The Artsy Hufflehoe: “My Mother is Dead. My Father is Dead. I’m Gay. I’d Like to be A Poet. This is My House.”

I originally wrote this post for Stedelijk Journal and thought I’d share it here for this month’s Artsy Hufflehoe

Thus begins Female figure by Jordan Wolfson, just before “Applause” by Lady Gaga starts playing. According to Wolfson, the robotic figure is a sexual object and the work addresses “the violence of objectification”. Without being aware of this, the viewer can already feel it when standing in the gallery with the robot.

She is a blonde woman dressed as a hypersexualized pop star: she wears a semitransparent skirt through which her underwear is visible, thigh-high boots, and long gloves. She is completely in white, the color of virginity. Her body appears dirty, but the reason for this is unknown. Her face is concealed by a mask of a witch’s face — this symbolizes infertility, according to Wolfson, while the movements her body makes simply scream fertility.
Because her face is hidden, it feels as if the mask
makes her more of an
object rather than a person.

She is attached to a pole — as if it forces her to keep dancing. Even when no music is playing and she addresses the audience, she continues to dance. From behind the mask, her eyes constantly follow the crowd in the room, unnerving the viewer. She is fixed in place, and her audience cannot leave. She is continuously “performing” for the public. And, as a spectator, the viewer can do nothing.

When “Applause” finishes, she begins to whisper a monologue in which she says, among other things, “I’ll have sex with you, but that’s not my calling”. This capitalizes on the idea that women only exist to satisfy men. She constantly asks what to say, and repeats the words that were said by a man (Wolfson’s voice): “Touch is hate. Say feeling love. Touch is love”. She embodies the utmost submissiveness, just as women are also still often seen today. She says, “This is my house”, but in her own home she has nothing to say and is unable to leave.

During the “performance”, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” also plays, a song that became controversial as a result of lyrics that seem to condone or downplay rape. The words “touch is hate” could indicate this as well. Victims of rape often have difficulty with being touched.

She continues to repeat her dance moves. She is, of course, a robot that is perhaps incapable of performing many steps, but this can also be interpreted as a woman who is constantly forced to perform — to seduce men and to please them — but she is weary and hapless.

While Wolfson himself has said that Female figure is about the “objectification” of women, the observations given here are naturally my own interpretation. The emotions and ideas behind the choices Wolfson has made came to me when I saw the artwork. Perhaps the witch mask only stands for infertility, and the words “touch is hate” might have nothing to do with rape. Others may interpret the work differently, of course. Is Female figure really an effective way to expose “the violence and objectification”? When you are alone or with a group in the room with her, I think you will feel uncomfortable. Therefore, the message is still communicated, but whether the work can help put an end to “objectification” is another question entirely.

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The Artsy Hufflehoe: Michelle Turns Art Into Memes

The Artsy Hufflehoe is a feature on here where I talk about all things art! I wasn’t sure what to do for this feature this month (not that I don’t have enough ideas, I just wasn’t in the mood for any of them) until I went to Rijksmuseum this week and inspiration struck. Behold: MEMES

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Willem II just chilling after getting shot in the shoulder no big deal

Dabbing since [insert year this was made which I forgot to look at]

Take a hint dude

She’s done with your shit

My mom thinks he was holding on so he won’t fall since they’re on a ship but this was all I could think of to be honest

That or he’s showing off his booty

Now THAT’s a movie I’d love to see

And people say art is boring. My memes tell a different story (I hope lol). Any good art memes you know? Would you watch Return of the Lesbians? Let me know in the comments!

The Artsy Hufflehoe: Zanele Muholi and the South African LGBTQI Community

The Artsy Hufflehoe is a feature on here (I’m not even going to bother and say monthly feature, because even though so far I haven’t missed a month yet when it comes to this feature, my other ‘monthly’ features aren’t that monthly) where I talk about all things art! This month I talk about my new favourite artist Zanele Muholi.

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Zanele Muholi’s exhibition is the most powerful exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum right now, and I’m so happy that it’s a really big exhibition too. There are several rooms dedicated to her work, and there is so many! Her work is incredibly moving, powerful and important, so to see the museum dedicate so much room to her work is wonderful.

