Tag Archives: sexism

Gorilla carrying off a woman

I thought that I should look closely at something that I hate; Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887, a bronze sculpture. It won a medal in the Paris Salon of that year. Most people in Melbourne, or Montreal or various other cities would be familiar with Frémiet’s Jeanne D’Arc. In Melbourne it stands, in a strange pairing, with Boehm’s St. George outside the State Library.


Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887

Frémiet was a nineteenth century French sculptor who specialised in animal sculptures. I find some nineteenth century sculpture ridiculous; man’s battle with monster from his unconscious that is, in retrospect, in the post-Freudian world, so obvious. But Frémiet’s sculpture is far worse than any sexual fantasy because this isn’t simply a prototype King Kong. The ape is carrying a stone hand axe. The ape as primitive tool maker means that this sculpture is perpetrating the ugliest of racist stereotypes. Along with the idea of women as property that foreigners want to steal.

The primeval scene is not referencing classical or biblical mythology but a fantasy of pre-history. It is the kind of thing that you might expect on the cover of one of an old Tarzan books from the 1960s. It is not the kind of image that art galleries collect today. If you tried to sell that kind of shit today there would be a campaign to put a stop to your business because it is both racist and sexist.

There is a snake disappearing under the rock. The obsessive details and the quality of the modelling are enough to save the work but not enough to keep it out of storage at the NGV where I hope it spends most of its time.

Fantasy art and visionary art are now considered as a separate category to serious art but Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is a reminder that this was not always the case. Fantasy art uses broad metaphors, if they are metaphors, and not symbols or icons. It makes me wonder if the change of art styles in modernism was about a change in meaning expressed than in an outward appearance. The rejection of works like Frémiet and what they meant and resulted in art searching for a different meaning and look. Modernism was about looking for a new subject and not a new way of depicting an old subject.

If I were to write such a grand history of art I would write about the crisis of meaning that lead to modern art. ‘Meaning’ is a word that could encompass all those fuzzy words like ‘spirituality,’ ‘truth’ and ‘beauty.’ For there was a crisis of meaning in European art due to increasing reports and evidence of death of the one, true God; the same God that was meant to be the foundation of European culture. Meaning in art and the meaning of art started to crumble and the obvious racist fantasy presented in Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is now best seen as evidence of this disintegration. The patriarchy and its ugly irrational racism in bronze.


The Counihan Gallery’s Gender Bias

Is reverse discrimination over for the Counihan Gallery’s annual Women’s Salon?

Pinar Gencturk reports in the Moreland Community News (5/8/08 Fairfax Community News Network) that Moreland Council has presented an agenda item “to change the Women’s Open Salon art exhibition to a bi-annual event and initiate an open salon art exhibition for men and women to showcase their work.”

In the two decades since the Women’s Salon started the position of women in the art world has changed considerably both for women artists and for women working in galleries. The Women’s Salon has assisted in the emergence of many notable artists, for example Nusra Latif Qureshi, Moreland should take credit for, in part, changing the situation for women in Australian arts. In the last two decades the art world has rigorously examined gender issues, promoted the work of women artists and is now probably one of the least sexist areas human activity in Australia.

So there is now no need for Moreland Council to provide special assistance to women artists in the area. The Women’s Salon will soon be, if it isn’t already, a redundant anachronism; this year Brunswick Arts, in the face of so many all women shows, organized an exhibition of all male artists. If the Women’s Salon does not aspire to make itself redundant then it will become an issue of sexism.

The Guerrilla Girls made a name for themselves in the 1980s by listing the names of female artists exhibited in certain galleries or mentioned in art magazines to expose sexism in the art world. Following the example of the Guerrilla Girls I will divide the names according to gender of the entire artists listed in the Counihan Gallery exhibition programs 2007 & 2008.

Female Artists:

Helen Anderson, Maree Azzopardi, Ros Bandt, Liliana Barbieri, Hannah Bertram, Robyn Cerretti, Maree Clarke, Haya Cohen, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Kate Cotching, Mary-Louise Edwards, Genevieve Grieves, Mandy Gunn, Felicity Rose Hardy, Zsuzsanna Hase, Yolanda Juen, Chako Kato, Jillian Kelliee, Susan Knight, Kathe Kollwitz, Taryn Lee-Styre, Sarina Lirosi, X de Medici, Virginia Miller, Tomiko Miyazawa, Maria Pena, Deborah Paauwe, Luciana Perin, Sonya G Peters, Alex Martinis Roe, Naomi Schwartz, Anne Smith, Wilma Tabacco, Deb Taylor, Georgia Thorpe, Fatemeh Vafaeinejad, Marjana Vuk-Nikic, Claire Watson, Vicky West, Ilka White, Xiao Yu Bai

Male Artists:

Tony Adams, Jarrod Atkinson, Noel Counihan, Lucky Edwards, William Eicholtz, Douglas Kirwan, Goya, Grosz, Gary Lee, Trevor Mein, Millet, Dixon Patten, Amer Rashad, Vin Ryan, Darren Wardle, Yakov Zaper

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