Next week I will be launching my latest solo show of prints, FundaMattel: If Barbie Wore a Burqua. Many of you have been asking what it’s all about so I thought I’d put down a few words by way of explanation. This particular series of prints sprang from interactions I was having with burqua clad women in my neighbourhood and my ESL classroom. I began reflecting on my attitudes to the burqua and the women who wear it.
I have never felt entirely comfortable with the idea that women who wear the burqua choose to do so out of blind religious faith or compliance with patriarchal codes of behaviour, that they are experiencing some sort of false consciousness seems to me rather patronising and simplistic. Many of the women in my neighbourhood and in my language classes were certainly very spirited people and yet it seemed the burqua was an encumbrance to their physical expression. I tried to imagine what they might become were they not so encumbered. I was thinking about control of women’s bodies and their ability to be active and I realised the burqua didn’t have a monopoly on restriction of women. I began to consider Barbie and the message she sends to little girls about the kind of woman they can be. It seemed to me that both barbie and the burqua were extreme examples of constructed femininity and neither of them had much to do with a human being who could fully realise their human potential. Barbie is renown for her costume changes, but few of them allow her to engage in physically active pass times, indeed the physiology of Barbie is such that were she a real woman she would be unable to stand due to her ill-proportioned body. Barbie is impossible and leading an active life in a burqua is also damn near impossible, it would appear. I started to try to imagine burqua clad women doing active things like sports and the project just grew from there. Some of the images are very funny, I made them with the intention of using humour to unveil both western attitudes to the burqua and the garments limiting effects on women’s choices. Humour can be a very powerful tool in opening us up to seeing in a new way. I have no intention to ridicule the women themselves, rather this is a project about asking questions and exposing where the power really lies. John Lennon said “Woman is the nigger of the world,” that is still true today and it’s a power relationship I’m trying to reveal in these works .
The graphic simplicity and power of the lino print lends itself well to this project. I love comics and graphic novels and sometimes I imagined these impossible burquas as superheroes, certainly they would need to have superpowers to do what they do (synchronised swimming for example). There is an Iranian comic book artist and illustrator, Marjane Satrapi, whose work I love, and while she was not a direct influence on this project there may be certain stylistic or thematic similarities.
The works in this show were made as limited edition prints but then I started to feel that I wanted to make gifts of the prints for my neighbourhood and my city so I started making paste-ups of the images and putting them up in city lanes, sometimes in masses or individually as little surprises for intrepid backstreet wanderers. Street art is a great equaliser, it’s open to us all to create and to view as opposed to the gallery system which can be alienating to some viewers and exclusive of some artists.
I hope viewers will reflect on these works with an open heart, ask themselves questions about their own beliefs and about the various social codes that attempt to govern women. Most of all I want people who see these works to laugh because laughter is subversive!