But who is Zanele Muholi? Muholi is a South African photographer and visual activist. Her mision is ‘to rewrite a black and queer trans visual history of South-Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond.’ Guys, I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea what was going on in South Africa. Of course I know that there are still a lot of countries where people from the LGBTQIA+ community are treated horribly, but I’ve never heard anything about South Africa specifically, whether it’s on the news or on the internet, which means I never really thought about it. Which is horrible. We need to talk about this and spread awareness. Which is exactly what Muholi wants to do with her work. 

Muholi only photographs black people from the community, and in the case of her most recent series ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ (Hail the Black Lioness), she photographs herself, capturing the multiple roles that she assumes as a black lesbian. By using a high-contrast of black and white tonal values, she exaggerates her skin tone to emhasize her ‘blackness’. 

I absolutely love every piece of work I’ve seen of hers so far, but one of my favourites is definitely ‘Bester’. There are four portraits with ‘Bester’ in the title, which pay homage to her mother, Bester Muholi, who worked as a maid in a white household for 42 years. In the portraits Muholi uses everyday objects that refer to domestic chores, such as scourers and clothespins, as accessories and in hairstyles. By doing so, she creates personas that celebrate hardworking and underpaid women. 

I also adore her series Brave Beauties. The majority of those who are portrayed are participants of Miss Gay beauty pageants in South Africa. The photos don’t only celebrate the body and individuality, but also the women and men brave enough to publicly take part in queer beauty pageants, thereby helping to raise awearness for the LGBTQIA+ community, despite endangering themselves in the process. The photographs are beautiful and inspiring. They’re such a joy to see.

Apart from her photos (and there are many more!), the museum also shows two documentaries. One is made by Muholi herself, the other by Human Right Watch in which Muholi talks about the violence and discrimination the South African LGBTQIA+ community faces and how she strives to give this community a face.

Muholi has documentated weddings and funerals in the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa. The other documentary shows the wedding of Ayanda and Nhlanhla, a transgender man. With these documentaries Muholi wants to highlight the contradictions that while same-sex marriage is legal, lots of people are still raped and murdered because of her sexuality. 

I don’t know if these documentaries are always part of her exhibitions, but if you have the chance to watch them I’d definitely recommend them, though do keep in mind that they can be triggering. 

While the entire exhibition is incredibly powerful and moving, the end is just… I have no words. At the end of the exhibition, there’s an archive on the wall in which Muholi documented hate crimes faced by the LGBTI community between 2006 and now. It takes up pretty much the entire wall (though it’s on there in both Dutch and English, so it looks a bit bigger, but it’s still way too big). It’s heartbreaking and chilling to read and if I had been alone I definitely would’ve cried. It’s horrifying, but so so so important to know what’s happening in other countries. Zanele Muholi is an inspiration for keeping track of all the horrible things that happen in her country and not letting it get her down, for giving her community a face and fighting for her and the rest of her community in South Africa’s rights.

I’d definitely recommend to read up on and take a look at her work and go to an exhibition if you have the chance.

Oof that was hard to write. I have so many feelings for this woman, her work and this exhibition, that I didn’t know how to put it into words (thus why I’ve put off writing it so long). There’s so much more I want to say, but I just don’t know how. Have you seen her work in person? Any other important artists like her that I should know about? Let me know in the comments!

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The Artsy Hufflehoe: Pride Edition 🌈

The second Artsy Hufflehoe! Maybe this is finally a ‘monthly’ feature that I will actually do every month haha

Since it’s Pride, I had to make The Artsy Hufflehoe a Pride edition this month. I chose six artists because I didn’t want this post to get too long, six artists equals six colours in the rainbow flag and it’s not like I won’t share more LGBTQIA+ artists in future posts.

