Women have been empowered through womens art in many ways as I have explained in my analysis. Although at the same time they have had to struggle a lot to gain this power and get their voice heard. The artists Cindy Sherman, Frida Kahlo and Barbara Krugar have used paintings, photos and texts and slogan very cleverly to portray their message, although in some ways it projects and highlights even more the anxieties they faced in politics and the public sphere. But mostly in my opinion I believe that they have cleverly used paintings, photographs and texts and slogans to get their message across in such an effective way. I would never have thought such images could express so many different ideas/points about various different topics which are very interesting and useful to empower women and give them the same treatment and respect as men are given. I also feel like it allows women to be liberated and talk about issues such as sexuality and childbirth and the pain and suffering women have to go through which shows endurance and hope in women. Their work also shows how to fight for justice in a peaceful way but still is quite strong, powerful and effective as well as showing that women do not have to have concrete identities i.e. being housewifes etc and that they too can be whatever they want to be in life because they are just as strong and powerful. Although I would make the point that their work did cause contraversy and public debate at the time as these not everyone agrees with the ideas of Kahlo, Sherman and Kruger. The overall message I gained from this was that we should appreciate what we have and be grateful that we do not have to go through some of the horrors of the world that these women had to go through.
Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States” sets an interpretation of the difference between the America and Mexico through the use of many colors that represent different feelings about both countries. All the objects scattered around the painting characterize traditional and modern symbols that Frida Kahlo uses to differentiate between Mexican and American culture. With the help of sources such as her personal diary, the meanings behind the use of color and texture in the image help us to understand each side of the painting and the reason behind the use of certain objects.
An analysis in Chicana and Chicano Space: A Thematic, Inquiry-Based Art Education Resource of Frida Kahlo’s border painting demonstrates the different sensory elements used to show a contrast between Mexican and American traditions. According to the article “Frida used fine brushstrokes to illustrate gradual changes in value (light and dark)”, which is shown in the slight change of color and texture of the ground on the Mexican side, which seems to contain soil with rocks and pebbles, to the American side that is barren, smooth and inorganic. This contrast shows the differences the two nations have; one is more in touch with the earth, while the other is enveloped in its modern, industrialized bubble.
Besides the change in the ground’s colour, Kahlo also uses symbolic objects like plants and megaphones to illustrate the relationship between one nation’s connection to the Earth and another’s union to machines. According to the analysis of the painting by Diana Vazquez the bright colours used on the objects on the left side like flowers, wild plants and corn “represent the natural, colourful, and beautiful spirit of the Mexican country”, which indeed is very representative of typical Mexican art that is usually very brightly coloured. The wide range of “happy” colors on the left side shows how much Kahlo admires her native country, while the bland grays and browns on the American side portray a sad and depressing mood.
Apart from the change in colour from left to right, there also seems to be a variation in texture. The symbol of earth illustrated by plants and vegetation on the Mexican side of the painting has more variation and texture than the other side. Apart from the few straight lines, the stone pyramid in the background contains the rest of the figures, that have really complex shapes that the symmetrical American side does not have. For example the lighter fertility figure is shaped like a human and contains more depth than the symmetrical, smooth, buildings that are on the right of the painting. The megaphone and other two shapes, in the front carry a continual pattern of roundness that none of the objects on the left side contain.
Frida Kahlo’s traditional Mexican oil painting is called a retablo because it is painted on metal. This is a great example of how two nations can be so culturally and economically different than each other. These differences are not just highlighted by the obvious objects, like the contrast between industrial buildings and the earthy elements, but also by Kahlo’s changes in colour pallets and texture throughout the painting.
Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States” shows the differences between Mexico and the United States reflecting her patriotic spirit. The sun’s mouth is bleeding because of three dripping red lines coming from the sun’s mouth like blood. This may show Frida’s pain as a result of the misery and death in her county. Next to the sun, the moon is in another cloud with a similar sad representation. Between them, another red line, like a ray or something remembering the terrible situation in Mexico. Under these elements and the sky, an antique Mayan or Aztecan ruin symbolizes the ancestry of the Mexican people. The skull relevant; it signifies war, assassination, and the pain suffered by the Mexican nation. Also, the rocks, ancient sculptures, and religious objects characterize the traditions of Frida’s ancestors. Lastly, typical flowers, wild plants, and some corn are on the floor. Of course, they represent the natural, colourful, and beautiful spirit of the Mexican country. In contrast, on the right, Frida painted the United States with other components. For example the sky is covered by smoke that is enveloping the American flag. Therefore it corresponds to the pollution caused by the industrialization of the country. There are skyscrapers that characterize the development, luxury, and advantages of the U.S. The industrial technology is also denoted with things such as a megaphone, speaker, and a fan. Finally, in my opinion, the main part of this picture is a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo on the border of these two structures. She is holding a Mexican flag, dressed in a typical dress whilst her face observes the Mexican side. In fact, Frida expresses her love for her country in a firm and courageous attitude. In summary all these elements in her picture show us the bigger, greater, and more valiant position of Frida Kahlo defending her country against the United States.
This image shows the politics between the American’s and Mexican’s with conflicting believes/views as I have explained above, but how does this relate to the public sphere?
I personally think that Kahlo’s work does enters the public sphere (in some ways) as firstly it is clearly in the Public Sphere because her art is famous (became famous after her death), for example her portraits that can be purchased or seen in such places like museums by the public. (this is how it links to the public sphere on a very basic level). I also think through this, she let her private life become very much public through the messages behind her portraits.
Betterton makes a highly politicised point in Colonising Kahlo: Frida Kahlo and the transcultural encounter claiming that the female body is not merelyan inanimate ‘object’, and cannot be regarded as such, she highlights the discourse that neutralises the particularity of subjective experience the reality of power dynamics played out both in the production and in the consumption of an artwork. The nude is a site of desire and therefore little attention was paid to an investigation into the specificity of female embodied knowledge and experience. The ideology of womanhood, as it has been broadly constructed within the lived worlds of patriarchy, has censored and delineated the acceptable parameters of articulation emanating from the feminine sphere. Also Kahlo strips away the comfort of the feminine sphere, anarchically painting what had never been visible before:—the object, the secret, the previously unspeakable: the bloodied act of childbirth, an aborted foetus in a jar, a woman in the act of suicide, an adult-faced baby Frida being breastfed. Her self-portraits and paintings do not present woman as an object defined in relation to someone else, a Lacanian object a —daughter, sister, mother, wife—for although she painted herself in all of these identities, they did not define her.
(Recap) During Frida Kahlo’s lifetime she created around 200 paintings, drawings and sketches related to her life experience as well as her physical and emotional pain she went through during her turbulent relationship with Diego. She produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. Frida’s paintings are influenced by her suffering a tragic accident at the age of 18 that changes her life forever.
The Two Fridas also known as Las Dos Fridas was made in 1939. The image shows Kahlo’s struggle she had with identity and shows the hearts exposed of both sides of her. She shows she has an undamaged heart because she is loved by Diego. On the other hand the other Frida has a bloody heart, which represents the side that side that Diego could never love. Therefore the painting shows a lot of emotion and struggle with her two heritages.
The writer of Culture, Politics and Identity Janice Helland gives credit to Kahlo for her self-portraits reflecting on her personal life and emotions but also as they relate to Mexican politics and culture. Kahlo utilized Mexican indigenista iconography to relate both a personal and political output in her paintings. Many of her paintings analyse her social affairs or personal health and are still relevant to Mexican nationalism and political views. In this reading I also feel that Diego Rivera has overshadowed just how powerful Frida Kahlo’s painting really stand in the social, cultural and political grounds of Mexico.
After returning home from an exhibit in paris, Kahlo divorced Diego Rivera. This painting illustrates a literal split between her two selves is from this period of turmoil and self-doubt. On the right of the painting is the Mexican Frida in traditional clothing. Whilst on the left there is an image of a European Frida in a colonial white dress which I think is intended to be a wedding garb (as its similar to her mothers wedding dress in “Family Tree”). In this image the two women are sitting on a green bench holding hands. The anotomy of their hearts is superimposed on them both; the European self is seen through a hole in her dress at the breast. A blood line originates at the cameo of Diego as a child held by the Frida on the right. This twines between them both and is ultimately terminated by a medical implement held by Frida on the left, whilst blood stains with red flowers intermingle at the hem of the dress. The clouds and look on the two Frida’s faces are juxtaposed with the graphic medical imagery to illustrate her internal conflict. The blood also shows us her pain she went through during all her miscarriages and abortions.
