- Priya Shemar takes a look through the feminist lens of Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence.
A typist toys with a globe-shaped sharpener. The blade cuts her fingers and the hand drips with crimson blood. Secretary Sees The World (1978) encapsulates the disdain towards the conventional role of women, creating visual horror in monotony.
Feminist themes are explored throughout the Jo Spence and Alexis Hunter photography exhibition at The Richard Saltoun gallery. These radical artists explore the depiction of the female body as a political symbol, with images spanning from the late 1960s to the 1980s.
In contrast to the whitewashed walls, the photography presents concepts that are less muted. Large close-ups of feminine hands, Hunter’s signature, loom throughout, reducing women to mere function. In The Marxist’s Wife (still does the housework) (1978/2005) the neat portrait of Marx never appears whole – the female hand consistently prevents a full view of his face. Her ink-stained hand wipes away flaws on the portrait, and thus the piece epitomises Hunter’s advocacy for the recognition of women. Moving towards the second room of the exhibition it is clear that Hunter scrutinises the representation of women in class and labour issues within the media and society.
Jo Spence explores similar principles, with a somewhat confrontational response. Focussing highly on portraiture, Spence becomes the subject of her work, where a number of outfits synonymous with masculinity or femininity are worn. From Libido Uprising: Beauty Work (1969) shows Spence awkwardly swaying in a staged pose, wearing fishnet tights and red stilettos as she attempts, and fails, at applying false nails. In a less humorous approach, there is a striking series of pictures in which her naked body desperately clutches a teddy bear. She conveys through facial expressions hatred, fear and sadness, in an uncomfortable display of the female form in From Narratives of Diseases (1989/90). Spence’s portraits throughout the exhibition challenge the viewer to reconsider how the female body becomes an object of male desire, and whether the body is inhibited by gender stereotypes.
The interesting juxtapositions in the exhibition, intimacy versus distance and playfulness versus confrontation, succeed in crystallising the complexity of women’s issues. The unique approach to photographic art and strong appeal justify the influence of the artists on future generations, in this rarely seen exhibit of feminist work.
22 August – 27 September 2013
111 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 6RY