are women and children.  So yes, globally there’s a huge crisis of women’s needs that are unattended.  Female hygienic needs that are desperately needed, baby formula that’s for young babies both male and female.  But it is the mother’s that are very, very hit hard in these global crisis’ and we need more, we’re always saying we need more humanitarian responses.  But one of the things I have seen over the years is that it’s very important that the response all be from well-trained locals because of the language and we need to train I think more locals, more female locals to deal with rapid response in humanitarian conflict areas that are hit hard.  These female locals they know the area, they know the language and I very much advocate the use of training locals in these areas to help females.  Training females to provide medical assistance when they are struggling in conflict or humanitarian areas.

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Q7:         Do you think there is something about your own character that has lead you into this field of work?

Well certainly I did touch on that with the synergy between my parents who have wonderful personalities and growing up around so many people and you know both my mother and father being involved in the visual arts at a young age.  I don’t think they really intentionally were doing these things, but I think by my father making films and my mother sort of making our house a photographic museum I think being surrounded by the visual arts that they had around the photographs of family, the photographs of my mother’s parents.  My father’s World War II photographs, all of this had a very much a huge impact on me because I saw it every single day as a child.  I saw it every day single, my mother had them on the walls all of these memories were ingrained in me as a child, they were very important, and I saw them through the visuals around the house, and through the stories.  My mother was a fantastic storyteller, she told stories, I would sit for hours and listen to her stories. My mother, the one thing I do regret my mother has passed away, but she still exists in my heart every single day and in my mind every single day.  And is with me on my journey still every single day.  But my mother, I wish I had recorded, towards the end of my mother’s life I did record many of my mother’s stories that she told about her upbringing.  But I do wish that I had smart as a teenager to record so many of the stories that she told me, that she suffered as poverty right after World War II and going through such difficult economic times in the late 30s, 40s and how much a struggle her family went through.  How much she helped her mother, those stories really had a profound impact on my work.

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Q8:         How do you switch off from your work as a photo journalist or a drone journalist.

I think the thing is, I don’t really think that when you’re doing this kind of job you ever switch off, I think that this is part of who you are, this is part of your personality. And this is very much who you are as a person, so you live it, you breathe it, you are it.  When I’m walking down the streets I give to charity, when I see a homeless, I give to them.  When I document in Bangladesh I try to put my equipment down and try to help people.  I think it encompasses your life all the time, it’s part of your character, or you wouldn’t do that job. I think the job sort of reflects who you are, I don’t think everybody could be a photo journalist, I don’t think everybody could be a drone journalist.  I don’t think most people could go into a conflict zone and do what I do.  It’s a very unique job and I’m very blessed that I have the ability to be published where I can show people the faces that have been left behind and the faces that are struggling.  And even if one person or ten people see these that could have an impact and if I am the first there and news get to humanitarian agencies then that’s wonderful.  Because that information is passed along and then charities start coming and so we have the ability to have an impact, we can’t necessarily change the world so much, but we can let important people know that this is what’s happening on the ground, this is what’s being made so far available on the ground and can you send more help.  Can you send more aid, can you start a relief fund, so we do have the ability to change the situation, we don’t have the ability to necessarily stop the situation?  But even if you can save a life, then you can walk away feeling pretty good, if you can go back and visit and see that those people now have a regular home to live in, rather than a refugee camp.  I think you know, you can feel good about that, there’s a lot that I don’t feel good about I know people still living in refugee camps.  So, you never really switch off and especially when you’re in your studio looking at this footage, you always wonder what happened to this person, I remember this day when this family.  I remember this family leaving Mosel, I remember this family leaving Kobani in Syria.  Where are they now, that’s a question I always ask myself, it’s a question you know I live with but when you return, and you see sometimes there is rebuilding going on, sometimes there’s not and you have to live with those consequences.  So, you never really do leave, you never leave this, it’s always with you.  What you try and do is you try and out of it, you try to make an empowering situation for those that you have left through connections and through humanitarian organisations and through locals who you know have the power to change things on the ground. So, one hopes that you know when you show, and you have the power to also show your work in art galleries and things like that and donate some money and make a difference.  There are a lot of ways you as a person can go about doing your work, everybody does it very different when they leave a crisis situation but for me it’s just encompasses me all the time and it’s something that I am proud of and it’s something that you have to be a very social creature because when you finish, you still have a lot of people that you’re responsible too and so it never really does leave you, I think it stays with you forever and it helps you think of better ways as you get older especially using a drone.  Now I am thinking about how is it that I can go to these areas and do food drops as a drone journalist, so I think it helps you develop as a person, that’s what I hope it does for others, I can’t speak for others but for me I am always looking for ways to help people in my next journey.

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Thank you for this interview I hope you enjoyed it.

I did Gail, good luck in your work and thank you.

 

for more information: http://www.gailorenstein.com/