Kahlo’s work often refers to powerful mythologies of Mexican identity; the Tehuana woman represented for Kahlo a new positive future of a postcolonial state. The political message of this painting suggests that through adopting an anti-colonial position, a healing of the pains of the past can take place. In the analogy of self and nation, Kahlo characterises her own emotional and physical problems as symptomatic of the post-colonial condition. Thus the European-style wedding gown and the Tehuana dress of the ‘The Two Fridas’ reflect ideological positions as much as the historical realities of Mexico’s past. The famous painting is currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Frida Kahlo lived in a society that allowed her to aspire to be a listening wife and ideal mother. She used her weak points, her realization in life to gather more strength and stand up from every fall and produce one of the most valuable feminist paintings I have ever seen.
Colour was used to provide distinction between the two Fridas. The historical context helped in unveiling the semiotics lying within the artwork. The premises of art were all inscribed in a circle of real-life experiences, stating that this artwork is the outcome of the feelings evoked by an unfortunate women who only dreamed of becoming a wonderful person in her lifetime – which she achieved on her death. Frida Kahlo herself is considered by many as a symbol of strong will, headship and rough individuality.
Kahlo and the Public Sphere
Diego Rivera sought to display his politics in the public sphere, in contrast Kahlo explored her political sympathies in much more private, intimate ways. A prime example of this is the Soviet hammer and sickle she painted over her heart on the plaster cast that she was forced to wear after one of the numerous surgeries she underwent during the course of her life. Frida’s personal life and professional career contrast starkly with those of her husband. While he received formal education and international acclaim, she taught herself to paint and remained largely unknown outside of her circle of friends until after her death.
The couple’s struggle to redefine their political and private lives and is shown through their exhibition “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting”. One gains a sense not only of Kahlo and Rivera’s respective artistic oeuvres, but of their lives, together and apart.
In public Kahlo played the role of the devoted wife and the suffering martyr, but in reality she was not the typical suffering Mexican woman. She often expressed her autonomy for societal double standards in her self-portraits.
In “A Few Small Nips” she expressed her outrage at the imbalance in gender politics but also “because she felt murdered by life” as well as various other quotes about life and how lonely she was etc. To express her pain regarding their divorce she painted herself hairless and wearing a man’s jacket in “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair”.
Kahlo’s work is intensely autobiographical and can be seen as her own patriotic metaphor. Her work was able to transcend the personal to have political and national relevance. Frida held her self up, both in her art and her life as the ideal Mexican. She was politically active right up until her death in 1954. At home she surrounded herself with an an ever growing collection of Pre-Columbian folk art and indigenous crafts. Frida wrote her own role as the proto-typical Mexican and played it meticulously. Kahlo meant for her art and her life to serve as the example that her “split-personality syndrome” homeland desperately needed. In exploring and attempting to heal her own schism between worlds with her paintings, she helped Mexico to heal its own.
Kahlo presents herself as monstrous. I argue that it is through this element of monstrosity that Kahlo resists the patriarchal order by opposing the standards of classical beauty and ideal femininity. In so doing Kahlo steps out of the private sphere of the female artist and into the public, masculine sphere and creates an allegory of the Mexican nation that mirrors her own identity crisis and pain. She unapologetically addresses the pains of the country’s horrific past in a radically different manner than the idealized murals of her famous husband, Diego Rivera. She reconciles the duality of her heritage and the violent national past with the confused present to create communion between herself and all of Mexico.
In 1981 Barbara Kruger produced the image “Your comfort is my Silence”. This image is clearly a piece of feminist art but can also be applied to consumption. This work shows a man telling the viewer to be quiet. The man is trying to supress the women viewer by saying that if women stay quiet, than the men have nothing to worry about because their power will not be challenged.
