Monday, 25 March 2013

Sabotage of 'Sex, Art and the Inner World: Women Artists Reclaiming their Creative Birth Right'?

By Ruth Skilbeck

Yesterday I posted an article on my blog on Sex, Art and the Inner World: Women Artists Reclaiming their Creative Birth Right, which looks at cultural issues of changing attitudes to sexuality in western culture, and relating this to women contemporary artists practices since the 1970s women's art movement of feminism in the 70s. This is in the field of my research as a feminist arts writer (and also novel in progress). This has been a tremendously popular article- I usually receive about 100-200 blog hits a day. Yesterday, my blog had 1,675 views and this was in response to this article with hundreds of views again today and rapidly climbing. This morning the article had almost 200 'likes' and has been shared many times on Facebook (I know because I have seen this in the news feed). However - mid morning all the 'likes' disappeared from the post- on this blog. And there is no record of the number of 'shares' it has had and is still getting on Facebook.

I can only assume this is some form of 'sabotage' or blocking because of the subject matter. All the artists in the post are working as contemporary artists in Australia and have mainstream gallery representation. Their work is in private and public galleries and the works shown in the article are well known, and have been displayed in public galleries. This has not happened to any other articles on this blog - a recent post I wrote on A Homage to (Censored) Women Artists on International Women's Day still shows the "shares' record, and also the number of 'likes' on the blog - so I can only suspect, at this point, that there is some attempt going on to hide the popularity of the article and its contents. It has attracted very positive responses (in Facebook comments) and views from all around the world.

Considering that writers and artists are now required to use social media platforms, blogs and Facebook, to work and to build up their audience, this would appear to be a very heinous act- as it appears that it is an attempt to sabotage me - and also the artists I write about- by erasing evidence of my popularity of the post (and writer) and subject matter (the artists and their work). When artists and writers only survive nowadays by being able to demonstrate popular support and support from their communities, to remove the 'likes' and 'shares' of this post, has significant implications for my reputation and for that of the artists in the post. Rather than being able to show how popular and much liked the article is - the evidence has been removed. 

Given that Facebook and blogs social media platforms are supposed to be a forum for popular opinion and a way that people can express their views and preferences for cultural products, through ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ - this appears to be an attempt at sabotage . If all evidence of the popularity of my writing is removed, this is a way of thwarting my chances of building my audience, getting my work published - as publishers also require to see how popular one's work is. As I am currently not employed in any other capacity apart from writing, and in the stages of approaching publishers to publish my books, I need to show evidence of impact of my writing. I am not paid to write on my blog. And I spend a great deal of time and care on writing, about causes and art and artists that I think are important. As a journalist I used to be well paid for my writing- as a blogger I do far more work (it seems like) for nothing. And like most artists live in a state of penury. All we have is our work, and passion, and to be censored and thwarted at every move is very disheartening. 

However, like Diane Mantzaris whose work I show in the article, and who has been discussing her experiences of censorship through social media and in media interviews, it will not stop me, and I will continue to write and approach publishers regardless, including on this significant and very popular topic of public interest -  women artists representations of  sexuality and subjectivity and the inner world- which I now know does have so much interest and support from women, and men, around the world. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

A Homage to (Censored) Women Artists on International Women's Day

By Ruth Skilbeck

Today we can take a moment to reflect on the ongoing struggle of women and girls for the rights of women to equality of cultural participation and dignity of being, in all aspects of social life. The struggle to value domestic and carer’s labour the “traditional unpaid realm of women’s work”. The struggle to value the worth and being, of mothers, even –and especially- if they are not in traditional marriages. The struggle against violence against women on all levels. This begins in the home-every home. 

Happy International Women’s Day to all who support women’s and girl’s struggle against oppression around the world- and who appreciate what women give the world.

In appreciation of the great struggle over the past fifty years for women to participate fully in the public cultural realm as artists, and make art from their own personal experiences and perceptions of the world.

