Photo and video work from contemporary female artists goes on display at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, in a timely exhibit that uses the female body to look at identity. With work drawn from the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington—the world’s largest collection of female artists—Terrains of the Body showcases photos from 17 diverse and equally impressive women, including Nan Goldin, Anna Gaskell, and Marina Abramović.
These artists are each brought together at the Whitechapel exhibit through self-portraits, images, and moving image works featuring women. Their work takes on sociopolitical but also personal subjects while presenting a range of photographic techniques from over the last 20 years.
“The theme essentially came out of looking at common interests from many of these female photographers,” show curator Emily Butler tells The Creators Project. “Many of the artists were reclaiming the representation of the female body to look at the complex subject of identity, experience, emotion and memory.”
Feminist art that came in line with the push for female equality in the 1960s and 1970s allowed for new creative perspectives, where a woman’s role in society was often put under the lens, especially in terms of global perceptions of the female body and the purpose of women at the time and throughout history. “Pushing the boundaries of performance, photography, and video,” says Butler, “these have had a great influence on many of the artists in the display.”
The fight for women’s rights worldwide is often taken up through the political work found in Terrains of the Body. Shirin Neshat, for instance, is an Iranian visual artist documenting a disempowerment of women in post-revolutionary Iran, and artist duo Mwangi Hutter, hailing from Germany and Kenya, look at racial equality with their moving images of fragmented bodies.
“There is a variety of different voices in the show,” says Butler. “Many of the works are indeed documents of performances or still from moving image works. We thought it was also important to include a video.”
The exhibition shows photography’s depth, where the medium can be used as a way to document a subject or else be used as a narrative tool itself, looking at the relationship between photographer and image. “The narrative that unfolds through Anna Gaskell’s work Erasers, for example, also reinforces the stories unfolding in other images of teenagers,” says Butler. “Looking at this relationship on the tension between documentary and narrative.”
Last year, Whitechapel opened Is it Even Worse in Europe? an investigation from the notorious feminist art group the Guerrilla Girls, who asked art institutions across Europe about diversity within their practices, either how many female artists were in their collections or the number of exhibits they held that contained work from countries underrepresented in the art world. The exhibit, which is on until March 5, 2017, was based on a Guerrilla Girls poster from 1986, where the group pointed out how few women artists could be found, pointedly, in the American art scene.
Terrains of the Body serves as a response to the questions posed by Is it Even Worse in Europe?, providing a feminine insight into a wide range of topics and methods.
Butler says Whitechapel Gallery will continue to offer a platform to celebrate the accomplishments of women in the arts. “In the week which saw the start of a new political era in Washington and internationally, it felt very relevant to showcase how artists, in particular women, can contribute to the debate on the value of diversity and the capacity for art to transcend perceived barriers of language, class and race.”
Terrains of the Body is on at London’s Whitechapel Gallery until April 16, 2017. See more here.