One of our top ‘wish-list’ artists, on account of the fact that she has become astronomically popular, lives and works in the US, shows at some major galleries and her prints sell out faster than a road runner near an ACME plunger . However, it’s nice to dream, and what a dream it is. Sleepy eyed girls with exposed hearts, fragile and serene erotica, octopi, lights, chopsticks, bones, owls and forests all weaved into an ongoing fairytale played out on canvasses of sanded and exposed wood. Kawasaki’s work is a joy, and with the sexual peccadilloes and her frequently referenced Japanese heritage, it would hang very comfortably in a show about restriction and stereotypes.
Yinka Shonibare uses sculpture, costume and references to 18th Century art to create artwork which encapsulates the superimposition inherent in colonial and multi-cultural societies. Referencing the kind of violent simmering tension from the colonial worlds of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea or Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, and more subtle than Kara Walker‘s silhouettes, Yinka’s paintings and sculptures show typically 18th Century clothing made with African-style fabric, which in turn has become a symbol of cross cultural assimilation because he actually buys the fabric in Brixton market and it is made in Europe. Being so strongly representative of a very particular kind of stereotype, and with the uneasy and frank allusions to slavery, Shonibare’s work would bring a legitimate historical message and some very colourful and thought-provoking social commentary to our exhibition.
I’ll admit, when I first saw Sarah Maple’s ‘I am £10,000‘ canvas at Salon Gallery (literally a canvas with ‘I am £10,000’ painted on it), I wasn’t enamoured with her Benny Hill meets Al Qaeda humour. But, first impressions are sometimes made in haste and since then I have realised what a truly passionate, thoughtful and intelligent woman Maple is. Her views on sex, Islam, feminism, immigration and British politics are loud, brash and occasionally radical (Salon Gallery’s window was smashed by a Muslim protester during her solo show), but they are also witty, display a formidable knowledge of philosophy and sociology, take the piss out of the art world’s over-inflated ego and are a genuine reflection of her inner turmoils and family history. So I well and truly renounce my first opinion, because Maple is awesome and her art work would be a real coup for the show.
La luz, la luz! Vanessa Prager’s paintings are both eerie and innocent. There’s a childish whimsy within her subjects, but also a look of wild eyed trauma, as they scamper about in the half-light, clutching at nostalgic objects such as animal figurines, hobby horses, christmas lights and stuffed dinosaurs with frenzied abandon. Prager has had no formal training, but her use of theme and her sophisticated technique are frankly astounding, and it is all the more impressive that it comes naturally to her. Her use of light and shadow leaps straight from German Romanticism and Flemish Baroque, right into the electric age. Anglepoise lamps and incandescent bulbs have never looked quite so melancholy. Prager is another American artist, and therefore on our ‘wishlist’, Prager is also something of a square peg I would like to hammer in to the round hole of the show. Her themes may be tenuous, but abusing our widespread theme to display her work would be no crime. Confronted with those wistful tremulous eyes in a confined space would be a profound and unnerving experience, but also a beautiful one.
Dorothy Yoon found her name when she travelled to New York with her Korean class to meet Nam June Paik. She wanted to ask him what art was, but the trip was cancelled, and on a trip to MoMa she had the realisation that she was the most important element of her art. And so she changed her name to Dorothy after finding this knowledge inside herself rather than reflected in Paik’s Oz of flickering images. Yoon has always been interested in dress up, she watched Western movies as a child and believed she would grow up to be blonde like Marilyn Monroe, embracing a Western ideal rather than traditional Korean ideas of beauty. In her work she dresses up as saints, celebrities, fashionistas, Disney princesses, always blonde and dressed as a parody of the Western idea of beauty. Identity plays an important part in her work, one picture has clones of her (blonde naturellement) all dressed in hospital gowns, and is reminiscent of when Yoon arrived in England and had to go for a tuberculosis check up just because she was arriving from Korea. Yoon’s work is a refreshing and personal take on the beauty myth and the dominance of generic beauty, but her work also embraces the underlying female desires and how deeply these are ingrained from childhood; with Paris Hilton, the little mermaid, ‘purple-eyed Disney Princes’ and the colour pink as her inspiration Yoon’s paintings reveal that maybe we are just being spun a fairytale after all.
Clare Amos is a costume designer and performance artist. I first saw her ethereal Into The Woods performance at Xhibit 2008 where she was one of the young MA artists picked by Yinka Shonibare for the exhibition. Her costume had two separate parts and represented the psychosexual changes Red Riding Hood experiences during her encounter with the wolf. Amos graduated from the London College of Fashion and specializes in theatrical costumes and performance, but her work suits a gallery space well, entrancing the viewer with her strong and forceful movements, combined with the fragility of her hand-made costume’s material and the emotionally charged narrative of the story. Viewers are directly engaged as she turns the public space into a confrontational display. One of the few performance artists we have looked at for the exhibition, Amos’s work looks at female stereotype and representation and how women are subjugated to a set of universal roles. As performance art, especially a performance which works well within a small space, Amos’s work would be perfect. Her work in costume has included Occams Razor Theatre and Theatre Ad Infinitum. The hand-made nature of her stunning costumes also appealed to bare/not’s collective love of craft.
Embroidery usually involves flowers, pictures of fruit or bible phrases, however extremely well-renowned Egyptian artist Ghada Amer has raunched up the mainstay of grannies and WI biddies. Her Pollock-esque strands of thread reveal, as if peering into a veiled harem, women in various states of flagrante, turning a traditionally soft, feminine art into a brusque political commentary. The images which emerge from the swirling Freudian curtain of thread are violently and unapologetically sexual, and yet appeal to a female gaze, with her protagonists indulging both publicly and privately in self gratification. Amer’s Muslim upbringing is what makes her work so controversial, not only does it go against the Islamic artistic tradition of abstract form and the strict disallowance of bodily form, but her women’s aggressively sexual posing (inspired by Western porn magazines) is explicit and makes a strongly political statement. However, this background has added a layer of intrigue to Amer’s work – a self-confessed ‘prude’, who sometimes finds the sexuality of her work ‘difficult’ – this reticence, humility and piously modest creed, which counteracts and sanitises the tawdriness of her work; balanced with her courage and staunch opinions, which strengthens her work, makes her something of an enigma. Visually, the female forms, obscured and locked behind bars of thread, and a meaning which has to be teased from the writhing mass, makes Amer another perfect candidate for the exhibition.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I suggested Kate Jenkin’s work for the exhibition because, well, it’s adorable. Provisionally, perhaps because we chose a great deal of female artists, we decided to include a crafts quota to bring a bit of home-made whimsy to the exhibition, as an antidote to the hefty philosophical and moral themes, which tend to make the exhibition a little sombre. Her knitted cakes, fish and chips, cups, cigarettes, food packets, butterflies and pizzas are exquisite, and an interesting take on the traditional nature of craft.