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Bambi Johnson

An artist’s response: What is contemporary feminism?

Canal, 2014, C-type print

Canal, 2014, C-type print

As a multidisciplinary artist, my work spans across many different mediums and is thematically driven by my desire to express natural compulsions of contemporary feminism.  I draw from my experiences of the unconscious body to indemnify, or in other words come to terms with my experiences as a woman through the act of transference.  

When I consider with a critical lens, the phenomenon of contemporary feminism within the realm of women’s arts practice, I have to recall that contemporary in essence is a progressive term and nothing without what it has been before. That is to say that much of what we do today as artists is built right up off the back of feminist artists of the past.

An important scope of questions that is raised when contemplating past to present artists surrounds the evolution of ideas and motifs and how they are now constructed, represented and viewed within our changing society. Perhaps the past and present run parallel or in opposition, they drive a strike through each other nevertheless, many viewers of contemporary feminist art are able to recognise recurring motifs in women’s art over time and this must be regarded as a process of evolution itself with an impetus placed on investigating the changing nuances of women’s reality.

Whilst these shifts in women’s realities are of great interest to me in my practice, particularly with the motifs I create harking back to leading feminist artists such as Hannah Wilke and Louise Bourgeois, perhaps my greatest concern for foci does not rest on pedestrian feminist pursuits of equal opportunity between the sexes nor
liberation or reoccurrence of traditional roles but rather what I see as the greatest threat to contemporary feminism: the woman against woman mentality.

It is this mindset that is rooted in a misconception of what it means to be a feminist today and is feted amid women of all ages. A contemporary feminist, whom is many things, must be a supporter of women’s rights to live life as they choose regardless of difference. As a passionate artist it is this prevailing sentiment that I hope can be attached to contemporary feminism today simply by readdressing and affirming the meaning of being a feminist. Something I myself didn’t come to understand until my early twenties. 

The Hanging II, 2014, C-type print

The Hanging II, 2014, C-type print

Pretty Lips, 2014, polymer clay

Pretty Lips, 2014, polymer clay

Untitled II, 2014, Pigment Ink on rag

Untitled II, 2014, Pigment Ink on rag

I recall believing early on that women’s rights were no different to any human rights and that women’s experiences just like men’s in their own way, are shared and innate. It is this belief: in the uniqueness of womanhood that founds my rationale today that feminism belongs to women. That’s not to exclude members of the transgender and non-binary community, nor men who support our messages and endeavors and wish to contribute. What I feel is that women are ultimately responsible for their
own representation, for how we view and treat each other and ourselves. Women about women: for women. There is a point however when ideas and debates are no longer gender based, when they cross over to matters of humanity as a whole. 

Considering feminism within the context of my own work, the female form and experience is what initiates my practice. The nuances of femininity and how there is always some kind of pain and sacrifice to being a woman is a powerful sentiment for investigation. Through my use of different materials and forms I intend to enable equal access for contemplation from all people, regardless of gender-based experience.

I remember showing Internus 2014 to a male friend and the first thing he saw was a dick and balls. I smiled because of course that was what he would see from his perspective and personal experience with gender. It is however, women that are most often the first to pick up on the subtleties in my work and after all, that is in its very nature. 

Internus, 2014, Inkjet print

Internus, 2014, Inkjet print