(Sorry I couldn’t find bigger photos, click them to make them bigger though)
Rebecca Belmore, Vigil, 2002 (stills from a video of the performance)
This was a direct reference to the Pickton murders (murders of Indiginous women in Vancouver), which made it a public ritual with political end. The features of the performance were: scrubbing the streets, her arms covered with names of missing women, ripping a flower through her teeth, nailing her dress to a telephone pole and tearing out of it until she was left in her underwear (as recreation of dehumanization process and sexual violence inflicted upon them), and spoke the women’s names.
Her performance brought the women alive again and simultaneously, addressed the invisibility of their absence (they were not given enough priority in the media and in police investigative efforts because of their low status in society as Indigenous women and as sex workers).
This complex piece is composed of a cylindrical space with padded walls where the viewer is invited to enter and see a video of Hatoum’s internal body. As such, she makes use of indispensable medical imaging technology (that without, the work would not exist). Hatoum uses the strategy of abjection in displaying the internal cavities in a way that has the effect of swallowing up the viewer. The abject destabilizes boundaries.
The work also features aspects of biotourism (the transformation of bodies into landscapes and rendering the rendering of the invisible visible – her inner anatomy would otherwise remain foreign to her and to viewers but it becomes visible by generating images of the body’s inner architecture through visual mapping of her internal organs as well as her external shell – her skin)
There is a physical space one enters but immediately, the viewer feels like a force is pulling him/her in to be engulfed as we are given a perspective from above. She reveals the body’s unknown interior. Another layer of meaning has to do with the interaction of our bodies and her body: as we enter the cylindrical space, we become the foreign bodies entering her body. Another layer of meaning: relates the exploration of the foreign to her identity as a foreigner. Hatoum is a Palestinian artist (born in Lebanon but she is of Palestinian origin).
A discussion of feminist art would not be complete without talking about Womanhouse, the first feminist art exhibition in 1972. Twenty one women artists took over a mansion in L.A., headed by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro. Chicago and Shapiro were the co-founders of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Feminist Art Program, the first of it’s kind. Lots of firsts!
Anyways, the space included performance pieces, a “nurturant kitchen”, “menstruation bathroom” and much more. The themes surrounded biology and social roles, challenging the meaning of those social roles and behaviours for women’s self-image.
I’ll talk about some of the performance pieces next!