By Hanna Rab
Curated by Girls is a Berlin based art collective that seeks to challenge the contemporary stigmas surrounding womanhood. After a long history of feminism, the subject still bears something of a conservative idea of femininity, which places women in a fetishized framework of high heels, kitchen surfaces and dependability. Curated by Girls aims to destabilize this norm by showing us a new femininity, fused with progressive ideals and new imaginaries.
I meet founder of curated by girls Laetitia Duveau in the Melkweg Expo venue, surrounded by the Rotterdam based Dance Group ‘ These are the Others’ who are practicing their opening dance for the exhibition. Just as the show tries to convey, the dancers reflect inclusivity; different body types, ethnicities and genders are proudly dancing to celebrate that what is our own: the body.
Laetitia, who is a petit French lady herself, seeks her words and expresses her aspirations and feelings of her work with hesitance. She guides me through the exhibition and shows me every photographic work in detail, often addressing the body and pointing out the importance of reclaiming the feminine body. I caught myself thinking about this statement as this seemed to imply a sense of loss and a strong emphasis on the physique. The platform wants to look beyond beauty ideals, gender norms and aims to provide a podium for the underrepresented in society, which would imply less focus on the exterior of the body. I felt the exhibition might want to raise the question: how can we envision the future of identity? Taking identity as that which encompasses both body and psyche, regarding it as an interdependent mechanism. Nevertheless, the subject of many artworks came across as personal, expressive and bold. Yet, it also seemed to withhold something from view; the persons “real” identity. This was an interesting reoccurring element of all the works, as if it tried to illustrate the digital facades that we are often confronted with when marketing ourselves online. I clearly recognised this theme in the work of Willemieke Kars.
Her work ‘Self- Portrait’ is part of a series inspired by the selfie obsessed youngsters living in South Africa. The girls are subjected to the picture perfect standards of western visual culture, which shifts every summer. This work shows an adolescent girl standing on a beach with a blurred view of her photographer in the corner. Curator Fleurie Kloostra explains: “Kars investigates the cultural image of womanhood in the younger South- African community. This is an interesting on going project she initiated with teenage girls who photograph each other with their smartphones in the area of Cape Town. It illustrates this interesting relation with the third person, that in other images is often kept outside of view.”
I was struck by the often vivid and daring sceneries of the photographs, most of them showing the naked flesh covering or uncovering body parts that had been carefully staged. However, when comparing it to feminist art of the late 60s, the works seemed to highlight that which Marina Abramović was so determined to challenge: the dominance of the male gaze and the objectification of the female body. These works showed highly self-conscious subjects, less grounded in a conceptual and experimental framework.
But I felt many works challenged the boundaries of object versus subject, hereby transcending the flesh and making it as something in and of itself. Disfigured bodies in conversation with their physique; rearranging and reforming, creating unexplored crossroads between themselves and their surroundings. Some photo’s showed extravagant portraits of transgender people dressed up in fearless outfits, others more fragile and delicate, referencing intrinsic qualities of personal development. When seeing the collection as a whole I could clearly distil the qualities that could define womanhood as being diverse, daring, self reflective and empowering. The show was certainly not conforming to gender binaries, but instead, screamed sexual freedom and a desire for acceptance.
Laetitia tells me she has been intrigued by this subject for a long time and that Curated by Girls started out of a project without expectation.
Laetitia: “My aim was to produce a show that would challenge what femininity is. Something that would be all about breaking the stereotypes. The word ‘New Femininity’ is making a statement; to say that there is a new femininity out there that it is very diverse and has the potential to refigure our perceptions of gender and womanhood.” Importantly, it is not about me, it is more about celebrating artists and queer artists and women, offering them a platform.”
When talking about this subject I can’t help noticing my dual feelings towards the artworks, as they also express a certain aesthetics that reminds me of the filtered realities on social media platforms, which often give rise to new stereotypical views. Later, Laetitia tells me she found many artists via online channels, which she believes is a useful way to give unrecognised artists a voice. Laetitia: “Sometimes I meet the artists at parties I go to or at events I initiate, but often I come across them via Instagram. Strangely enough, I have to be really careful with what I publish on Instagram, as my account can be easily blocked, due to the images I post. It is a duality.”
A very remarkable duality, as social media proposes to be a great stepping stone for new progressive artists, but at the same time forces them to fight the acts of censorship. However, I liked the idea of an exhibition showing unrecognized artists in a prominent gallery that otherwise would be left to the governing agencies of the world wide web. I also sympathized with the idea to create a platform for queer artists, many of whom didn’t have the privilege to be educated in art in the first place.
When I ask her how she sees the future of curated by girls, she looks at me a bit baffled: “I really don’t know, it would be great to expand the platform, but I don’t worry myself with the future.”
I have to agree with her, the future is something that is far too often prefigured with ideas of the past. When we want to change ideas of femininity and identity we should not think of tomorrow, but of today.
New Femininity #3 is the third edition of their exhibition series that has been previously showcased in Berlin and Barcelona. The show in Amsterdam has ended, but the collective is constantly working on new projects.
Laetitia’s next project will be a popup exhibition that will take place at a Berlin party on April 13 called “PORNCEPTUAL” that celebrates freedom, queer culture and sexuality. The expo will feature a collage of works by Joanna Szproch, and also a selection of artists exploring the theme “SKIN”. Fore more info, see PORNCEPTUAL on Facebook.