“Slouching Toward 2000: The Politics of Gender”

Women & Their Work

Through the representation of bodies inscribed with or supplemented by texts, this traveling exhibition explores issues of gender, sexuality, race, and class. These visible, and for the most part legible, bodies speak critically about various kinds of stereotypes and social realities. Juried by Lucy Lippard. “Slouching Toward 2000: The Politics of Gender.” consists of work by Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and white women artists from Texas.

Many of the artists use personal and cultural narratives to show how gender and sexual stereotypes construct our identities as both subjects and objects. Unfortunately, too many of the works end up positioning their “subjects” as victims, while at the same time repudiating that position. For example, in Deanna Jane Miesch’s 1991 black and white photograph, the words, “Rape isn’t beautiful” are typed across an image of Bernini’s 17th-century sculpture, The Rape of Proserpina, questioning the tendency of traditional art-historical accounts to iconize and estheticize without examining a work’s ideological implications. Lisa S. Qualls’ “Modern Goddess” series, 1988, consists of three black and white photographs each of which depicts a crouching nude woman (two of them cropped at the neck) self-protectively covering her breasts and genitals. Qualls’ de-eroticization of these bodies leads the viewer to focus on the newsprintlike texts printed across them. These women are bound and imprisoned by texts that include generalized quotations about women’s restricted and oppressed position in society. The body as text speaks out against its own objectification and “upbringing” with such statements as “CONSIDERING THE WAY MOST OF US LEARNED ABOUT SEX, IT’S A WONDER WE CAN DO IT. OR HAVE ANY INTEREST IN DOING IT AT ALL,” while simultaneously visually reinforcing the restriction of women’s bodies and of their lives. These images speak to the difficulties women have establishing positive self-images after the “trauma” of gender and sexual socialization.

In “Slouching Toward 2000” images of an alternative female identity and the questioning of gender, sexual, and racial stereotypes also cut across media. In Presiding, 1991—a haunting, allegorical painting by Lynn M. Randolph—a nude woman sits alone in the middle of an enticing landscape. Her folded arms and steadfast gaze resist the tugging hand of death—a white skeleton who grips her ankle as she warms herself by a small fire—her strength and determination bespeaking a refusal to be positioned as an object. In a simpler and more direct manner, Susan Sponsler’s Barbie at 70, 1992, a double-exposed, slightly out-of-focus photograph of an aged Barbie with glasses, examines how the myths and images of beauty that are recycled throughout mass-culture relate to feelings of self-worth and empowerment.

In this exhibition, stereotypes are recalled and interrupted by images that attempt to examine sometimes in disturbing and illuminating ways, and at other times in naive and reductive ways—restrictive gender roles, destabilizing essentialist gender oppositions and the hierarchical and negative codes associated with them.

Therese Lichtenstein