PRACTICE| There is frequent emphasis on gender roles within my practice. I am interested in exploring the relationship between a projected female sexuality and a social coding of space, particularly in relation to the home but also other institutions that endanger women’s bodies. My work deals with the weight and trauma of patriarchal domination on women’s freedom of choice and, critically frames the specificities of how that registers within us in normalized ways.
For example, Just Relax, (2019) includes found objects from an old obstetrics bag, such as antipsychotic drugs, labour inducement injections along with forceps and anaesthetic apparatus. Such items were used more frequently in the past to manipulate childbirth - as opposed to it progressing naturally - and the procedures involved remain a contentious issue to this day. Additional abusive treatment of women in childbirth, includes forms of verbal abuse, overuse of drugs and interventions, as well as a lack of informed consent; the latter being a basic women's rights/human rights issue.
As midwifery activist Susan Hodges argues in an article (2009), ‘Abuse in the hospital-based birth setting may not seem the same as domestic abuse and violence, but it is no less harmful... and in Reproductive Health Matters it states that, ‘These discrete mechanisms can be analysed as forms of structural violence, invisible manifestations that are built into the fabric of society, producing and reproducing social inequalities across groups’.
A pair of forceps is engraved with the words Just Relax. The handles are bound together in
a deep red linen thread symbolizing the stitching required after often unnecessary episiotomies.
Site specific installation in Elizabeth Fort, Cork, (2019)
So, fury is putting it mildly about how I feel since the Supreme Court of the United States of America voted to overturn Roe v Wade after more than 50 years. It arguably took a global pandemic for us to truly understand the many ways that women are society’s foundational support and safety net. Yet the lack of assistance or substructure that enables them to be successful at work and at home still is not present. On top of a sizeable pay gap and lack of affordable childcare - just two examples of what forces women out of the workforce - there are now over half a million women less in the workforce than there was pre-pandemic.
Considering the many obstacles women worldwide are facing there is an ever-increasing trend where not only second and third world countries but also supposed progressive western nations like the USA are rescinding women’s rights and bodily autonomy at an alarming rate. Women and caregivers in the workforce are indispensable to our economy. The impact of overturning Roe v Wade will have an enormous impact for the future, turning back the clock on decades of hard-won human rights. According to the United Nations Population Fund, New York (UNFPA) Nearly half of all women are denied their bodily autonomy, according to data from 57 countries.
INFLUENCES| The collection of poems, The Dead Girl Speak in Unison, by poet Danielle Pafunda was a major influence on my latest work (for) All Our Grievous Doings, (2022)
Her book contextualises women’s voices in terms of ‘not being heard’ ‘being talked over’ ‘being misunderstood’ ‘being silenced’ ‘being disregarded’ ‘being vilified’. (for) All Our Grievous Doings draws from the lack of value and agency afforded to women’s voices in this way and how it in turn, contributes to the perpetual cycle of violence and femicide that continues today. Pafunda creates a seething underworld of the collective voices of murdered women speaking from their burial places, coming together in death. Most commonly, women die at the hands of an intimate partner, through sexual violence or so called ‘honour’ crimes.
I align her work also with the paper, Understanding and preventing femicide using a cultural and ecological approach (2018), where authors Kouta, Boira, Nudelman and Gill state that, ‘In 1992, in the first anthology published on femicide, Radford defines the word as the misogynous killing of women by men, motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure or a sense of ownership of women, thus to be investigated ‘in the context of the overall oppression of women in a patriarchal society’.
I find a strong correlation between my own work and Pafunda’s elliptical style of writing and expression of a surrealist aesthetic within her descriptive characterisations. Her approach to this subject corresponds in significant ways to my own analytical compositions of everyday material signifiers held within atemporal and often conflicting coding’s of narrative space.
Image: cover of The Dead Girls Speak in Unison by Danielle Pafunda
The Dead Girls Speak in Unison
We’ll tell you
what a corpse is.
It’s a girl
with her shoes
It’s a double-
It’s a glass eye
in a glass jar
in the snapped jaw
of an alligator
It’s a doll
whose eyes move
of their own accord
when you turn
It’s a busted
Further Influences| Released (1993), The Piano is in my top 10 of favourite films. I would have always considered it as a feminist classic. It is a harsh period drama set in a patriarchal society where the female protagonist has little or no choices in her life and settles for the lesser of two evils in an impossible situation. It doesn’t seem as empowering now as it did when I fell in love with it upon release. Within a broader context of my work at the moment, I would say Gaslight (1940) starring Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook has had a lasting impact on me and it amongst others made me fall in love with old movies. It is a domestic gothic drama in which the lead male character deceives and manipulates his wife into thinking she’s losing her mind. As she is gradually brainwashed by her husband, she begins believing she just imagined things, along with other delusions. This classic tactic, largely associated with misogyny and is now widely called ‘gaslighting’ is common practice, and historically has been associated with diminishing women psychologically by clinically labelling them as ‘hysterical’ or ‘crazy’.
Film still, Gaslight (1940) Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook
Picking a favourite artist is much harder than a movie, I would cite almost everything Louise Bourgeois has done, as well as Meret Oppenheim, whom I fell in love with from an early age. I think these boundary-breaking female revolutionaries paved the way for the likes of artist Edith Dekyndt who I also adore for her use of everyday objects, materials and multi-dimensional installations. Her website describes her work thus: She ‘has elaborated an approach putting new creations in dialogue with already existing works, faithful to her practice of inhabiting an exhibition location and its environment and taking as a starting point its substances, materials and specific elements. Her works appeal to us through their strong material and corporeal character…’ https://edithdekyndt.be/ombre-indigene/. I experienced her work first-hand in a retrospective at the WEILS in Brussels, Belgium (2016), and it stayed with me for a long time after. Whenever I come across photographs from that trip, I automatically find myself connecting with the experience again.