For International Women’s Day taking place on Sunday, the Sarabande Foundation has brought together three of its artists-in-residence to explore the various aspects of the female body through their work. Curated by Elephant Magazine's editor-at-large, Charlotte Jansen, the group exhibition, titled Live Flesh, takes on challenges that women face across cultures and religions and throughout history based on their gender and body shape.
The displayed artworks are produced by painter Shannon Bono, sculptor Camilla Hanney and photographer Paloma Tendero. The three women portray a woman’s world through experimentation with figurative paintings, sexually charged sculptures and photographic genetic mutations.
Shannon Bono’s work centres around her oppositional gaze of how black women are generally portrayed in art and media, which has built up a desire within her to transform those images and change the narrative. ‘I believe that the body is a powerful signifier that can provoke dialogue, therefore I play with the poses, gestures and the gaze to change reality in my work,’ she says: an approach leading to stark imagery. One powerful painting depicts a curvy woman attempting to cover her body and create distance from the viewer with her arm crossed over breasts and face, making the observer feel like the intruder and violator. All of Bono’s women are painted in front of vibrant shapes to generate the feeling of linkage between heritage and the bodily form as the painting could transform into an African textile design, when looking closer.
Walking around the exhibition space, one will also encounter braided hair tied to a broom on the floor, vulvas in oysters served on a silver plate and bodies disguised as pillows. These sculptural artworks by Camilla Hanney are a response to how female bodies have been shamed or suppressed in society, religion and male artists’ idealism of women, for example Botticelli’s Venus and theVirgin Madonna. ‘I examine ways to deconstruct these dated representations of women and instead celebrate the more unruly aspects of the maternal body that society and culture have conditioned us to believe must remain concealed,’ Hanney explains. Her approach challenges topics that are raised in today’s society and may be discomforting to some, from period-shaming to victim blaming and female dressing according to age or social situation. ‘I am very interested in the compulsion to gaze at what should disturb us, toying with the tensions that lie between beauty and repulsion, curiosity and discomfort, desire and disgust’, Hanney says.
The aspect of beauty and repulsion is also carried out through art pieces by Paloma Tendero, who looks at how genetics play a vital role in women’s bodily transformations and determines their physical reality in her series On Mutability. ‘I am exploring genetic mutations and fertility, questioning the impact of genetic inheritance, balancing internal and external factors,’ Tendero says, referring to her papier-mâché eggs made out of empty egg cartons, that are not only displayed physically in the room, but also through photography. When looking at her artwork it has an unsettling nature at first, yet the soft colour combinations put the viewer at ease once one takes a closer look at the elements of bodily mutation. ‘All of my works are self-portraits. I have always been a very impulsive artist and usually have a quick response to emotions and situations. Exploring femininity and womanhood is not only a way of understanding myself, but also it helps to understand the world around us,’ Tendero says.
Live Flesh is exhibited in the event space of Sarabande Foundation, which also provides its artists with a 24-hour open work space to explore and experiment within their crafts. First incorporated in 2005 by the late fashion designer, Lee Alexander McQueen, Sarabande started public operation following McQueen's death. Run by Trino Verkade, who was one of the first people to be employed by McQueen, the organisation aims to nurture creative talents and give them tools to succeed both financially and artistically.
'Sarabande is an ideal place to focus in creating new work and interact with other artists. I believe personal and professional growth comes from having access to both caring and constructive feedback, as well as being able to share a studio space and talking to other artists,' Tendero says of the organisation.
It was also in the Sarabande corridors that the three artists came upon the idea to host a group exhibition, which celebrated and challenged the perception of womanhood. Together they approached the Foundation, who supported them all the way through in executing their desired artistic intent. Being able to share their artistic visions of womanhood with people outside the walls of the Sarabande Foundation is an important finish to each of their work, because it provides new distinguished ways of seeing women within art.
As Tendero says: 'I believe one of the roles of the artist is giving voice to contemporary topics and reflect the world we live in today. As the world evolves, the representation of female and womanhood changes and the narratives need new storytellers.'
'Live Flesh' is free and runs until Sunday 8 March at the Sarabande Foundation. The three artists will also be in conversation with curator Charlotte Jansen at Sarabande on Sunday 8 March, 11:30 - purchase your ticket here.