The female body is one that is often politicized, stereotyped, idealised and misunderstood. Throughout history, artists – up-till-now most of whom have been male – have illustrated their vision of the perfect feminine beauty: an airbrushed, mythical being who, while undeniably lovely on their canvases, is not a real representation of womanhood. In Et Dieu Crea La Femme at Catherine Prevost in London, three contemporary artists re-position the female form, under an honest, sympathetic, feminine lens.
Et Dieu Crea La Femme translates into English as “and God created the woman”, in the case of this exhibition, that God – like the Ariana Grande song – is a woman, one that wishes to build women up, give them layers and champion them.
Upon entering the space, the first objects that strike your attention are Charlotte Colbert’s flocked ceramic sculptures. Soft and pink, they are larger than life illustration of dozens of breasts conjoined together. Clustered together like cells, she plays with the inversion and subversion of the inside and the outside, striking a material dialogue which shifts our perception of our own physicality and DNA. Both intriguing, and somewhat alarming, the works make us think about the biological side of female anatomy, and how the body actually functions.
Framing Colbert’s sculptures, a series of photographs by Maryam Eisler line the gallery walls. Within the images, a female nude is seen lying against an Icelandic backdrop. The O for Origin series was inspired by that landscape, one that is full of volcanoes living in icebergs and the Aurora Borealis, and that has inspired folkloric myths of Norsemen, goddesses and mythical creatures. Apparently, Icelandic culture is dominated by women, and in Eisler’s work, it is a couple of particular women who dominate the landscape, their pale flesh and womanly curves drawing all attention away from moss-covered rocks and onto their bodies. The women in Eisler’s photographs shield their face from the camera. Often burying their head in their hands, as if to hide away from prying eyes. Twenty-first century women, they are covered in tattoos and sometimes they are wearing a thin layer of sheer fabric, that almost draws attention to their nudity, instead of casting the gaze away from it.
As well as the O for Origin series, Eisler also exhibits a set of images titled Pas de Deux, which were shot far away from Iceland in a seventeenth century home in London’s East End. In these images, a ballerina performs for the camera, wearing nothing but her point shoes. Eisler’s photographs are made complete by Imagining Tina, photographs made “in dialogue with Edward Weston”, an American photographer known as one of the masters of twentieth century photography. These black and white images shield the woman’s face, with fans, hats and animal skeletons, creating an alluring and seductive feel to the photographs.
Rounding off the exhibition is the larger than life Pandemonia, a persona made by an anonymous London artist created from mass media imagery, who is then fed back to that very same media. Often appearing in best dressed lists, and in society pages of all the most exclusive London parties, Pandemonia is a twenty-first century construct of the idealised woman. She is both a myth and a brand, so stripping down for Et Dieu Crea La Femme comes as a little bit of a surprise. Within Venus, the Pandemonia appears nude before the camera, lying as though she is a Greek goddess from a renaissance painting, she appears toe be a mix of Botticelli’s Venus and Bridget Bardot, in other words, someone that you simply cannot ignore. And, being the twenty-first century icon that she is, Pandemonia’s appearance is made complete with a twenty-first century touch: a range of merchandise covered with the image of her face.
Et Dieu Crea La Femme allows the viewer to rethink femininity in an un-politicized and un-idealised light. Charlotte Colbert, Maryam Eisler and Pandemonia allow their subjects to speak on their own terms.
Et Dieu Crea La Femme is on display at Catherine Prevost Designs, 127 Sloane Street, London until 29 November 2019