Mortification of the flesh

By GREG COOK  |  September 26, 2007

American Catherine Opie challenges traditional madonna-and-child images, and thus traditional motherhood, with her 2004 photo self-portrait as an aging beefy lesbian mom nursing her angelic year-old blond son. The word “pervert” is faintly etched across her chest. France’s Aude du Pasquier Grall upends the fashion and porn industries’ usual gender roles in her videos portraying a woman photographer photographing a naked male model who develops a hard-on. “You’re not masculine enough,” she goads. “Be more of a man.” Australian Tracey Moffatt’s wickedly funny “Love” (2003) is a 21-minute montage of movie clips that go from romantic couples to men beating women to women shooting men.

“Global Feminisms” | Davis Museum, Wellesley College, 106 Central St, Wellesley | Through December 9
“Global Feminisms” mostly overlooks the thrilling, swaggering, funny, affirming, critical body of Grrl Power and crafty Stitch ’N Bitch–style Western feminist art of the past generation, part of what’s been called third-wave feminism. Just looking around this region over the past couple of years, you can find plenty of examples. There’s Misaki Kawai’s papier-mâché-dollhouse space station at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and Dana Schutz’s sassy paintings of self-actualizing women and naked dudes and Clare Rojas’s folksy paintings of powerful women and naked dudes at Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum. Members of the punky Providence feminist collectives Hive Archive and Dirt Palace were featured in the RISD Museum’s “Wunderground” exhibit. At this summer’s DeCordova Museum Annual, Samantha Fields filled a giant window with frilly petticoat-like curtains. Isabel Riley’s knit and quilted abstract sculptures were included in MassArt’s “Crafty” exhibit. Leslie Hall celebrated the glories of tacky middle-class-ladies’ fashion with her “Gem Sweaters” at the Museum School graduation show last year. Rachelle Beaudoin’s RISD graduation exhibition this spring critiqued popular fashion with photos of her meandering around Providence in shorts bearing slogans like “Unusually Wet Pussy” across the butt.

Maybe this absence is just a function of the show’s global inclusiveness. In Michele Magema’s 2002 video installation “Oye Oye,” the Zaire-born, France-based artist examines how Mobutu Sese Seko perverted ethnic identity to shore up his power in her homeland (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). A monitor on one side of a hall shows documentary videos of Mobutu watching public ethnic dances and parades. On the other side, a monitor shows Magema, from her neck to her knees, robotically marching. Zaire’s Mobutu-era flag lies on the floor between the two screens.

Egyptian-born, New York-based Ghada Amer presents stacks of boxes covered by white slipcovers embroidered with gold texts discussing women’s sexual pleasure. The exceedingly frank words are drawn from a manuscript that she writes “was written by a Muslim centuries ago, and is forbidden today, according to Muslim law. . . . It is very sad to see that this voice has now been silenced.”

Pakistan-born, Lexington-based Ambreen Butt, who exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts last fall and is the only local artist in this show, riffs on traditional Persian miniature style in three paintings of a woman fighting a dragon and demon from her 2005 I Need a Hero series. It’s meant as an allegory of a woman who was gang-raped in Pakistan with the approval of a local tribal council as punishment for her brother’s alleged adultery, and who subsequently successfully brought rape charges against the perpetrators. In the three paintings, however, Butt’s metaphor is obscure and her brushwork stiff. (The particulars of many of the works here are obscure without guidance from wall texts.)

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