Ruth Skilbeck, Matrix of Creation, 2013

Women artists, of all women, are those who most visibly represent, express, and champion the rights of women to participate as equals in what, until the 1970s, was still a male dominated public realm of visual and intellectual culture.

Through the history of modernity, women have struggled against oppression to enter the cultural realm as artists- instead of in the roles allotted them in the history of male-dominated western art- as models, muses, wives, mistresses, mothers, and all-round life support systems.

Since the 1970s, in increasing numbers, women have asserted that right and entered the public realm of arts and culture as artists in their own right. Women’s representations of women, of themselves, and of their subjects, are made through women’s subjectivity, and there is naturally – and culturally- a very large qualitative difference. That is seen in the images that are made of women- by women artists. Rather than being represented as  object of desire, women artists are subjects of their own desiring gaze.  Looking at an image of a woman by a woman, a self portrait, - or a non-representational conceptual work- gives a real insight not only into what it looks like,  appearance, but  beyond appearance and representation – into female subjectivity and nowhere perhaps is this shown more intensively than in women’s self portraits of their bodies, and of maternal subjectivities.  The Madonna and child is an image that has appeared like a recurring motif throughout art history, from biblical times, through the renaissance to now. In the hands of women artists, and mother artists this takes on a power of self-expression that matches the most esteemed works of the expressionists and old masters.

However, at around the same time that women started to enter the art schools in equal numbers, it seems that a new taboo and wave of censorship sprang up- a censoring aimed at the body. Life drawing has suffered and what has been the target in Australia: mother artists’ representations of their bodies, and of children. Although male artists have represented women, girls, mothers and children and naked frolicking cherubs for centuries, with imaginative and often licentious abandon, no sooner did women start to seriously paint and display images of children and themselves, than the "art police" started stepping in and closing down shows. And I do not mean this metaphorically. Several exhibitions of women artists’ works showing female subjects- of subjectivity, artists self-portraits, in pregnancy, and of their own children – have been visited and closed down by the police, in recent years in Australia. In other cases, individual art works have been censored. 

This has happened recently, and over the past ten years, to numerous prominent and award winning Australian contemporary women artists, Cherry Hood (winner of the Archibald Prize, 2002) – for portraits of children. Del Kathryn Barton (winner of the Archibald Prize 2008), for a portrait of her own son, and separately for Ella Dreyfuss for sensitive photography of pregnant women. Diane Mantzaris for self- portraiture… to name a few recent cases. All these artists continue to work, and exhibit their works, and without them, it hardly needs to be said, Australian culture would be a lot less vital and interesting. 

It is shameful that it is women artists, and specifically it seems mother artists who should be covertly targeted and intimidated in this way. It is like a kind of secret bullying. But it does not stop them making their work. This is an occupational hazard of being a mother artist, and a woman artist, in Australia today making figurative work. However, despite the preoccupation with “OH and S” (Occupational Health and Safety) in the Australian workplace, it seems that so far this hazard has gone unacknowledged- at least officially.  There should be public warnings in art schools, and advice for female students on how to deal with the harassment they may encounter if they pursue a career as a figurative artist. Instead it is still little talked about.

So let us start to talk about it and appreciate our women artists!

Today let us celebrate International Women’s Day by paying homage to all the brave and expressive women artists around the world, who illuminate how it feels to be a woman, expressing the inner world and outer reality of women as subjects not objects of the male gaze.  They give women and girls’ strength and confidence in being female, and able to follow their creative paths as artists.  They give men a chance of empathizing, knowing and understanding how women feel, and see the world as artists; as women have done for men for centuries. They make our world a better place to live in.

Jenny Saville, The Mothers, 2011
 Oil on canvas
106 5/16 x 86 5/8 inches  (270 x 220 cm)


  Del Kathryn Barton, You are what is most beautiful about me, 2008


Monday, 4 March 2013