Within my work I explore the sinister and alluring nature of beauty imagery by creating new, monstrous characters…… Practice-Based: Beauty Cultures, Fragmentation & Collage
Spotlight: Designer Hala Kaiksow
Hala Kaiksow is a designer, an artist and a sculptor. Her intricate craft, design and construction of garments and pieces allows for profound and striking engagements between the natural world and human labour (hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics, woven raw linen, silk and hemp are often embellished with fragments of latex and metal, as well as natural wood and mother of pearl). Her contemporary practice is infused with a sense of rich Islamic tradition and the past; Kaiksow’s inspiration draws from nomadic antique Bergers clothing to traditional Barhani uniforms. Last year, she was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 5, an international prize for contemporary artists and designers inspired by Islamic tradition held by the Jameel Art Foundation.
“Hala Kaiksow’s journey as a designer begins with the human hand and its ability to imbue garments with a sense of soul.”Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
“It is a reflection of Hala’s artisanal approach to thoughtful luxury, one informed by her passion for transforming unexpected materials through age-old craft traditions.”Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
Poetry: ‘A kind of fretful speech’ by Marianne MacRae
My interest in Marianne Moore began in 2011, when I was doing a Creative Writing MSc at the University of Edinburgh. I took a course called Poet Critics, and, on a list of nine modernist poets, Moore was, shamefully, the only woman. This, alongside the fact we share a first name, made me infinitely more attracted to her work than that of her much-lauded male compatriots. When I actually got stuck into her Collected Poems, I realised we also share a love of animals, the natural world and deep sense of irony about… pretty much everything.
I decided to pursue a PhD and placed Moore’s animal poetry the heart of the project. Initially I intended to investigate the role of talking animals in poetry (Moore’s ‘The Monkeys’ is a real favourite of mine), but as my research developed, I was drawn to the idea that poetry focussed on animal otherness can lead to a spiritual (not necessarily religious) connection with nature. By the end of my PhD, my work on Moore had shifted to concentrate on her poetic connections between visual art and art in nature as a means of reaching towards the sublime.
It took me three years to secure funding for my project, and while the waiting and the initial rejections were difficult to navigate, I found deep comfort in Moore’s poetry. Her work holds an infinite source of wisdom, humour and intrigue, and even now, almost a decade after my first encounter with her, I take away something new with every reading. ‘“A kind fretful of speech”’ (I hope) pays homage to her style of syllabic verse, her penchant for quotes (all of which come from her poems) and the motif of the sea that appears in some of her most striking works (‘The Fish’ and ‘A Grave’, for example). But really, I wrote this poem as a tribute to a woman who, from beyond the grave, has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, for which I am eternally grateful.
Words by Marianne MacRae
Exhibition Review: Helene Schjerfbeck at the Royal Academy of Arts
There’s grounds to get excited about the fact that British audiences are discovering Schjerfbeck only now: a clean canvas means that, since there aren’t layers of old paint to be rubbed out first, the discussion we create around Schjerfbeck can be made fresh, strong and feminist…… Exhibition Review: Helene Schjerfbeck at the Royal Academy of Arts
Poetry: ‘sun burn’ by Willa Froy & Holly Froy
Curator Interview: Marit Paasche on Scandinavian textile artist Hannah Ryggen
Curator Marit Paasche is responsible for much of the revival of interest in Ryggen. We caught up with Marit to discuss Ryggen’s art, politics, and connection to the Norwegian landscape…… Curator Interview: Marit Paasche on Scandinavian textile artist Hannah Ryggen
Interview: Nnenna Okore on Fraying, Twisting, Teasing, Tying
We spoke with Nnenna Okore about the process of shredding, fraying, twisting, teasing, tying, weaving, stitching, and dyeing in her create rich, textured work…… Interview: Nnenna Okore on Fraying, Twisting, Teasing, Tying
Exhibition Review: Women on Screens – Printmaking, photography and community activism
‘One of Audre Lorde’s poems talks about the master’s tools will never dismantle a master’s house. I think there was a real conscious use of imagery to use not the master’s tools but women’s tools, which were traditionally the broom and the vacuum cleaner. It was about looking at power and agency differently, and using women’s ways to create change.’
- Suzy Stiles, worker at the Lenthall Road Workshops.
If you stepped through the ordinary-looking front door of 81 Lenthall Road in the 1970s and 80s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stumbled on a covert military operation. In this shabby townhouse down a quiet street in Hackney, East London, you’d find women kitted out in boiler suits, respirator masks, and thick gloves moving around chemicals and heavy-duty equipment. The artist Claudette Johnson, a member of the Lenthall Road Workshop, recalls feeling like ‘guerilla fighters’, ready to ‘change something in society’. The revolution they were planning, however, was a peaceful one: their weapons were cameras, screen-printing materials, and the power of a community united by desire for social change, and they were fighting to ‘change how women were viewed in society’. Posters and other printed material made by the group are currently on display in a small but inspiring exhibition at the Hackney Museum, which traces the history of the feminist Lenthall Road Workshop from its beginnings as a community silkscreen and photography service in 1975, to its collaborations with groups such as Women’s Aid, the Black Lesbian and Gay Support Group, and Hackney Urban Studies Centre throughout the 1980s, and ending with its ultimate loss of funding in 1993.
