This the grounds of race.” (OED,2018) She outlines

This
essay will examine the text, Visual
Culture in Context: the implications of union and liberation, (Arnold 2005).
Dr Marion Arnold is a practising artist and printmaker with major collections
exhibited in South Africa. Having originally resided in Zimbabwe and South
Africa, Arnold is now a lecturer in Fine Art Practice at Loughborough University.
Part 1 will summarise and contextualise the text in detail, outlining its core
concerns.  Part II will expand upon these
in relation to art works and practices and finally, in Part III I will begin to
relate this to my own working practices.

In the
beginning Arnold defines the idea of ‘Union’: how political union was something
that would arguably never work in the country, due to white minority rule and
the backlash from the other, mainly black, groups. Arnold then continues by
discussing what this meant in South Africa in the 20th century. The
text is set between 1911 and 1994 in the years when Apartheid was in full
force. Apartheid is “a policy or system of segregation and discrimination on
the grounds of race.” (OED,2018) She outlines the way that there were eight
separate communities, all with their own cultures and traditions, in South
Africa at this time, all of which were segregated from (and felt antipathy
towards) each other. These eight individual
regions were ruled by a single white government that had been derived through
the colonization of the region by the British and Dutch historically and had
led to the continued white minority rule with all the power being held within
this white hierarchy under the apartheid system. As pointed out by
Arnold,

The
political process of bringing parts together is seldom devoid of tension as the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland … and the United States of
America all discovered after attempting to establish national identities after
territorial mergers (Arnold, 2005),

indicating
her view on the barriers to political union at that time.

Arnold
states how the activist Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) predicted the dangers,
based on the way other countries had struggled. The white minority rule created
large subdivisions within the regions with the very evident hierarchy based on race but
additionally, but less noted, the further repression of women, with women
generally seen as being of a lower status than men. Therefore,
Black females were had to manage their lives in an environment where they were
considered to be lower class than a white man of women and as being of lower
social value than all white people and all men. The text focuses on the key
points around the racial politics and the supressed people of South Africa,
including the white and black women, and how this impact on people’s lives went
on to affect visual culture in South Africa.

The
main argument that Arnold makes in the text is about how apartheid and the
years between union and liberation affected the visual culture created by women
in South Africa.  In the years of
apartheid, but also post liberation, women were treated as unequal to and lower
than the men in all the communities. White women were considered to be inferior
to white men and black women were viewed as inferior to the black men.  The endemic sexism is something not often
considered when discussing South Africa but is clearly shown in their voting
system. The white minority government was run by men for men. Until 1930, only
men over the age of 18 were able to vote as women were not included in the
definition of ‘adult’. At this point, the white women over 18 were granted
suffrage; however, this wasn’t given to advantage the women, it was given to
decrease the percentage of the black majority vote. 

In
1911, the white South African population was only 9.5% of the total population
of South Africa (South African History Online, 2018) but the white people were
at the top of the hierarchy and treated the black people with violence and
segregation. Black people had to have their own churches and schools and had to
sit separately from white people on public transport. The black education
system was inferior to the education given to white children and native
languages were not used. The black young people received a very limited
education which did not include creative and cultural elements. For these young
people, knowledge of their cultural heritage and their creativity was developed
within their communities and outside the education system. This included “‘Craft’
and three-dimensional objects such as pots and headrests which, Europeans
assumed, were exclusively functional.” (Arnold, 2005.) Because of this major
difference in education between black and white children, white female artists
were more likely to have the money and opportunity to be professionally trained
but black women had to be taught in their communities or self-taught. Even if
accepted into a museum, the work was never truly acknowledged resulting in many
authorless works. This was at a time in Europe when “fine art” was made by
educated white people, predominantly male. This led to the black South African
art being viewed as authorless artefacts that only belonged in museums with no
credit to the artist. At this time, in Europe, modernism played a central role
in the fine arts, with movements such as Dadaism, surrealism and abstract art forming
the main collections in galleries. However, the women artists of South Africa,
who had their own views and ways of creating art, refused to move towards these
modernist styles meaning that their works were not seen as “Fine art” by the
rest of the world. Women artists, such as the ones mentioned in Arnold’s text (Stainbank,
Everard, Stern and Larrabee), used their own identities and nationalities as
the key influences in their work. Many of the artists would use the skills they
had learnt from their original communities, such as storytelling through quilt
making but also trying to move away from female stereotypes of art and not just
creating crafts, unlike their female counterparts in Europe who struggled to
compete to get their work viewed equally to male artists.