The image is a perfect representation of the theme consumerism. It expresses how males can overpower women in society. The text explains it better by placing emphasis on more important words like “your” and “silence” because they are directed significantly. The image gives an example of consumption by displaying a sense of power and control over women and society. The image symbolizes the way in which larger industries can control their consumers. Appropriation is placing an image in a context with which it is not conventionally associated with forcing its viewers to create their own interpretations. This is what Barbara Kruger uses to embrace both image and language which is commonly used in advertising to convey different messages. This is evident in “Your Comfort is my Silence”; the first two words covers the mans eyes in order to remove identity and portray the idea that “all men are the same”. Kruger arranges the text in a collage format like an advert to convey a message of gender stereotypes, creating a work of appropriation. Although just like the previous image, Kruger keeps the ambiguity of her images, allowing the viewer to construct meaning from the image and actively participate in the appropriation process of the work. This method is also used to distribute her work in the form of umbrellas, tote bags, postcards, mugs, T-shirts, posters etc, its purpose is to confuse people regarding the boundaries between advertising and art. Krugers work have provided politics, social and feminist criticism on issues including religion, sex, racial and gender stereotypes, consumerism and greed and power.
In “Your Comfort is my Silence” the viewer has no idea what the image is about or what is being said and why but they are struck by just how demanding and direct the voice is and the backing image of a persons face adds to the power of the image. Krugers work looks like advertising but in reality are disputing the very ideas that society and those magazines are trying to sell. “Your Comfort is my Silence” shows the placement of shapes blocking the man’s eyes which eliminates his identity and reduces him to a generic symbol of masculine dominance and control.
“liberated men needed groovy chicks who could swing with their new lifestyle: women tried. they needed sex: women complied. but thats all they needed from women. if a woman got it into her head to demand some old-fashioned return commitment, she was ‘uptight,’ ‘screwed up,’ or worse yet, ‘a real bringdown.’ a chick ought to learn to be independent enough not to become a drag on her old man (trans. ‘clinging’). women couldnt register fast enough: ceramics, weaving, leather talents, painting classes, lit. and psych. courses, group therapy, anything to get off his back. they sat in front of their various easels in tears.“—shulamith firestone, the dialectic of sex, 1970.
(Gender Politics) In every conversation we have, in every deal we close, in every face we kiss” (Kruger, 2005). Her iconic images on billboards, bus tickets, t-shirts, posters, placards and screens, address this power and the way it “choreographs the issues of violence and control, of wealth and poverty, of hope and abjection” (2005). Works such as Your Body is a Battleground (Kruger, 1989) and Your Comfort is my Silence (1981) bring the workings of power and gender politics to the fore. Incorporating theories and practices of design, and minimising colouration to black, white and red, she juxtaposes an economy of image and text in seemingly serendipitous ways. She uses popular culture as both subject (content) and tool (technique) to maximise the immediacy of reception. Her characteristic photographic imagery reinforces the power of images to dislodge. Thus as much as an undermining and engagement with political issues of the social body, there is also an intervening and exposure of dominant practices of media exchange in the economies of market consumption and subjectification.
In 1979 Kruger began to utilize found images, mostly from mid-century American newspapers and magazines, with words collaged over top of them. Having established her mature style, she produced many similar artworks in which black and white were the main colors. There main issues she centers on are politics, mass media/advertising, and gender equity.
Being a women in society is a constant battle with one’s image and appearance playing on a woman’s mind repeatedly. Although there are some who can break away from this continuous cycle of staring, examining, judging, adjusting, possibly crying, binging, purging, and every other action. Most women will be stuck in this rut for most of their adolescence and adulthood. Barbara Kruger exhibits this struggle in “Your body is a battleground”.
Her photograph was originally a poster for a pro-choice march that took place on the 9th April 1989 in Washington, D.C. Although now its purpose is to voice her opinion to protect women’s rights through an image that raises issues about power, patriachy, stereotyping and consumption. “Your Body is a Battleground” questions the viewer about feminism by using a picture in which her message is contradicting the idea that culture has given, this is the idea concerning ideal beauty as advertised in magazines.
