Archive for the ‘gender’ Category


Global Documentaries – Your Comfort Is My Silence

April 23, 2007

by Ali Mincer



I went to Mark Durdens talk called ‘Global Documentaries’ at the Cornerhouse on Thursday. He spoke about Martin Parr, Paul Graham, Philip Chancel, Santiago Sierra, Andreas Gursky and Boris Mikhailov. He also referenced the work of Chris Killip and Nobuyoshi Araki. The images moved through both positive and mostly negative sexualised images of women and images of the working classes as either automatons or vulgar.


More than 50% of the images were actually of sexdolls, ‘tacky lipstick’, working class women sitting in dirty landscapes and Mikhailovs naked older women. We were even shown the place where women buy their shoes. Mark Durden selected the photographers and then selected the images. When he spoke about Philip Chancels images of Korean women he then spoke of ‘how sensuous, erotic, exotic’ they were. The audience was predominantly female. Talk about white noise – the torture method. I was told later I called out ‘I can’t take anymore – of these talks’. It took all my strength to stay in the room. Someone even called out ‘Do you think they have issues?’.


He told us that through these images of us, through these endless negative images of women and workers and the downtrodden, these men were revealing the very ‘ugly, shallow, hollow, tacky, fake’ face of global consumerism. No one was prepared to question the very holy grail of documentary though Mark seemed open to our questioning. I wondered why this work had more old boys colonial theory wrapped around it and were we to believe these photographers had in fact conquered us with their cameras? Whilst Mark seemed a very lovely person he was totally unaware of what he had just shown us. We offered alternative suggestions but Mark said he didn’t like their work. I explained that I found each individuals work very interesting but shown together in this particular context with these particular images he was giving out a very clear message. He also spoke of their influences including, Turner, Araki, Barnett Newman, Pollock, all male artists but no mention at any time was made of any female creative practitioner bar the fleeting barely audible reference to Sherrie Levine…


Ironically women have long been at the forefront of the deconstruction of those very images dealing with consumerist culture. From Barbara Kruger – ‘your comfort is our silence’ – to Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer to Jo Spence and many more. In lens based media for decades marginalised artists have been questioning these old boys visual clubs. How sad for us then that this mentality still persists in our institutions….


I went from there to the East German show at the Cornerhouse – the difference was pronounced and I wondered why that was. There wasn’t the same old boys colonial vibe to this show – it was predominantly women taking the images here and more than half the big hardback monograph books were by women. Very different from the documentary mentality in the West. I compared this to the old boy’s mentality I just witnessed in the talk.


I later called into a sweet shop and was confronted by long rows of photographs of naked, white, blonde haired women on the front of all the mainstream male magazines on the mainstream shelves and I knew I was back in ‘that mentality’ again…..


Selective Democracy

April 19, 2007

by Mary Fitzpatrick, contemporary fine artist

“The raw material of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print” Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky

…The same can be said of the visual world including aspects of the gallery world. How many of you are aware that anyone making any work with a camera seeking funding must go through the North West Arts Councils Media department and not their Visual Art department? And how many of you are aware that 95% of the annual media budget usually goes to white male practitioners?

Women are encouraged to apply for funding – but then some weeks later we get a letter from out of the ether pointing out that the competition was tough. They justify it by saying that “photography doesn’t attract women” so that we can try and pretend that we don’t even exist – a director actually wrote this to me after my multiple rejection letters. The names of the award recipients are then jumbled up on their website so you can’t quite work out who has been funded in Media, except if you have a keen sense of smell. Women do tend to get grants in visual arts though most of the major grants over £5000 go to white male artists. One male artist is cited on their website as recently getting two huge grants totalling £65,000 in visual arts. I did gratefully receive one ‘be quiet’ grant at a later stage when I brought ‘the problem’ to their attention.

'Abandoned doll, kuwait'

A few years ago after my many problems with this issue I did a quick audit on five recent years of the Arts Councils funds through studying five years worth of their annual reports. The results were astonishing but unsurprising – 90% to 100% of the Media fund was going in one direction only. Individuals who were funded were often given very large grants and at times double grants. At least 90% of their funds was going to male applicants only – nearly all white applicants. More often than not there would be only one small grant to a female photographer each year – if that.

The message I got through this is that they believe that the white male visual world is somehow superior and more deserving of support. Let’s not forget that this is public arts money. We are filtered out and reprimanded at the very early stages of any potential projects or exhibitions. In fact we are cleansed out to make way for the pure photographic visual residue. I myself was told at a meeting I “would never be funded to publish, exhibit or to buy equipment” by a female Media officer. In fact they even asked me why cant you be more like “this male photographer from London”. I’m not actually a photographer, but a fine artist.

I did a quick audit on some of the curated exhibitions utilising documentary such as ‘Making History – Art and Documentary from 1929 to now‘ at Tate Liverpool. If you look at this particular catalogue there are 71 images, of which 9 are by named female practitioners. However, if you looked at the actual exhibition space itself the male artists exhibited large bodies of work and often having their own rooms, whereas the few women in the exhibition had far less actual wall space. Probably 90% or more of the actual wall space was devoted to white male art and documentary practitioners. The show should have really been called ‘a white male view of Britain’. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that the curator was female.

This strange phenomenon is carried over into the Chinese Art show also at Tate Liverpool in which there is only a single female artist. An invigilator at the show told me the female curators couldn’t find any women in China making art. What they probably meant was that they had in this instance been kept creatively invisible through the various filtering processes that lead to ultimate selection and that this is still sadly a global institutional problem.

In the archaic cultural world – for we do have another world – we are filtered out and largely kept invisible at most stages of the visual colonial selection process. Like the ’so awful it was really funny’ Pollock film I watched the other night, in which Lee Krasner (the painter) meets Jackson Pollock (the painter) and from that moment onwards we only see her only standing in the doorway carrying the laundry basket, cooking or gasping at Pollocks’ genius whilst he paints throughout. At the end of the film -in small credits- we are told that she did actually carry on painting by way of minor hindsight.

Battlescene, Kuwait

In contrast I had 9000 hits to my website last month  from all over the world. Visibility is key. The website assures more visibility, which equals having a voice. You can’t just keep saying we’re all rubbish at what we do. These digital means allow me to do a massive body swerve around the institutional men and women who all work to maintain the higher visual good in this country. I can move around those power points I’m supposed to be filtered through and cleansed out of and still come out visible on the other side. I also work and exhibit a lot outside England. I was well supported by both Arts Councils in Ireland – even the Irish Government supported me.

Whilst I am aware that things have changed radically for us and there are many high profile women artists working today – I remain vigilant of the archaic colonial attitudes that still persist especially in elements of photography per se. We still have predominantly all male photography departments across the country. Digital technology is also relatively inexpensive and widely available too as are the many inexpensive printing options that have also become widely available to us. The media age gives us a lot of options, and I can reach a global audience. Marvellous. The funniest irony for me though, is that my work is motivated by and dealing with the aftermath of those very colonial mechanisms that seek to silence me as an artist. So it remains to be seen whether my blog is also filtered out – the truth hurts doesn’t it?

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