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Frida Kahlo – Bisexual

There’s a big chance you’ve heard of Frida Kahlo, but did you know she was bisexual? I sure didn’t! I only found out a little while ago as I researched her for a post on International Women’s Day (not for this blog, but for the Blikopeners Tumblr. You may know I work as a Blikopener at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Blikopeners are teens between 15 and 19 (unless like me you turn 20) who try to get other youth intersted in art, give tours, help with/organise workshops and events and some other cool stuff. So when you click on that link it will take you to our (Dutch) Tumblr)

I didn’t know much about her before that, though I did like the art that I had seen of her. After reading up on her I fell in love. She is such an icon: a feminist fighting against gender stereotypes (by smoking, boxing, winning tequila challenges from men and dressing as a man in family portraits) and racism and intolerance. She painted about themes like abortion, miscarriages, childbirth and breastfeading, which were often ignored or seen as taboo.

She was very open about her bisexuality, which was also seen in her work. Like her painting ‘Two Nudes in a Forest’, which shows two naked women, who are sitting next to each other on the ground. One of them is resting her head on the lap of the other. Frida gave the painting to her girlfriend Dolores del Rio.

Josephine Baker – Bisexual

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Okay guys, I’m in LOVE with Josephine Baker. She’s such a badass?? She’s well known as a dancer, singer and actress, but you know what else she was? A spy during World War Two.

Baker had openly supported Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, so the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) thought she was ‘one of them’. Baker used this to her advantage. Naturally she brought sheet music with her when she went on tour in Europe, but on a lot of those sheets were hidden messages written in invisible ink. She could also smuggle lots of stuff, like pictures of German military installations pinned to her underwear, because her baggage was never thoroughly checked. Because of her work as a spy she became a lieutenant in the Free French Air Force. After the war she received the Croix de Guerre (which was the first time an American Woman received it) and the Medal of Resistance. Like Frida she also fought against racism.

Another fun fact: Frida and Josephine had a relationship

Cassils – gender non-conforming trans masculine (they, them, their)

When you want to recreate the rainbow flag but the yellow hurts your eyes rip I apologise to your eyes I am suffering with you

Seen as one of the ‘ten transgender artists changing the landscape of contemporary art’ by the Huffington Post, Cassils got international recognition by using the body as a form of social sculpture. With their body as a sculpture, they fight the gender binary. Their art offers shared experiences of violence, representation, struggle and survival, often accompanied by immediacy, urgency and the transience of live performance.

Cassils doesn’t portray transgender as ‘crossing from one sex to another’, but as a continual process of becoming. Inspired by conceptualism, feminism, body art, gay male aesthetics, Cassils creates a serie of powerful, trained bodies for different performantive purposes. With sweat, blood and muscle strenght, Cassils creates a visual critique surrounding ideologies and histories.

Basically I’d  recommend you all to take a look at their website, because their work is really cool and powerful. My favourite is 103 Shots, based on the Pulse Shooting. It’s very powerful and emotional.

Zanele Muholi – Lesbian

Look at that another artists I’m currently obsessed with – who am I kidding, I’m obsessed with all of the people on this list. Maybe a little bit more with Zanele because her exhibition at the Stedelijk will open soon and I can’t wait. My wallet is scared though because I NEED BOOKS ON HER.

Why you ask? Well I’m glad you asked *finger guns*

Zanele Muholi is a photographer and visual activist. Her mission is ‘to rewrite a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond’.

In her photography she researches, documents and depicts the black LGBTQI identity of contemporary South Africa. In her most recent series ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ (Hail the Black Lioness) Muholi herself is pictured capturing the multiple roles that she assumes as a black lesbian woman. Through the high black-white contrasts in her pictures she emphasises her ‘blackness’ (the picture above is a part of this series).

If you happen to be in Amsterdam between July 8th and October 15th, you’ll be able to catch her exhibition at the Stedelijk. So grab that opportunity! (I know it sounds like I’m promoting the museum where I work but I promise I just want everyone to support Zanele’s work)

Mickalene Thomas – Lesbian

When you’re using your post you wrote for work for reference and find out you wrote Michalene instead of Mickalene rip I’m so sorry Mickalene 

Mickalene Thomas is an American feminist, filmmaker and artist. She explores ideas around beauty, race, sexuality, gender and feminity. In her work she shows that every body is beautiful. She is famous for her paintings depicting the sensuality of African-American women. She also depicts powerful (black) women such as her mother, celebrities and iconic art-historical figures, like Michelle Obama. This portrait is considered to be Michelle’s first solo portrait.

