Art on show in Brighton and Hove & East and West Sussex
Eve Shepherd’s show challenges notions of gender and the body in ways that are not always new, but beautifully done. The medium is porcelain (which is apparently made using bone) and rough-hewn in part, to emphasise the formless clay from which we are formed. The bases are stained red with iron, the mineral in our blood. Beautifully fashioned figures emerge from this blood and clay-bone. So we have a mixture of classical sculpture and alchemic minerals. Form and beauty arising from base elements.
An old hag, the Willendorf Venus wearing a bull’s head, a breast-feeding mother, Death (or at least a very gaunt woman) talking to a child, who pays rapt attention, Beauty as the anima – and a young man with breasts. All but one of these images have been borrowed from the catalogue of the “female grotesque”, a reference to images that subvert the stereotype of woman as a classical, feminine (and bourgeois) beauty. All, but for the young man with breasts. This update of the female grotesque to include a transgender man. We don’t see genitals, only a masculine torso, which we cant dismiss as a mistake, because all the pieces in this show are so precisely made. And that’s what makes it radical – the inclusion of a male in the ranks of the oppressed, even if he is not a ‘real’ male, but rather one who would prefer to be in the female body. This is radical, because if we start thinking of men as also being oppressed by the western system (aka the capitalist patriarchy), we might start to dissolve the us-and-them division of gender politics. This division helps prevent us from seeking real equality in our society which is really divided by property and money.
The idea of the ‘grotesque’ as subversive was highlighted by Russian philosopher Bakhtin. He said that the folk tradition of carnival (such as the Roman Saturnalia) allowed social pressures to be eased by turning conventions upside down. Slaves became masters, and masters slaves. Beauty was cast down, and the grotesque elevated. Hence the motif of the obese man gorging on food, and the pregnant, cackling hag. Feminists identified with this idea of the grotesque, and Russo wrote about the extension of the female grotesque to include any representation of the female gender, since the only ‘normal’ human in a patriarchy is man.
The show is on to 4 December, for more info, check out this link https://sussexartbeat.com/2016/10/08/art-show-eve-shepherd-blood-and-bone-3-nov-4-dec-2016-corridor-gallery/