some body, anybody
South Main Gallery | Vancouver, BC | March 2–24, 2019 | Artists: Moody Rose Christopher, Gabriela Godoi, Sharona Franklin, Sara Khan and M.E. Sparks
Five artists were invited to choose or produce works that answer a simple yet complex question: how does it feel to be in your body today?
The answers come in multiple formats, mediums, and subject matters. Moody Rose Christopher, a self-taught trans artist, works with collage, ceramic, textile, painting and tattooing, to create surreal domestic scenes that become windows into worlds which explore spectrums of gender, mental illness and human absurdity. Her paintings in the show depict nude faceless female figures, hidden amidst a colourful chaos of objects and glitter. “The personal is the political” became a slogan that captured the sense that domestic contests for equal rights in the home and within sexual relationships are crucial to the struggle for equal rights in the public. This form of body politics emphasized a woman’s power and authority over her own body.1
As a contrast, M.E. Sparks’ darkly rendered paintings do not offer the viewer the immediate satisfaction and fulfilment of their photographic instinct as Christopher’s do. Her work combines fragmented imagery, approaching ideas of resistance and obfuscation, aiming to re-examine the material language of painting as an embodied feminist language. The pieces included in the show integrate specific forms reclaimed from the violative paintings of Balthus, within which young women and girls are depicted wearing lifted or gaping skirts. To find it, though, one has to step back — and often bend sideways. The body of the viewer is, perhaps unintentionally, literally called into action by each of the canvases. If the women in Balthus’ work are imprisoned by the artist, through his erotic gaze disguised as admiration, Sparks frees them from the picture, leaving only their trace behind.
In a world where narcissism is a daily show on the palm of our hands, the depiction of the naked (not nude) female body as an active character, the hero of her own story rather than just an object produced for the male-gaze, is a radical act.
Gabriela Godoi’s works question, poke fun at and play with issues of identity, intersubjective relations, the body, and sexuality. Working with representational methods and materials that reflect notions of the bodily and the abject, she explores formalist binaries such as figure and ground, revealing and concealing. The bodies represented in her paintings reflect an ambiguity when obscuring the connection between the figures as a way to explore the boundaries between self and other. In her work, Godoi questions the repressive form of sexuality, in which often women are subjected to, obtaining agency in the attempt to resist, disrupt and claim space within an exclusionary history.
Sara Khan’s works goes a step further: the naked female transcends the human form and becomes a creature, free in its nature, dancing as if in a ritual. It is hard not to link it to a younger generation of mostly women artists that speak to something deep in the body, producing responses that range from sexual attraction to disgust. In it, the feeling of deep dread a step away from erotic desire2. In another one of her pieces, a faceless female body sprays breast milk on a six-headed creature, whose faces are all male — the grotesque meets a social critic of the patriarchal society where breastfeeding is sexualized and punished.
In the essay Why Contemporary Women Artists are Obsessed with the Grotesque, Tess Tchackara writes that the contemporary grotesque is interested in underlining the way that bodies that are different from the (white, male) norm are treated as aberrant or monstrous. Artists who touch the grotesque subvert and claim power in part by owning flesh and blood.
Finally, Sharona Franklin’s works disseminate a personal mythology of gender, class, bio-citizenship, and botany. Her body of work in writing, sculpture and painting is reflexive to transhumanism, propaganda and bioethics, aiming to expand interpretations of biopharmaceutical based genetic engineering.
Animal-derived gelatin encapsulates natural fibres, herbal medicines, wood scraps, metals and botanicals in a bionic constellation. The sculpture confronts the viewer with facets of transparency and opacity in an otherworldly domestic vision. The dissolving form alludes to the body, dismantling of disability stigmas, and the reality of undermined reproductive rights intrinsic to the use of living cells in the treatment of genetic disease. Franklin’s altars pose the question who polices the bodies, expressions, and medical treatment of the disabled?
some body, anybody offers a platform for these artists to look at the body as a tool, artistic material, inspiration, object of desire and repulsion, or as a starting point for a deeper conception of disability and bionics in society. After centuries of living in a world where women did not exert any control over the narrative of their bodies — what they can wear, when they can speak, where they can go — we enter this conversation by presenting the works of artists who unapologetically reclaim this narrative.
- The term body politics was coined in the 1970s, during the “second wave” of the feminist movement in the United States. It arose out of feminist politics and the abortion debates. Body politics originally involved the fight against the objectification of the female body, and violence against women and girls, and the campaign for reproductive rights for women. Boston Women’s Health Collective. 1973. Our Bodies, Ourselves. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Tchackara, Tess. Why Contemporary Women Artists are Obsessed with the Grotesque. Jan, 2019.