Introducing Pick of the Week: this week by Annie Gregoire

Every Monday on AHA’s blog you will now find Pick of the Week – our recommendations of things you can do to spice up the week ahead, be it with art, music, theatre, travelling, food or anything else! We will review the best exhibitions on show that week, note exciting upcoming events, and maybe inspire you to take a visit somewhere different or try something new – across the UK and the globe.

Pick of the Week will tell you the things to look out for and incorporate into your week, discuss people and places that inspire, or introduce interesting ideas and matters that will offer something to think about in the following days.

There is loads to look forward to to in 2014. In the coming fortnight don’t miss the V&A’s exhibition ‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900’, on until 19th Jan. You can even join us for a lecture, lunch and exhibition day for this show on Thursday. There will be opportunity to experience more of the country’s unbelievably rich cultural history – which most of us know embarrassingly little about – and learn about a pivotal period of world history in the British Museum’s ‘Ming: 50 years that changed China’ exhibition that opens in September. With a range of some of the finest and most intriguing objects you will have ever seen on display, it promises to be a sensational show.

A 15th Century Ming Cloisonée Jar © Trustees of the British Museum

Feminist issues remain incredibly important in the modern day but in all the discussion have we forgotten about the men? Grayson Perry, Jon Snow and Billy Bragg, among others, will be at the Southbank Centre’s ‘Being A Man’ festival at the end of the month, where they will be talking about just that. This look to be an exciting event and a platform for the important discussion of what often remains undiscussed. (Being A Man events taking place at Southbank Centre Fri 31 Jan- Sun 2 Feb)

Brazil will be talked about a lot this year and Roche Court arts centre and sculpture park in Wiltshire (a hidden gem of the south) will host an exhibition of new work by David Batchelor – bold and colourful sculpture that reveals his interest in Brazilian concrete art. (David Batchelor: Concretos, 8 Feb – 16 March 2014, Roche Court, Wilts)

Visit the blog on Mondays from now on to discover something to excite and enliven each week!

David Batchelor, "Contretos" at Roche Court. Photo: sculpture.uk.com.

In defence of feminism: by AHA alum Frankie Dytor

Feminism seems a bit passé nowadays. It belongs to a resentful minority, part of a slightly embarrassing episode in History. Women, on the whole, are now happily emancipated, and certainly do not need screaming bra burners to champion their cause. This is the attitude, I fear, that many take to the philosophy – I maintain that it is a philosophy, a set of values, despite its occasionally political agenda.  Certainly, this negative view is held by most adolescents, for whom the 70s is a forgettable era, rather than an actual memory. Mention your allegiance to the feminist cause to the average teenage boy and they recoil. You might as well add your membership to a right wing military organisation.

Deconstructing feminism

This misunderstanding is a serious problem. Feminism has become too attached to the extremity of the Second Wave – the Suffragettes, in contrast, belonging to the First Wave are generally respected. What they achieved – the vote- is solid and tangible. The Second Wave inspired a more general cultural change. And whilst it was important, crucial even, to female equality, it is not the only notable aspect of Feminism.  Feminism is now much more rounded.  The idea of female Suprematism is, rightly, a laughable notion. The state of Feminism now is the promotion of choice. Choice to stay at home, choice to go out and work.

But this article is not intended to display the social benefits of Feminism, but rather argue its remaining importance for Art. Feminism is important because of the reappraisal that it forces. It is not content to accept one way of looking at a picture, but will challenge and contest. It is therefore pivotal in ensuring the History of Art is not determined by individuals of power. Manet’s ‘Olympia’, for me certainly, remains the clearest example of the utility of a Feminist approach.

Manet's Olympia: examining the gaze

Much has been written about the gaze of Olympia, the  sad and vulnerable prostitute that Manet has displayed (proclaimed?) on the canvas before us. Critics of Feminism might assume that a Feminist approach would be concerned with trumpeting the evidence of male oppression upon the figure. Certainly, that may be one aspect. You could read Olympia as a victim of bourgeois hierarchy, fighting the oppressors through her insistence on looking straight out, confronting every member of the Salon.  But is this Manet’s real concern? Is he not instead fundamentally rewriting the rules of the artist-model relationship? Woman as Muse had  dominated Western Art for centuries. Beauty, slowly abstracted from the actuality of the body, has been shown through the female form for both earthly and divine purposes. In her template, therefore, Olympia is a Goddess. But in her substance she remains a street walker. She may be receiving flowers, but these are wrapped in cheap newspaper. The sordid oozes in the painting. Whether Manet feels any empathy for her situation, I do not know. She is raised just high enough to remain out of compassionate reach, and it is Olympia, the model, who watches Manet, the artist. It is this critical eye that flips the traditional relationship on its head. And it is feminism that examines this issue. Feminism that is interested in human relations, in the transference of power.

Feminism is like ultimately ‘Olympia’. It will not look away, and indeed it forces us to look again, to challenge accepted culture. It fights against complacency, protests against accepted ways of seeing. And for that, it still matters a lot.

The Guerilla Girls, champions of angry Feminism