The workshop was set up as a reaction against the invisibility of women, and, in particular, BAME and disabled women, in male-dominated, white, heteronormative representations of public life. From its inception, the Lenthall Road Workshop focussed on empowering, rather than speaking for, the community – Suzy Stiles notes that the group wanted to give women ‘access to the means to enable their voices to be heard’. To achieve this, the Workshop arranged skill-sharing sessions and offered affordable classes on screen-printing and photography. By learning these skills, ordinary women gained the tools they need to gain both a place for themselves in society and a platform to shout about issues affecting their lives and communities. One section of the exhibition is dedicated to the Hackney Girls Project, a youth initiative set up by the Lenthall Road Workshop to provide a safe space for girls to play sport and hang out with friends, but also to learn practical skills such as self-defence. Crucial to the Hackney Girls Project and the Lenthall Road Workshop’s wider mission was the sense that activism and revolution start at home. To empower women in their everyday lives, the group organised lessons from electricians and other tradespeople; members could gain the skills they needed to improve their own homes and also become more employable. In Eithne Nightingale’s memories of the workshop, she fondly recalls learning to make curtains to liven up her grotty flat.
Perhaps the most striking element of the exhibition is the Lenthall Road Workshop’s total commitment to accessibility and inclusion. Posters that the group created to promote the many feminist festivals, screenings, and workshops they helped organise throughout Hackney consistently proclaim that events support LGBT members, are accessible to wheelchair users, and include crèche facilities. The exhibition includes images publicising a vast range of causes and initiatives, from the Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights’ Black Lesbian and Gay Support Group, to the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and photographer Gonul Zeki’s prints and t-shirts declaring slogans like ‘HETEROSEXUALITY IS NOT NORMAL, IT’S JUST COMMON’. Equal representation was something that the Workshop viewed as an ongoing process: by the mid-1980s, its core group of organisers were all black working-class women, in an effort to encourage more women from this section of the community to participate. In this way, a genuine concern with engaging and empowering local people was consistently at the heart of the Lenthall Road Workshop’s operations. Beyond offering practical skills, it also facilitated a supportive network for working-class women. The exhibition repeatedly reminds us that it functioned as a crucial space of communication and exchange in a pre-internet era, a place where women could share stories, discuss ideas, and build confidence together. One poster promoting Shintaido lessons features a quote from Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road, which encapsulates a key part of the Workshop’s ethos: ‘all these are the powers and privileges of friendship’.
Stepping out from the museum back in to the Hackney of 2019, it’s hard not to feel a sense of frustration. The racist, sexist, and ableist society that the Lenthall Road Workshop challenged seems sadly all too familiar: rising hate crime against minority groups, the hollowing out of London’s youth services, and a racist, chauvinist egotist as our soon-to-be prime minister make it seem like little progress has been made. Conversely, Lenthall Road today feels like a completely different world – now a smart street with houses selling for well over a million pounds, it’s impossible to imagine that this could be the site of radical activism and community action. ‘Women on Screens’ ends on a call to harness digital technology and online platforms in the continued struggle for women’s empowerment and freedom of self-expression, yet it’s worth bearing in mind that in-person activism and print publications such as OOMK, Gal Dem, and Doll Hospital are still essential agents for change in our digital age. ‘Women on Screens’ is an important reminder that small acts can revolutionise our everyday lives, as well as the need – now as much as then – to build bonds in and across the community, share knowledge, and leave no one behind.
Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s-1990s, at Hackney Museum, London, between 14 May – 31 August
Words: Lottie Whalen
Editorial #1: Craft Power!
Welcome to the first issue of ‘Decorating Dissidence’, an online magazine dedicated to exploring the political, aesthetic, and conceptual qualities of craft and the decorative arts, from the early twentieth century to the contemporary moment. Casting a spotlight on overlooked artists, who work in experimental or non-traditional modes of making, it will explore the legacy of craft’s hidden histories and the alternative practices of contemporary artists. It asks questions such as: how can craft disrupt the spaces of ‘high’ art and culture? Can the decorative be political? What might a feminist genealogy of decorative art and craft look like?
