After Eight (There Is A Moment, Fleeting, When One Returns To Self And Feels, As if For The First Time, Alive), 2022 by Wangari Mathenge
Article By Eva Berezovsky
Sinking into visual art is one of our favourite ways to find pause and acknowledge how we’re feeling in our bodies. In particular, we appreciate artwork that asks us to consider our womanhood in some form –– a drawing, painting, photograph, or sculpture that illustrates the struggles or pleasures of being a woman seems to offer a special kind of solidarity, comfort, and companionship. See end of article for imagery sourcing.
- Chicago-based, Kenyan-born artist Wangari Mathenge’s paintings consistently depict visions of domesticity that feel strikingly intimate and completely mundane all at once in her representations of daily life. She deals with the visibility of women, the experience of black and migrant women specifically. The women she brings to life in her compositions are often reclined, and even if they’re active, they’re usually in a state of quietude. Her work stands out in its contemplation of female exhaustion, the labor we endure (or are expected to endure) as women, and how to recharge after caring for ourselves, our families, and our homes.
[Suggested work to sit with –– The Ascendants VI (Imperial Reckoning), 2020]
2. Another favourite is Los-Angeles-based artist Natalie Krim, whose works feel viscerally ethereal and repeatedly visualize women’s bodies. The nude female forms she depicts over and over never feel sexualising, though, even while they sometimes depict sexual pleasure. Instead, the bodies appear free and forgiving as Krim incorporates florals, integrates abstraction, and outlines their limbs and curves with loose, exploratory lines that don’t spark confinement, limitation, or judgement.
[Suggested work to sit with –– Our Love Is Like a Loose Tooth, date unknown]
3. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s work feels like a treasure trove of self-portraits that exude strength, resilience, and honesty. Self-portraiture entails some level of self-confrontation in all cases, so Kahlo’s effort to repeatedly depict her appearance and her womanhood prompts us to pay similar attention to ourselves. Her paintings do not confine her to herself, though. Instead, they seem to liberate her –– her various renditions of her face and body experiment with who she is and what her physical form means to her, which becomes even more meaningful in light of her complicated relationship with her body, her efforts to break gender norms, and the pain of her miscarriage. She’s an exploratory shape-shifter whose iconic stare appears on a deer in one piece, and in another, she’s one with the roots of the earth.
[ Suggested work to sit with –– The Two Fridas (1939) ]
4. Lastly, Louise Bourgeois never fails to evoke thoughtful rumination when it comes to womanhood and motherhood. The French-American artist’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures are often unsettling (and rooted in psychoanalytic concepts and ideologies). Her art is not gentle or directly comforting, as many of her works focus on the trauma involved in motherhood, birth, and existence at large. That said, Bourgeois can nevertheless offer a sense of compassion towards experiences like postpartum depression, complicated mother-child relationships, and more.
[Suggested work to sit with –– Umbilical Cord, (2000)]
We hope that Mathenge, Krim, Kahlo, and Bourgeois offer you an opportunity to check in with your own trajectory navigating womanhood. Even if they’re not always explicit in their commentary on what it’s like to be a woman or a mother, they can be there for you –– and the task of figuring out what a piece means to you is an exercise that can feel both expansive and grounding.
We’d also love to hear about who your personal favourite women artists are. Let us know!
Eva Berezovsky is a writer and multi-disciplinary creative with a background in art organizations and editorial spaces. Holding a degree in Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, she's fueled by vessels of storytelling, cultural portraiture, and the intersection of text, image, and identity.
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