Part 2

Stereotypes
expected women to create crafts normally involving textiles and as a result,
female black artists struggled to gain acknowledgement and authorship for their
work. Similarly, women artists in Europe and America also struggled to get
their works into galleries and many of them were assistants to their male,
successful counterparts. This section will discuss how Arnolds text can be
related to other artists. I will specifically be detailing how European and American
women competed, like the South African women, to be viewed seriously as
artists.

Arnold
states that the “artists, and others, competed with men under conditions imposed
by men” (Arnold, 2005). Female artists, in South Africa but also all around the
world, challenged the way women of all cultures were represented in not only
the art world but also every day society. “Less than 5% of artists in the
modern art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” (Guerrilla
Girls, 1989.) This strong message came from one of the best known and most
effective works by The Guerrilla girls, Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 (See figure 1). The
Guerrilla Girls are a group of anonymous, feminist, presumably female, artists.
They created prints on posters, billboards and made public appearances, trying
get their views into mass media with a focus on gender and race equality in the
art world whilst trying to expose discrimination and corruption. In the text,
Arnold speaks about suppressed female artists in South Africa and how they use
their work to show their repression and give themselves a voice. The Guerrilla
Girls used bold, shocking statements using facts and figures about women in
America, including percentage of women artists in galleries, number of men
prosecuted for rape verses number of women raped and similarly outrageous but
true questions designed to make the viewers, collectors and galleries think.
However, in many cases this has not changed for the women of South Africa,
America and the rest of the world. Recent research in South Africa demonstrated that
sexism continues to thrive and impacts black African women constantly. In an article,
by The Guardian, reference is made to a study in which “1 in 4 men in
South Africa have admitted to committing rape; some admitted to doing it
multiple times” (Davis, 2016).

More than sexism, what we have seen, is a society
that both through the years of, and post-apartheid, sees women as having a much
lower value than their male counterparts, with the repression felt, often being
reflected in the work of the female South African artists.

Although
they are from different backgrounds with different experiences of suppression
both groups have worked through their difficulties, as women, to try and get
their artworks to be seen by viewers and in galleries, regardless of the
consequences. Unlike South African women artists, whose main goal was to be
able to produce work and accepted by galleries as ‘art’, the work of the
guerrilla artists is made with the purpose of spreading a message to their
viewers and trying to infiltrate mass culture. Both groups used their own
experiences, as women, to influence their work, convey the prolific
discrimination and show the change that needed to be made not only in South
Africa but also in Western culture. This included both gender and racial
discrimination. Both groups of women represent their message in contrasting
ways. The Guerrilla Girls used of poster-like images with text designed to
shock the viewer, whereas the South African artists frequently used
portraiture, mainly painted to show deep emotion and feelings felt as a result
of the oppression and endemic bigotry that took place during the years of
apartheid. An example of this is the artist Penny Siopsis who’s work “engages with how the
appropriation of black women’s time, lives, labour and bodies has shaped her
‘own’ history.” (Coombes and
Siopis, 1997) She uses bright colours and bold, sometimes dark images to
convey her feelings towards the situations experiences during the apartheid rule.

Looking at the work exhibited in some of our most prestigious
and famous galleries, it is evident to see the inequity, with spaces dominated
by male artists work. This is a continuation from previous masters exhibited
who are of historic value, and therefore feature heavily and represent ages of
history when women only featured as sitters.  A 2013 survey by the East
London Fawcett found that “of the 134 commercial galleries in London, only
31% of the represented artists are women. Analysis of the 100 highest grossing
auction performances of 2012 revealed there were no women on the list.” (Sedghi,
2013). Therefore, showing that even though there is a high number of female
artists in the UK, they are still under-represented in London and other British
galleries.

Another
artist that relates to the text is the feminist artist Miriam Schapiro (1923-2015).
Canadian-born Schapiro is known for her leading work in the feminist art
movement often using crafts and ‘low art’ that were seen as ‘women’s’ work. One
of her most recognised works is a collaborative installation-performance piece,
womanhouse 1971 (see figure 2) co-directed
with artist Judy Chicago, as part of the feminist arts programme at California
Institute of the Arts. The 21 students, Schapiro, Chicago and three local,
established artists that took part, used an old house that was due for
demolition. The house became a gallery and studio but also a work in itself, as
the women transformed the house into a working space by doing the repairs
themselves and tasks that were not the norm and challenged gender stereotypes
of women in domestic roles. This included repairing walls, fitting windows and
rewiring cables (Balducci, 1996.)

