Thursday, 29 April 2010

Bristol City Museum and Art gallery - you can do better

Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery – you can do better than this!

"Art from the New World" is a brash, hip show of young west coast American artists coming to the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery (BCMAG) in May. Referencing mass culture, it promises to be popular and will allow the city to continue to engage the new, young audience that the Bansky show attracted in such huge numbers. This new popularity brings new responsibility. But, is this responsibility being met with the invitation to Dita von Teese, burlesque stripper, to perform at the opening party?

The image of the semi dressed, sexy young woman is a marker for popular culture that surrounds us daily, usually representing a performance of female sexuality for men. She appears again and again in the work of the Corey Helford Gallery (who is providing the show and sponsoring the `entertainment') but this exhibition isn't all a celebration of her figure.

In fact, in the work of some of the women artists (who are outnumbered by the men 2 to 1) we are witness to the melancholy and alienation that is expressive of the predicament faced by young women living in our current pornified culture where they are encouraged to perform their sexuality without feeling. A culture in which recent research has shown that a very high percentage of all women are unhappy with their own bodies and 40% of teenage girls are so unhappy as to be defined as mentally ill.

Dita von Teese, with her white skin, large breasts and tiny waist, conforms to the mainstream stereotype of the sexual woman, the dominant cultural image that leaves ordinary women with low self esteem and anxiety, reaching for the cosmetic surgeon’s knife. The burlesque performance at the gallery’s opening becomes an explicit celebration of this porn culture that will overshadow the critique presented in the art itself.

Perhaps in a female dominated burlesque venue, with a woman compering an event featuring performances from a range of women with varying body types, then Ms von Teese’s skillfully exaggerated performance would read differently. But this performance is taking place in a male dominated context. The majority of the artists are men, the headline promotional material for the show is male dominated, and Dita would be the only person using and revealing her own body. In this context her act inevitably locks back into the old, objectified "sexual performance for men”.

O, BCMAG, surely you can do better than this? Why bring in this audience if all you do is replicate the dangerous stereotypes that so much research has demonstrated is deeply damaging to our culture; damaging to women and also the psyches of young men; damaging to the possibility of genuinely equal and mutual sexual relationships.
Bristol feminists want to celebrate the real beauty and excitement of female sexuality. But this repetition of the stereotyped view of female sexuality perpetuates the endless stream of sterilised, blank and repetitive sexual representation that permeates our every day cultural experience and that diminishes us all.

Signed, Bristol Feminists


Artist said...

Art is always expression of life however this life looks like.

DaddyO said...

"I don’t mind being burdened with being glamorous and sexual. Beauty and femininity are ageless and can’t be contrived, and glamour, although the manufacturers won’t like this, cannot be manufactured. Not real glamour; it’s based on femininity. We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift. Art, real art, comes from it .. . everything." Marilyn Monroe

sianandcrookedrib said...

daddyo - and your point is? if you read what is written the authors are very clear on the fact that we celebrate women's sexuality and the issue is the objectification of the female body in the very male dominated context of the performance space.

marilyn monroe committed suicide. people refused to take her seriously as a woman and only saw her as a sex object. the pressure of this drove her to despair. so you might want to find a better quote!

of course great art is often formed by sexulity, desire, love, emotion. duh! who would deny that? jsut have to read the sonnets, look at a painting, admire a scuplture to see that. but the performance of sexuality, the performance of desire - it is a different kettle of fish. the performance of arousal, the narrow narrow confines that we have allowed female sexuality in our cultural spaces by reducing it to performance - that isn't what monroe is talking about. lets celebrate, admire and be amazed at the power of human sexuality. lets not reduce it to a wink, a tassle and a sequin.

WAWG said...

Well said Sian. It seems obvious to me that the people who 'despise and crush' the 'natural gift' are those who seek to turn it into a commodity, to say what is sexy and what isn't, to take crude and limiting ideas of 'femininity' and parody them for an audience who don't get the parody.

sianandcrookedrib said...

WAWG - exactly. no one wants to deny the beauty and power of human sexuality, except those people who see female sexuality as nothing more than a performance for a male centred audience. the people who want to turn female sexuality into the performance of faked arousal.