Fragile, a group exhibition organised by the curatorial platform l’étrangère that mainly focuses on women artists from the Eastern part of Europe, brings together 7 artists from different generations.
Having opened on International Women’s Day, the show aims to address the challenges women continue to face today, for example the societal expectations to fulfil various roles, ranging from being at the same time maternal and domestic and professional whilst staying desirable and beautiful. These expectations can often be the cause of stress and anxiety, affecting women’s mental and physical well-being whilst putting unhealthy pressure on professional and family relationships.
In her colourful ‘fabric paintings’ I Want Candy (after Fragonard, Girl with Dove), 2022 and Pretty in Pink, 2021 a soft sculpture on display at the entrance of the exhibition in the downstairs gallery space, Dutch artist Anne von Freyburg uses a variety of materials used in fashion and decoration, including fabric, tapestry, and plastic. In her oeuvre she references the excessive visual language of Rococo, and her multi-faceted images are a caricature of the ideal of beauty as well as a comment on consumerism and the pressures of preserving youthful appearance.
Polish artist Joanna Rajkowska’s film My Father Never Touched Me Like That (2014) is displayed on a screen on the floor in Austin/Desmond Fine Art’s downstairs exhibition space. It refers to the artist’s relationship with her father, who abandoned her as a child. In the film father and daughter touch each other’s face. This gesture brings into focus the importance of touch within broken relationships. Rajkowska’s sculpture of a scaled-up egg of a bird called The Hatchling (Night Heron), 2019 can remind us of the fragile ecosystem of inter-dependencies on which our survival depends, suggesting the anticipation of a new beginning.
Since 2007, London based Turkish artist Güler Ates has been making photographs in which a recurring figure appears: a woman, completely veiled in fluid, colourful fabric drapes moves through various prestigious institutional settings. For example, in the photograph series She and the Bird, The Shoreless Flower and She, V, 2022 a fully veiled woman is depicted in a bourgeois domestic environment, referencing Dutch Masters’ genre paintings that show exemplary housewives. Ates’s covered women, however, invisible under their colourful drapes create an uneasy and uncanny presence.
The artistic practice of Małgorzata Markiewicz examines the complexity of contemporary gender dynamics in the context of the home environment and in society. In her series of photographs Pinafores 01— 12, 2002 she performs as a housewife, dressed in a homemade short pinafore, made from plastic tablecloths, fulfilling domestic duties. The Polish artist playfully subverts the male expectations of a married woman, for example to be a good cook and cleaner and at the same time submissive and sexually desirable.
Birmingham-based British artist Su Richardson’s Vulvacious (2022) is a collection of stained buttons suggesting female genitals. Her practise points to handcraft, that has been used traditionally for decorating and repairing, being relegated to the female sphere. A pioneer of British Feminist Art and notable contributor to two of the most important art groups of the 1970s – the mail art project ‘Feministo’ and the feminist art collective ‘Fenix.’ Richardson is known for her celebration, exploitation and subversion of traditional feminine skills such as crocheting.
Whereas Polish artist Anna Kutera’s uses mass-produced magazine images as the material for art. Her project POST Newspaper Love (2010) echoes conceptual and contextual art as well as Pop art. Kutera’s fractured images undermine the dictates of commerce that continue to objectify women.
Nottingham based artist Yelena Popova’s elegant abstract paintings aim to achieve a balance of form and colour by applying many interlacing transparent layers of distemper paint. The forms in her paintings are soft and lyrical, for example elliptical curves and repeated, rhythmic shapes are held in equilibrium by rotation, reminding on the early pioneers of lyrical abstraction such as Kandinsky and Hilma Af Klint. Through her meditative process of paint, Popova’s works radiate tranquillity, balance and spirituality.
The multi-voice exhibition Fragile sheds a view on how female artists reflect on the roles that women traditionally have played often supporting men to fulfil their ambitions. What is special about this exhibition is that it also reveals how female artists from the East have to simultaneously resist the stereotypes and prejudices that can exist towards women from ‘The other Europe’ as art critic Alexandra Lazar impressively lays out in the accompanying essay Fragile.
Overall, the exhibition brings to the fore that although women increasingly enter the professional environment today, expectations on them to fulfil domestic roles have often not diminished. Fragile reveals that even though every year on March 8th we celebrate and commemorate the countless achievements of women around the world, it is also urgent to recognise the many gender inequalities that still exist today and to continue to combat them.
Senior Curator, Museum Acquisitions
Austin / Desmond Fine Art, 68-69 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3BN. Open Tuesday-Friday 11am – 6pm and Saturday 11am – 4pm, or by appointment. Exhibition open until Saturday 9 April. www.austindesmond.com