“We know that society fails women
by not demanding excellence from them.” (Schapiro and Chicago, 1971) Taken from
the artists statement for Womanhouse, the
co-directors write about how much the women really struggled to begin with as a
lot of hard work was expected from them and most of them hadn’t experienced
this before but went on to prove that they were all capable of doing the same
work as the men. Even the local neighbours questioned whether in fact the
people working on the house were actually women. Like the artists in the Arnold
text, the gender stereotypes that held these women back, became a focal point
of their artworks and the suppression that both groups experienced, although
under completely different conditions and circumstances, resulted in their
success whether personally challenging the barriers that faced them, getting
recognition as artists or making a bold and defining statement.

Many
women struggled in South Africa to get their work into galleries and get their
work recognised as ‘art’ and not just women’s craft. Schapiro, although
recognised as an artist herself, became known for trying to get women artists
that hadn’t received proper recognition for the work they had produced, the
acknowledgement for their achievements and appreciation from the art world.

Part 3

Political
structures remain within the male dominant in the UK. In the 2017 election 442
of 650 (BBC News, 2017) were male members
of parliament voted in. An all-time high for the percentage of women MPs but
still only at 32%. In South Africa, post-apartheid maintains a predominantly
male orientated system with women still subject to institutional sexism within
modern society. Our built environment with historic buildings and skylines
similarly convey a male dominated environment in terms of design of the built
environment and the purpose of the building and in reflecting the life with the
buildings who’s traditionally a male hierarchy has dominated in all aspects.
Men still dominate in the board rooms and across industry, men continue to
dominate across many aspects of life. The work of female artists who have
started from a perspective of repression have influenced how I reflect on the
world when considering my current pieces of work.

My
practice explores the structures we see in everyday life but rarely think
about; the world in which familiar structures were developed in. I look at
traditional and modern architecture in terms of design, form and small details
like colour, and how these affect the overall purpose and effect of the
structure. As a female in modern society, I still see the essence of a male
dominated world, this must be far more intense and evident in South Africa
where the outside world and internal political structures remain the male
environments that have changed in colour but not in gender. I have been looking at how masculine our everyday
cityscapes and buildings are, and this started to affect how I was viewing my
work. To start collecting research, I visited a building site to help gather
ideas and began to realise that all the workers were in fact male creating very
large angular structures most likely designed by men, in fact, only 21% of British
architects are women. And similarly, 94% of architects in the UK are white
(Fulcher, 2017.) Like in Arnold’s text with the artists, it is a lot easier to
become a successful architect if you’re white male. I think that this is
emphasised and shown clearly by the structures that surround us. They have
harsh, bold lines and angles that could very clearly be masculine. I have
recently been creating sculptures based on this, using metal rods and looking
at geodesic structures (figure 3) such as the ones used by Anish Kapoor’s Orbit
or Eden project.

This went on to influence me beginning to combine textile and
stitch with structure. Stitch can now and has always been viewed as a very
effeminate art. Like in South Africa, textile represented as women’s craft and,
so I try to use this in my practice, to move away from that and show viewers that
it is a technique and way of working that can be effective in fine art. After
previously looking at the ideas of structure being masculine, I wanted to try
and find a way to soften it and can create a delicacy to my work. I have been
using weaving and stitching to try and combine these feminine techniques with
the masculine structures and see what overall effect that this would have.

 As a female artist I see that gender
inequality appears to still be prevalent within fine and contemporary art, and
consistently across the arts in general as recently seen with the inequality in
pay for male and female workers at the BBC doing the same jobs (BBC, 2017).
When I reflect on the inequality in our modern society I can only see that the
challenges for black South African female artists must be a hundred-fold.

 The exploration of the subject area and the
work written by Arnold has impacted on my work and made me think about my
challenges as a female and as an artist. Having softened and feminized images I
created, I still want to ensure my images are bold and strong as and convey my
strength as a female and as an artist.

In my essay I have identified the core concerns of
the text and outlined how South African women struggled to be acknowledged
as artists and discovered and shown that whilst the world concentrated on
tackling racial inequality and decrying the apartheid system. For black women,
there is both the racial and gender inequality to overcome and this is evident
in their work and how it was perceived, being more a craft than art. It has
been evident that women in many countries, not just in South Africa in the 21st
century still have to overcome this inequity and that in South Africa and in
other countries violence against women is still a normal and daily feature
of life. This inequity is not just in the world of art but in all areas of
life, in our political structures and our built and working
environments.  

 

It is evident from research, that the text
clarifies trends in practice with strong female artists and female collaborative
groups such as the Guerrilla Girls, working to express and comment through
their work on the challenge, issues and inequalities women are subjected to
around the world. Overall this has impacted and influenced my thoughts and ideas,
and look to demonstrate my strength and thoughts as a female artist practicing
in a male orientated society.