Brooklyn-based conceptual artist and photographer Sophia Wallace was one of the 25 artists to participate in a rogue feminist public intervention at the Whitney Biennial during it’s pay-what-you-wish Friday night hours on May 16th – the Clitney Perennial.
Although there are less artists of colour and female artists exhibited in the current biennial than the biennials of 2010 and 2012 (http://hyperallergic.com/93821/the-depressing-stats-of-the-2014-whitney-biennial/) it has been marketed as “diverse,” the artists protested against this “tokenistic” approach to diversity.
Jillian Steinhauer at Hyperallergic was rather unimpressed by the event (http://hyperallergic.com/127047/feminist-protest-disrupts-the-whitney-biennial/) I did not attend but I recently became interested in Wallace’s conceptual art-work with a clear feminist agenda raising awareness for the clitoris as a starting point to illuminate gender biases. The Clitney Perennial, irregardless of how the actual event went down and if visitors and staff understood it at the time, seems to have filled its purpose. It has sparked further discussions on the biennials artist-statistics as well exposed a “tokenistic” approach to diversity, including a feminist agenda that rather than exhibiting more female artists, to create a more even number between the sexes, rather marketed those that were on view creating a false understanding of the amount of female artists on view. Which one could argue proves that the female artists chosen were not chosen because of ther sex but the quality of their work. The event clearly shows that feminist-agenda’s can take on several forms and that the feminist movement within art is in no way unified, its importance is however proven, seeing to the stats of the 2014 biennial, to still be acute.
How To Subjugate A Body part of the Cliteracy Series. Photo courtesy of Sophia Wallace 2012
“The project reveals the – phallic as neutral – bias in science, law, philosophy, politics, mainstream and even feminist discussion, and the art world – which is so saturated with the female body as subject. Using text as form, CLITERACY explores the construction of female sexual bodies as passive vehicles of reception defined by lack. It confronts a false body of knowledge by scientists who have resisted the idea of a unique, autonomous female body and rather studied what confirmed their assumption that women’s anatomy was the inverse of male anatomy, and that reproduction was worthy of study, while female sexuality was most certainly not. In the last ten years there have been tremendous scientific breakthroughs in the understanding of the clitoris. The clitoris is exponentially larger and more complex than commonly thought. What we think of as the clitoris, is only the tip of the iceberg. While this discovery is shocking in its late arrival, the problem of global ILLCLITERACY is a salient allegory into the bigger problem of a female body, both cis and trans female, constructed with false information and a greater goal of control within culture that defines femaleness as inferior and female sexual organs as taboo. CLITERACY builds upon my photographic practice and ongoing exploration of how power shapes knowledge, often through use of the visual, for the purpose of reifying hierarchy.” Sophia Wallace says about her work. See and read more about her here: http://www.sophiawallace.com/cliteracy-100-natural-laws & http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/16/art-gender-artist-sophia-wallace-interview
Great work and a powerful important intervention.
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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream. Send your inquiries, tips, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.