The subject of women’s basic rights to autonomy over their own bodies is in the headlines yet again, due to the shocking developments with passing of restrictive abortion laws in Alabama over the past weeks. The move, which instantly evokes dystopian scenes from the Handmaid’s Tale, is just a part of a millennia old legacy in western society which continues to undermine and demonise women based on their bodies and ability to create life.
Artist Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf’s new exhibition, Daughters of Medusa, addresses this legacy through a series of bold, figurative paintings of women; both self- portraits and subjects Fontaine-Wolf knows. She explains:
“Medusa is a symbol of woman as the other. She’s a symbol for womanhood itself - Beautiful and pure yet also fearsome and monstrous. This image exists in many different forms and has been used to imprint the message that women’s power, and with this their bodies and their sexuality, must be contained and controlled by the patriarchal structures which dominate society.”
We can see these attitudes playing out continuously in much more subtle ways as well. Just the simple fact that there is still so much shame around menstruation and the menopause, despite it being a reality for half the worlds population, shows that women’s bodies are still not considered normal.
Daughters of Medusa features paintings inspired by the mythological characterisation of women’s bodies and their cycles, as well as personal stories and experiences. Through the conscious use of the female gaze she aims to give an empowering representation of womanhood. The paintings neither objectify nor demonise; they show women through the use of a loving female gaze, one which acknowledges this heavy legacy, whilst also celebrating women’s inherent power and beauty.
At times like this, it so important to have women representing each other, to present a richer and more multi-faceted image of womanhood. Ones that are inclusive of different facets of women’s experience.
“As women, we tend to be very critical of ourselves, but still have the ability to admire and appreciate the beauty in each other. What I would like to do with my work is to hold a mirror up to other women and show them the way that I see them. Celebrating them in their entirety - their sensuality and strength as well as their pain and vulnerability. “
Multi-award-winning artist, Rebecca is Vice President to the Society of Women Artists, founded in 1857, and has exhibited widely. Her work can be found in both public and private collections.