• Beyond the Canvas

My mother died last night. So here I am turning to art as a coping mechanism, at least I think that's what's happening. This blog exists because of my mother. Not just because she put me on this earth, but because she instilled a love of art in me when a was a little girl. She'd take me to museums and art shows, our house was full of art books my brother and I would spend hours poring over. Mum liked to say I had 'the eye', the immediate ability to identify the work of an artist over another. Look at me, a wee Morellian connoisseuse in the making.

She'd always tell me which exhibitions I needed to go see in London, she often knew what was coming even before I did. She had such a brilliant and curious mind, she liked to be well-informed about the things she was passionate about. And every time I'd fly home to see her there would be at least a dozen newspaper cuttings she'd put aside for me to read. She was keen for me to stay connected with my Italian roots, insisted everyone else had learnt from our masters: Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Caravaggio, De Chirico, Morandi. Of course she was biased, all Italians are when it comes to art, but she was also extremely competent and open-minded.

When I was studying, mum was the first person I'd send my essays and dissertations to. She'd lie in bed reading them, underlining the odd word she couldn't understand with a pencil, then she'd call me to ask me what they meant. Your English is too difficult for me, she'd say. She always encouraged me, always motivated me to cultivate this passion, and thought I was 'going somewhere'. I guess all parents think that.

Good night mother, thank you for the many gifts you blessed me with. Rest in light and peace.

Roger van der Weyden

Portrait of a Lady, c. 1460

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art , Washington DC

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  • Beyond the Canvas

“My photography has always provided me with an opportunity to open myself up and see the world around me. And most of all, photography makes me look within.” - Laura Aguilar

In her series of self-portraits set in the rocky desert landscape of the American Southwest, Laura Aguilar used her body like a sculpture, she is a human monolith. Her large body is draped on a big boulder whose shape echoes hers. It's hard to say whether she felt at one with nature or whether she was trying to disappear into it. By turning the camera lens towards herself, an obese, lesbian woman of colour, she shone a light on the underrepresented and marginalised.

I'm looking at this image and I am overcome with emotion. This is such powerful and unapologetic work, there is something very poignant and poetic about it. Aguilar visualised her identity and shared her experience of the human condition by displaying her fleshy folds in a way that is both proud and vulnerable. I had not seen such psychologically intimate work in quite some time, this honest representation of the female body has really moved me.

More than 6 out 10 women, me included, feel negatively about their bodies. You don't necessarily know it at the time, but it starts early. When I was little, I'd look at my Barbie doll's completely disproportionate body and hope I'd become like that. Today, young girls have to contend with the relentless bombardment of photoshopped and sexualised images of women. It all adds to a pressure that can be hard to explain or rationalise. But it's there, and every day it chips away at our self-confidence.

#lauraaguilar #photography #femaleartist #queerartist #lgbt #chicanx #latinx #bodyimage #bodypolitics #lovethyself #art #contemporaryart #blog #artblog #beyondthecanvasblog

Laura Aguilar

Untitled #107, 2006

© Laura Aguilar Trust

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  • Beyond the Canvas

Revered by the public, reviled by the art establishment and eventually sold at auction for almost £1m, the Mona Lisa of kitsch was painted by a rather obscure Russian-born artist who had emigrated to South Africa. The sitter of this portrait is Monika Sing-Lee, 17 at the time, who was working at Tretchikoff's uncle’s launderette. This highly idealised icon of oriental beauty is said to be the most reproduced fine art prints in the world. Her bizarrely luminescent complexion and shimmering silk robe have adorned the living room walls of countless suburban homes in the 1950s and 1960s. With her lustrous black hair and sensuous red pout, and bar for that outlandish skin colour, she embodied the classic pin-up. So yes, to millions, she was an exotic object of desire, a fetish.

It's been an exhausting and alarming couple of weeks in terms of crimes against women in the media. Then again, I cannot remember the last time it wasn't.

Two days ago, a gunman killed 6 Asian-American women working at massage parlours in the Atlanta area. The suspect maintains his actions were not racially motivated. He allegedly targeted these women because they were a temptation for his sexual addiction. Sure, they were the problem.

Let me tell you what I see here. This killing spree smacks of racism, sexism and hatred towards sex workers (it is unclear whether the victims were in that line of business, but it's possible) all bundled up together. Crimes against the Asian community in general have gone up by 150% in the last 2 years and there is no question that the former president's racist rhetoric has fanned the flames. When it comes to these women, they are often trafficked and forced to work underground. Unless and until the industry is decriminalised, they will remain vulnerable and reluctant to report any crimes against them.

But what hope is there to unravel this systemic sexualised racism problem when law enforcement spokespeople think it's okay to say that the shooter was having 'a bad day'? Honestly, I despair.

#chinesegirl #tretchikoff #painting #portrait #kitsch #atlantashooting #violence #stopasianhate #blog #artblog #beyondthecanvasblog

Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff

Chinese Girl, 1951

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