This image exemplifies Kruger’s interest in addressing the political issues I have given examples of previously. Using a model’s face as the central image, she gives the image additional meaning by dividing the photograph into sections: on the right and left the image reverses from positive to negative, and from top to bottom the face is divided into thirds with the slogan “Your body is a battleground.” Barbara Kruger criticises the objectified standard of symmetry applied in modern times to feminine beauty by the media and advertising. In this Kruger criticizes society’s view of beauty “having to be symmetrical.
In my opinion the image is a very strong one that represents our personal fight against societies standards and its “rule” on how our bodies should look (against how we really want it to look like). Kruger fought for womens rights over their bodies which is the purpose of this image. I can relate to this statement by understanding we do care about our appearance way too much, rather than accepting ourselves the way we are. We fight in the wrong ways (which is against our natural body rather than against the fake standards of society that controls the way we should look and feel about our bodies.
Kruger & Gender Politics
The image is showing contrasting actions for example positive and negative, good versus bad etc. This is done through the split image of the face, the figures characteristics such as her hair and make-up display 1950’s style. Her gaze is directed straight ahead making eye contact with the viewer. Kruger stresses her commitment to the issue related to the image by the words “Your Body is a Battleground” in the centre. The image relate to an array of political and social stances. Ideas of power are societal structure are often referenced in her work. Since power cuts through all aspects of society, women are forced to defend themselves in society. The image’ text refers to the constant fight in which women take part in. This fight is to do with womens rights to choose what happens to with her OWN body and is one that revolves around power. The issue is to do with a struggle between men and women “over the same valuable piece of real estate – the female body”. This highlights womens strive to gain power but also projects their anxieties at the same time. This idea shows the constant push between the sexes; women fight to have control over their physical bodies as well as their place in society, while men fight to maintain their dominance over women in society. But my question relating to this would be, why do men have so much so called control over women/womens bodies? What gives them the right to tell us what to do or dictate what we can and connot do (infact, it works both ways but do we see women doing this to men? The answers no)? The male gaze turns females in sexual objects that are not permitted to think for themselves. Their thoughts, opinions and behaviours stem from the CONSTANT judgements of men. Krugers image “Your Body is a Battleground” challenges the issue by depicting the female figure in confrontation with the viewer (the subjects eyes glare directly at the viewer in defense, and this is why this image is so powerful). Krugers work is united as most of its stands for the same set of morals and values. “Your Body is a Battleground” potrays notions of power, patriarchy, stereotyping and consumption. Its purpose is to use images from the media juxtaposed with text to explore the power of imagery.
Kruger and the Public Sphere
Barbara Krugers work belongs in the public sphere as it is shown to the public on billboards, advertisments, musuems, television and magazine etc and is widely recognised by many, especially females, openly discussing the issues that she covers in her art.
Below is an interview with Barbara Kruger by W. J. T. Mitchell in which she answers a question about her art and the Public Sphere
MITCHELL: Do you think of your own art, so far as it’s engaged with the commercial public sphere-that is, with advertising, publicity, mass media, and other technologies for influencing a consumer public-that it is automatically a form of public art? Or does it stand in opposition to public art?
KRUGER: I have a question for you: what is a public sphere which is an uncommercial public sphere?
MITCHELL: I’m thinking of a utopian notion such as Habermas’s idea of the liberal bourgeois sphere of the culture-debating public. You may recall how he opposes that to a culture-consuming public, which he thinks of as mainly consuming images and as being spec- tatorial. He contrasts it with the culture-debating public, which he associates with the literary.
KRUGER: I live and speak through a body which is constructed by moments which are formed by the velocity of power and money. So I don’t see this division between what is commercial and what is not commercial. I see rather a broad, nonending flow of moments which are informed if not motored by exchange.
Kruger layers found photographs from existing sources with pithy and aggressive text that involves the viewer in the struggle for power and control that her captions speak to. In their trademark black letters against a slash of red background, some of her instantly recognizable slogans read “I shop, therefore I am,” and “Your body is a battleground.” Much of her text questions the viewer about feminism, classicism, consumerism, and individual autonomy and desire, although her black-and-white images are culled from the mainstream magazines that sell the very ideas she is disputing. As well as appearing in museums and galleries worldwide, Kruger’s work has appeared on billboards, buscards, posters, a public park, a train station platform in Strasbourg, France, and in other public commissions.
