After Cologne sexual attacks, art show champions women

Following the city’s NYE sex assaults and accusations directed at victims, this exhibition is fighting back

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Exquisite Corpse feminist exhibition
Kate Durbin, “Hello Selfie” (performance)Photography Jessie Askinazi, courtesy of Gold + Beton

When a female in a position of public authority, such as Cologne’s Mayor, is pointing the finger at women for attracting sexual assaults, you know that sadly we’ve got a long, long way to go in the fight for gender equality. In the aftermath of the Cologne attacks on New Years Eve, all-female exhibition Exquisite Corpse, at the city’s underground art space GOLD+BETON, is standing up to such regressive attitudes to women, which ultimately perpetuate patriarchal ideals – ones that you would think were being parodied in a cleric’s recent claim that the victims of the attacks were to blame as they were “half naked and wearing perfume”. 

Confronting widespread assumptions about how women should appear and behave both IRL and online, the exhibition brings together 11 forces to be reckoned with. Among this pack is London’s Goldsmith graduate Poppy Jackson who last year made headlines for sitting, legs astride, atop a roof in a performance art piece that forcefully underlined the politics at stake in notions of the female body; the vocal LA-based artist and writer, Kate Durbin, whose deconstruction of selfie culture unites performance and digital art via a kawaii Tumblr aesthetic; and the New York-based, multimedia artist Faith Holland, whose feminist, sex-orientated practice is channelled through RedTube, GIFS and other peoples’ cum shots.

“All (the) artists are using both online and material forms for creativity, empowerment, and subversion, whilst reclaiming control of the representation of their bodies”, explains Sarah Faraday, who curated the show. “What has happened in Cologne has highlighted some of the issues present in the exhibition.” Such issues crystallise in the question of the ever-present dominance of the male gaze, which, in one way or another, all the artists in the show attempt to undermine. Aiming to deconstruct the “sexualised, infantilised and fetishised female paradigm”, Faraday notes, Exquisite Corpse turns its critique “from pornography to the use of female form in advertising and notably the use of sexually violent language as a form of censorship and aggression towards female expression.”

When it comes to censoring female expression, Canadian artist and poet Rupi Kaur, whose photographic series Period is included in the exhibition, works from experience. Exploring the stigma surrounding menstruation, Period features a selfie that elicited a censorship war with Instagram. Revealing the back of Kaur in blood-stained pyjamas, the image was taken down mutiple times by the platform, only to reaffirm the premise of the piece. In retort, Kaur posted: “Thank you @instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique.” Fittingly Kaur’s work, along with the 10 other UK-, US-, Russia-, and Austria-based artists included in the show serve to prove, as Faraday suggests, that Barbara Kruger’s statement “your body is a battleground” is more relevant than ever.

Exquisite Corpse is on show until 7 Feb at GOLD+BETON, following its inaugural show at Fuse. It includes work by Kate Durbin, Sarah Faraday, Lacie Garnes, Faith Holland, Poppy Jackson, Rupi Kaur, Sheena Patel, Julia Kim Smith, Evelin Stermitz, Sue Williams, and Anastasia Vepreva​

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