In this issue, we are delighted to introduce you to the work of three exciting contemporary artists whose work utilises craft and traditional modes of making to confront socio-political issues. Jade French interviews multimedia digital sculptor, writer, and curator Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark, who combines styles ‘[borrowed] from the decorative traditions of Renaissance sculpture’ with digital technology to create striking works that challenge the commodification of race and gender. Similarly, artist Pinkie Macclure draws on traditional methods of making to explore modern day stereotypes: ‘Beauty Tricks’ reworks styles typical of medieval stained-glass narratives to critique the beauty industry’s harmful effects on women and the environment. Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė also disrupts decorative notions of femininity with her unique embroidered metal objects. Mixing domestic and industrial textures, her work highlights the labour-intensive nature of embroidery and challenges the distinction between public and private space. Her work is in dialogue with the post-Soviet landscape of her native Lithuania and the craft of her mother and grandmother.
Lottie Whalen’s article on Geta Brătescu (1926-2018) highlights the work of a wonderfully innovative multidisciplinary artist, who created tactile, colourful worlds that explore the interconnected relationship between art, the body, and everyday life. The staggering length of her career (which lasted right up until her death aged 92) and its combination of modernist influences with conceptual techniques sets up an interesting link with Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012); like Brătescu, Tanning continued to create innovative, timely work that encompassed both twentieth-century avant-garde practices and early twenty-first-century innovation. Working across mediums, both artists decentre notions of modern art and invite us to contemplate alternative genealogies of feminist art. Polly Hember’s review of Tate Modern’s thrilling Tanning retrospective explores the artist’s representation of ‘unknown but knowable states’ across her diverse body of work. Finally, Suzanna Petot’s review of Lee Minora’s recent show ‘White Feminism’ looks at the ways that the actor’s portrayal of tone-deaf stereotypical pop-feminist Becky Harlowe shines a spotlight on how we are all guilty of crafting woke personas. As we work to construct new feminist cultural genealogies, Petot reminds us that is vital to reflect on our own practices and to be mindful of ‘how can we be better allies to our fellow feminists of all backgrounds.’
We also chatted to the brains behind modernist digital humanities project ‘Navigating the Avant-Garde‘ who are bringing Mina Loy’s archive to a whole host of new researchers and unpacking the many strands to her life as an artist.
We warmly encourage submissions from all disciplines – art practitioners, curators, makers, activists, academics, writers – as we strive to break down disciplinary boundaries and find new ways to intervene in feminist art history. Take a look at our Call for Submissions and get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spotlight: Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė
The embroidery works of Lithuanian artist Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė takes texture to a new level. She takes metal as her starting point – buckets, spades, even cars – and stitches into them. Challenging the domestic association with embroidery, these found objects are placed into the public realm. The kitsch cosiness that Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė associates with cross-stitching is given a twist as she pokes through metal gives new life to discarded objects. She draws on a post-Soviet landscape in Lithuania in her work, as she writes on her website “in the postwar years, our grandmothers stitched tablecloths in the villages, and the paths were so decorated, and in the Soviet era, our mothers made crossed cushions and napkins through household lessons”. This intergenerational skill-sharing is then developed in her practice, to question sentimentality and access to embroidery practices. She doesn’t want to make “private kitsch for private interiors” but rather expose the work, patience and mindfulness that goes into the cross-stitch practice. Taking the floral designs from hobby magazines, these “popular culture citations” make us look back at the origins of the techniques. These established traditions recontextualise the objects they adorn – whether that’s on broken gun shells or metal spoons. Imbued with new use, these forgotten objects might tap into a nostalgic aesthetic but actually point us towards history in a new way.
Words: Jade French
All photos: Modestas Ežerskis.
Pinkie McClure Makes Stained Glass Sing
Pinkie McClure is an artist using the allegorical power of medieval stained glass as a vehicle for contemporary expression. Stained glass was invented in the 12th century to communicate to a largely illiterate population, its vivid colours having a seductive quality that’s hard to resist. However, its narrative role has been largely abandoned in recent years, which is something she hopes to change by making work that reflects the world around us today.
Artist Statement: On ‘Beauty Tricks’
My goal is to seduce the eye, but crucially, to deal with contemporary subject matter, telling darkly humorous stories from modern life. When I started work on ‘Beauty Tricks’ I wanted to make something beautiful. This led me to question interpretations of beauty and immediately a multitude of thorny contradictions popped up.
I decided to explore the way the beauty industry affects us and our environment. The central figure is based around a classic madonna, but she has liposuction lines on her torso and hypodermic needles and scalpels adorning her halo. Her nipples have been censored. Two little girls gaze up at her beautiful pink frock from a grey world of abandoned plastic containers. Above her, medieval scales traditionally used to symbolise the ‘weighing of souls’ refer to the long-running L’Oreal ad ‘worth it, not worth it’. A woman fires a gun at a mirror, smashing it to smithereens. To her left, a ‘kindly’ grandmother knits a web of Barbie dolls and to her right is a bulimic Rapunzel. The palm trees refer to the palm oil industry, the roses symbolise feminine beauty. At the top, Satan is hopping across the towers of Oxbridge with a pile of books heaped on his back, stealing all the knowledge while the women are distracted.