The juxtaposition of word and image in Barbara Kruger’s highly recognizable work is derived from twelve years as a designer and photo editor for Conde Nast publications. Short, pithy caption-like copy is scattered over fragmented and enlarged photographs appropriated from various media. Usually declarative or accusatory in tone, these phrases posit an opposition between the pronouns “you” and “we,” which satirically refer to “men” and “women.” These humorous works suspend the viewer between the fascination of the image and the indictment of the text while reminding us that language and its use within culture to construct and maintina proverbs, jobs, jokes, myths, and history reinforce the interests and perspective of those who control it.
Kruger’s earliest artworks date to 1969. Large woven wall hangings of yarn, beads, sequins, feathers, and ribbons, they exemplify the feminist recuperation of craft during this period. Despite her inclusion in the Whitney Biennial in 1973 and solo exhibitions at Artists Space and Fischbach Gallery, both in New York, the following two years, she was dissatisfied with her output and its detachment from her growing social and political concerns. In the fall of 1976, Kruger abandoned art making and moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught at the University of California for four years and steeped herself in the writings of Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes.
She took up photography in 1977, producing a series of black-and-white details of architectural exteriors paired with her own textual ruminations on the lives of those living inside. Published as an artist’s book, Picture/Readings (1979) foreshadows the aesthetic vocabulary Kruger developed in her mature work.
By 1979 Barbara Kruger stopped taking photographs and began to employ found images in her art, mostly from mid-century American print-media sources, with words collaged directly over them. Her 1980 untitled piece commonly known as “Perfect” portrays the torso of a woman, hands clasped in prayer, evoking the Virgin Mary, the embodiment of submissive femininity; the word “perfect” is emblazoned along the lower edge of the image.
These early collages in which Kruger deployed techniques she had perfected as a graphic designer, inaugurated the artist’s ongoing political, social, and especially feminist provocations and commentaries on religion, sex, racial and gender stereotypes, consumerism, corporate greed, and power.
During the early 1980s Barbara Kruger perfected a signature agitprop style, using cropped, large-scale, black-and-white photographic images juxtaposed with raucous, pithy, and often ironic aphorisms, printed in Futura Bold typeface against black, white, or deep red text bars. The inclusion of personal pronouns in works like Untitled (Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face) (1981) and Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am) (1987) implicates viewers by confounding any clear notion of who is speaking. These rigorously composed mature works function successfully on any scale. Their wide distribution—under the artist’s supervision—in the form of umbrellas, tote bags, postcards, mugs, T-shirts, posters, and so on, confuses the boundaries between art and commerce and calls attention to the role of the advertising in public debate.
In recent years Barbara Kruger has extended her aesthetic project, creating public installations of her work in galleries, museums, municipal buildings, train stations, and parks, as well as on buses and billboards around the world. Walls, floors, and ceilings are covered with images and texts, which engulf and even assault the viewer. Since the late 1990s, Kruger has incorporated sculpture into her ongoing critique of modern American culture. Justice (1997), in white-painted fiberglass, depicts J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn—two right-wing public figures who hid their homosexuality—in partial drag, kissing one another. In this kitsch send-up of commemorative statuary, Kruger highlights the conspiracy of silence that enabled these two men to accrue social and political power.
(Text from Cindy Sherman Retrospective)
These images are the first images from her work that are in colour which she continued to use to increase effect. Dictated by a desire to work at home rather than on location which is more stereotypical of a women which is diferent to Untitled Film Stills as Sherman did not show women in their normal roles. Sherman photographed herself infront of a screen on which she projected slides of outdoor and indoor scenes. These images are more contemporary than the previous series (Untitled Film Stills). Sherman is still role playing, but these characters are decidely more up to date in their character. Rather than victims or femme fatales, the women in the Rear Screen Projections appear more confident and independant. The majority of these works depict youthful, middle-class women out in the real world.
Sherman’s appropriation of the media’s forms in order to critique it has its parrallel in the work of Barbara Kruger. Having worked in advertising, Kruger expertly mimics the look and imagery of ads and inserts disjunctive texts to expose their manipulations. She has similarly created work that deal with the media’s representation of women but with none of the nostalgic allure of Sherman’s early series; Kruger’s approach is much more confrontational.