Damned if I do; damned if I don’t. A paradox of daily existence surrounding the haunted doublings that emerge from society’s double standards. The virgin-whore, the untouchable priestess, the innocent temptress. A series of female archetypes, their potential power held in check by social conditions.
The exhibition Damned If I Do challenges the social straightjacketing of the patriarchal system, bringing together work across a range of media by a group of women artists exploring the female experience, the body, and the gaze. The artists challenge and subvert the hypersexualisation of the female body in Western culture, looking to undermine problematic art historical tropes and traditions surrounding the female nude.
Across the show, body parts melt together in visceral assemblages. Masked lovers gaze into surreal reflections. A half-eaten apple is held to an open mouth. Fingers intimately grasp the inner folds of an ear. Damned If I Do is both expression and interrogation of a distinctly feminine visual vernacular, binding these artists together while leaving space for individual concerns and approaches.
A rich vein of folklore, religion, and mythology is woven throughout the exhibition. Dreamscapes emerge replete with symbolism and surreal imagery, pointing to the importance of worldmaking and the re-telling of stories to address ingrained gendered imbalances. The role of organised religion is hinted at in the titular evocation of damnation, as well as in visual references to the crucifix, occult symbols, and the rapture.
Many of the artists draw on autobiographical elements to investigate questions of identity and the self. There is evidence of a complex interplay of interiority and exteriority, threading the weight of the emotional and psychological into the physical realm, with a consideration of material space and the corporeality of the body. The material presence and tactility of the artwork is a key concern for several artists in the show, bringing the photographic medium into three-dimensional space, for example, or utilising a handmade multi-surfaced aesthetic.
A shared sense of humour and a lightness of touch characterise these artists’ collective approaches. Narratives are hinted at, backstories emerge and fade, conclusions are never quite reached. These are worlds seen through a female gaze – one imbued with a fierce awareness of the cultural legacy left by the dominance of the male viewpoint. Meeting head-on the complicated relationships between voyeurism and expressions of female sexuality, Damned If I Do embraces the power of sensuality and opens up the possibilities of a new way of looking.