June 1, 2007

"The World Goes Pop"

Elise Donato, the artist, writes “The Woman Artist: The Muse and the Rejected”:

As I started to write this we were exactly a week before the French presidential elections which I have being following with quite some interest, not least because one of the two contenders was a woman. This factor has indeed caused a certain amount of debate here in France. As an artist living and working in France, with works focusing on issues surrounding identity, language and gender, I do feel sensitive to the reactions towards the female presidential candidate within French society. Some reactions were positive and some worrying; indeed, regardless of what political views people had, the fact that she was a woman created a stir and comments beyond belief such as: ‘she is way too feminist,’ ‘at least she looks good,’ or ‘her suits and hair were great, but what about her policies?’ Was I hearing correctly? Are these remarks relevant? I have never heard anyone comment about the colour of Tony Blair’s tie or Jacques Chirac’s latest suit. Are these the comments expected in a 21st century political debate?

A word about my art work: I am currently working on a project called ‘Femme-Dessin’ (the woman-drawing). It is important within my work to focus not only on the aesthetical part but also on the messages and thoughts that can be transmitted through art. Working on the theme of identities and gender allows me to observe people who surround me in a different light as well as studying the way in which previous artists have studied these themes throughout the years. Choosing to study the theme of women does not mean that I am an ultra-feminist set out against the all-dominating male, but it means that I observe issues, past and present, which involve the way women are perceived and treated in society, and thus try to react against certain prejudices. I do hope to highlight and even participate in positive changes within our societies through my work.

The image and depiction of women are very present within visual arts, especially paintings. Every century has represented women according to the current beliefs, be it in religious paintings with the many depictions of the Madonna, of Marie Magdalena and of the more violent Judith beheading Holofernes, or in the secular paintings of Muses, Venuses, nymphs or official portraiture. Women have proved to be great sources of inspiration for many artists. As artists themselves, however, it was a whole different matter. To stay close to home, I will state some examples from French art. Until the 19th century it was virtually impossible for a woman painter in France to access the official French Academy of painters and all doors were literally closed to them. Only a couple were accepted as ‘portraitists,’ such as Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun. But none of the so called more important historical painting work was accessible to them. Take George Sand, an important 19th century writer: she had to use a male pseudonym in order to gain recognition as a writer.

French society did not open doors easily to women. It is interesting to see how even today, in the sometimes very harsh critics towards the female presidential candidate, there remains a lingering memory of the past, of closed doors and inaccessibility to higher ranks. Although she was not elected, and aside from any political bias, I do hope that the work she has done—as a woman—will help and inspire women to stand up for themselves and feel more confident, not only in the industrial societies but also in areas were women still have no or little access to equal rights.

Elise Donato lives and works in Paris. After studying at the University of Edinburgh, she studied design and art history, as well as cultural management, in Paris. She worked within a number of contemporary art galleries as well as at the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice. She now works with a Danish textile design company while working on her own art projects, mixing drawings and photography. She is also developing a website focused on the work of young designers and artists. Her work can be found online at the Saatchi Gallery.