MUSE FOR MEDEA SERIES
4 wall-mounted sculptures, 1994
Exhibited on The Body Politic, curated by Colin Richards, Johannesburg Biennale, Gertrude Posel Galleries (1995) and Contemporary Art from South Africa, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (1999, catalogue).
In this series, I use the female body as a vehicle through which to explore notions of interior and exterior, containment and excess, form and formlessness, order and chaos. Drawing on feminist notions of abjection, I challenge dominant historical and contemporary western representations of the female body as a bounded system by rendering it as a site of rupture and transgression of the patriarchal order.
The series comprises front and back views of two female models, presented as four 3D wall-mounted sculptures.
They wear traditional white, lace-trimmed wedding dresses, whose smooth, stiff folds of fabric resemble the carved marble drapery of classical sculpture. The dresses are metonymic of the bounded, contained and regulated female body – a trope that can be traced back to Classical and neo-classical canons of female beauty emphasising proportion, harmony, symmetry and balance, and privileging values of unity, autonomy, closure, and totality. Similar principles apply to the painting tradition of the female nude, wherein the forms, poses and conventions work to shore up the ‘unruly’ female body, containing and regulating its sexuality. Within these conventions of western high art, the margins of the skin become the containing outer boundary demarcating the outside from the inside of the body, and defines its contours in the production of female ‘perfection’.
While the bride’s dress fabrics may be likened to external skins that contain the internal body, they are also sites from which the unruly female body erupts. Like the medical Venus (a collection of life-sized, anatomically correct 18th-century wax female bodies used for medical instruction), whose flayed stomach reveals her internal organs and reproductive system, in the Muse for Media series, the fabric-skin is violently ruptured, exploding the image of the bounded classical ideal female form. Exposed layers of viscera, organs, veins, muscle tissue and other marginal matter transgress the boundary of the containing skin dividing the body’s interior and exterior; self from other, in ways that evoke the grotesque and spill over into the obscene.