The exhibition art:women was described by the organisers as “exploring notions of the depiction of women in art, representations of women, exploring ideas about gender, body, sex and the female form”.
This ambitious sentence attempts to address decades of feminist intuitive and intellectual exploration in the visual and performing arts. Consequently I became very nervous about the exhibition content I was about to experience.
Upon first inspection most of the works appeared to visually appropriate 1970s feminist art practices which relied heavily on the depiction of women and the domestic and private aspects of women’s lives as experienced within western patriarchal society.
I then became anxious that these artists would be open to the criticisms that were typical of 1980s feminist artists. That is, I was concerned that these artists would be accused of helping to objectify and stereotype women as the majority of 1970s feminist artists had been. However if one spends time considering the works and the intellectual thought processes of the artists then it is clear that most are actively creating feminist influenced works that have contemporary relevance and theoretical and intellectual importance.
Both Catherine Bennetts-Cash and Lydia Ashe showed works in this exhibition that demonstrated strong aesthetic and technical ability as well as individualistic intellectual explorations regarding aspects of the female experience and domesticity. Their aesthetic and theoretical investigations aid in creating and establishing potential options for the continued development of contemporary feminist art practices. Since the 1990s which was dominated by feminist explorations into sexuality and the areas of grey that exist between the modernist binary of female/male, feminist influenced artists have had little coherence or direction as a visual arts movement. (Jill Orr’s performance Marriage of the Bride to Art, 1994, is an example of Australian feminist influenced artists addressing issues of sexuality and androgyny during the 1990s).
Both Bennetts-Cash and Ashe conduct their feminist analyses from a psychological perspective. They address various psychological and cognitive anxieties that may be experienced by women in response to modern expectations of women that exist within a western society that has remained largely patriarchal. They both combine these expectations and anxieties with concepts of the modern domestic space. These artists have created works which represent a convergence of anxiety-ridden psychological spaces, the contemporary female experience and domesticity. The themes that are addressed in their works represent a coherence of feminist analysis that has historically proven to be rare in the visual arts.
While their artistic explorations are undeniably unique, the focus on psychological conditions unites their artistic practices. This focus on psychological anxieties as experienced by contemporary women in relation to the domestic in their feminist social analyses establishes a precedent that is relevant to contemporary society and which other feminist influenced visual and performing artists may take influence from.