Posts tagged margaret bowland
Posts tagged margaret bowland
As images on their own, I think they are striking.
I jumped when I saw that the artist is a white woman. It immediately changed the context of these paintings for me.
Digging further, I read her artist’s statement, in which Margaret Bowland is just like any other white lady trying to enter into the spaces and bodies of marginalised Others. For example, in some of her images, she paints a little woman called Anna. She calls Anna ‘the dwarf in my pictures’ and says she was interested in painting ‘the tragedy of her body’. She then goes on to say that she wants to depict the ‘struggle of living’ (in bodies deemed “deviant”) and frames her method as being a ‘predator’, acknowledging the thin line between hungry consumption and love. I don’t think that’s okay.
It is appropriative and makes me very uncomfortable. It doesn’t change the fact that these paintings are beautifully observed, and can be read in many ways which are not so objectionable, but I really don’t think that aesthetic value and cries of “it’s Art! ART!!!” trumps the fact that it is coming from the wrong place, co-opting, fetishizing, and speaking for marginalised people.
But what do you think?
pear, i agree. yes they are lovely pictures but the artist’s intentions are fucked all to hell.
To jump off from the sentence I bolded above, I think is something that artists who are depicting people who are not “like” them need to really sweat over, most particularly when it is a group that *your* group is privileged over.
You are painting with someone else’s body.
You need to be respectful, and thoughtful. Does that mean you might end up more anxious? More stressed? Take longer to finish because you are trying to not suck?
Good. It should.
Like torayot said, how I perceive these paintings instantly changes when I know they were painted by a white woman, even before reading the artist’s statement, and I take a step back into the cautious and analytical more quickly. The same way I do when I see work about the disabled done by the abled, women done by men, queer people done by straight people (my fastest reactions, assuredly, are for “Others” that I am, but I think it is good to learn this response for everybody.) etc. Not that it can’t be done well, and even with results that match good intentions, but you are inviting that moment of closer inspection.
(Obviously if you are trying to make *ist statements with your work, you can just go fuck off.)
That first moment of “trust” on viewing gets really short. It doesn’t mean that you have to not like the art, or even stay forever in a very analytical instead of experiential space. It doesn’t mean don’t try to make art that includes your Others. Just understand that you have an increased responsibility to make sure you are saying what you think you are saying.
To comment on this work specifically for a moment, it reads to me very differently than, say, Annie Leibovitz’ portrait of Chris Rock in white face because there I am pretty sure Chris was part of the collaboration that came up with the idea, and had agency in how he performed it. Even if this little girl actually sat for these, I doubt that she had any agency in the concept or execution.
I had a really interesting discussion about identity, self hate, cultural capital etc with my BFF today and it got me thinking of Margaret Bowland’s selection of paintings of young black girls in white face. When asked to comment on ‘Kenyetta and Brianna’ Bowland that ‘It is a commentary on how women still have to jump through all these hoops to be desirable. These girls are still visible beneath all those layers of crap … they’re still looking back at you.’ I think that a lot of black girls looking at Bowland’s paintings would say that the metaphor transcends beyond the art world. For many black girls Bowland’s paintings are a life metaphor - reflecting a reality where black girls are often marginalised by European standards of beauty. I agree with Cherise Kramarae when she states that ‘For women of color who are viewers, trying to achieve idealised femininity entails not only adjusting or refining one’s body, but also rejecting one’s identity and certain characteristics altogether. To resist this artificial standard is to stand apart from beauty as defined by society’. The frustrating thing for me is that even if you put the fact that there is very little aesthetic diversity across all media platforms to the side, in the black community we impose European standards of beauty on each other with a vengeance. It’s black men that make fun of Alek Wek and it’s black girls arguing about natural hair v relaxer/weave war (e.g ‘These little nappy headed hoes need a terminator’ - Nicki Minaj) etc. It’s this infighting that is the real tragedy.
Somebody told a lie and we believed it.