Tanya Shirley – “The Female Artist: Living Bad a Man Yard”


Here are remarks presented by poet and scholar Tanya Shirley at the opening of “Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists,” on view at the National Gallery of Jamaica until August 8, 2015. [See previous post Art Exhibition: “Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists”.]

If my grandmother saw her children looking untidy she would say, “How you look like you a live bad a man yard so.” The aim of my talk this afternoon is to reclaim my grandmother’s phrase and apply it to the Jamaican art scene where Jamaica is the man’s yard and female artists through the simple act of creating art are being bad. However, I perceive this badness as a good thing: a subversive act of rebellion. My grandmother used the phrase to imply that her daughters looked as if they were being ill-treated by a man. One could argue that the phrase is a metaphor for how patriarchal strictures in our society still prevent female artists from gaining the maximum benefits that could be derived from their artistic output. [. . .]

[. . .] As female artists, when we create in an environment like this, we are constantly aware of the politics of going against the grain. Women are permitted to dabble in the arts as a hobby but when you brand yourself as a serious artist, when you have the audacity to exhibit your work and to spend countless hours creating art, it means that you run the risk of being perceived as a ‘bad’ woman, one who is perhaps neglecting the more important work of contributing to society via traditionally prescribed roles. [. . .] The term “women’s art” is still useful in societies where there is a drastic gender imbalance in the art world and it emerged at a historical juncture when feminists critics began exploring the under representation of art by women. The classification gives currency and validity to the existence of art by women. It encourages cultural critics to engage with multiple artists rather than examining the work of a female artist as an anomaly or a one-off production. However, too often the classification is reductive and as audiences and critics we are being encouraged to search for stereotypical commonalities in the art produced by women. [. . .]

[. . .] I view art as a political platform that can mirror a society as well as impel it to be greater. The artistic landscape of a country cannot be processed as a mirror if only one segment of that society participates in artistic production. The art on view today shows that women are using a vast array of media to create work that covers the gamut of societal issues and their perspectives though possibly informed by their experiences as women, are certainly not defined by same. We could go further to add that if we accept that gender is performative rather than biological then the whole notion of female art is open to multiple interpretations. Female art in the stereotypical sense of what women are expected to produce can therefore be performed by males. I won’t go further into that but I use it as another example of the challenges associated with appropriating the term “women’s art.”

For full article, see https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/tanya-shirley-the-female-artist-living-bad-a-man-yard/

[Image above: “Palimpsests” by Judith Salmon.]

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