For some reason her site doesn’t work for me? I don’t know if that’s just my computer or if that’s the case for everyone, but you can also google her work which I obviously recommend. My favourite (probably? My favourites always change when it comes to art) is ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: les trois femmes noires’, a photograph in which she recreated Manet’s ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’

Amos Mac – Transgender

Amos Mac is a photographer who captures striking and playful images of gender non-conforming people, capturing their entire beings rather than solely their gender identities. His work is often colourful and abundant. Instead of examining transgender bodies or documenting transition, he wants to show the wholeness of his subjects.

I can’t pick a favourite, so just take a look at his website and look at all that beautiful photography. Seriously, all the series are worth it so I can’t choose. I was about to say ‘especially this series’ but um no I can’t choose. Sorry to disappoint, you’ll just have to look at all of them but it’s worth it I promise.

Amos also co-founded Original Plumbing, a magazine dedicated to trans male culture. It expanded to include apparel, events and accessories for the trans community and beyond.
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That’s it for now, but I will definitely share more in future posts. Now excuse me while I fangirl about all of these amazing artists and people

Any artists that you think I should know about? Let me know in the comments!

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The Artsy Hufflehoe: Nalini Malani and Immigration and the Oppression of Women

The first post (hopefully of many) of my new feature all about art! Today I’m going to talk about one of my favourite artists, Nalini Malani.

I had unfortunately never heard of Malani until an exhibition opened in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam called Transgressions. I was immediately hooked when I read that her work focused on issues like immigration and the opression of women, so naturally I had to check it out. And guys I was immediately in love.

But let’s talk about Malini herself first. She is one of India’s most important contemporary artists. Born in 1946 in Karachi, Pakistan, she had to flee a year after with her family during the separation  of India and Pakistan. Till this day you can see this reflect in her work.

She was trained as a classical artist in Bombay, but when in the ’90s religious fundamentalism started to gain ground she changed her style and medium. She criticised these changes by working  with different mediums that were new for India, like her wall drawing/erasure-perfomances, experimental theater and video/shadow play.

As I said her work focuses on immigration and the opression of women, but also globalisation, poverty and many more. She often combines these themes with motives from classic literature and mythology.

Basically she’s awesome and I love her and I want all the books Stedelijk has on her but

I mentioned Malani’s wall drawings/erasure-performances. She made a drawing in the Stedelijk as well, at the beginning of the exhibition:

She made this a week before the opening. It criticises the current refugee crisis and combines that with her fascination for literary and mythological stories in which women play important roles. On the last day of the exhibition the drawing will disappear through an ‘Erasure Performance’.

My two favourite works of her at the exhibition are the installation Transgressions and the video ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’.

Stills of ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’

TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE

‘In Search of Vanished Blood’ is an incredibly powerful and emotional video in which you’ll hear the inner voice of a woman who has been brutally raped by a group of men (you don’t hear the actual rape). It’s inspired by the book ‘Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays’ by Christa Wolf and the poem ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’ by the Pakistani leftist intellectual and revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The video is about a collapsing society for which Cassandra offers a humane escape, if we would only listen and learn from past tragedies. Instead of the standard world map, Malani used a world map with the USA in the middle as a backdrop.

Honestly I felt like crying while watching this video (if I had been on my own I probably would’ve). It is so powerful.

The other work is Transgressions, which is the heart of the exhibition. It’s a beautiful installation that can’t be captured in pictures. And not just because of the projected images changing and the audio.

There is so much to see that you just can’t stop looking. It also felt very hypnotising, with the combination of  the turning of the cylinders and the voices of the woman and the girl who are constantly on repeat.

The installation covers the past and current situation of India, the trauma of colonisation and the beginning of globalisation. Seriously, it’s such a impactful work. I really recommend seeing it for yourself if you have the chance.

If you’re in Amsterdam somewhere between now and June 18th, you can still see the exhbition at the Stedelijk Museum. I couldn’t find out where the exhibition is headed afterwards, but I really recommend keeping an eye out for it!

Are you familiar with Nalini Malani’s work? Have you seen it? What did  you think? Who are some of your favourite artists? Let me know in the comments!