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By letterhead | June 4, 2008
Recently, I was at the Brooklyn Museum to see the exhibit of Japanese pop-artist Takashi Murakami, and found that it made an interesting comparison to the Ghada Amer exhibit in the museum’s “feminist wing” next door.
More important, I was there with my dear friend Cindy — a marketing whiz extraordinaire who is one of the savviest most down-to-earth people I know.
She manages to walk the finest of gossamer lines: being completely immune to hype and intolerant of contrivance, while being totally earnest and not the least bit jaded. (She is from the Midwest after all… as she says… “Get with it baby! It’s all happening in the Prairie!”)
After seeing Murakami, we walked across the hall, and as we entered the “Center for Feminist Art,” she rolled her eyes and just said, “No, no, no, no.”
Then, when we saw the big “HERSTORY” emblazoned on the wall, she let out a groan, followed by, “I. hate. this. It. is. such. bull. shit.”
Then, she related to me the following (her)story…
You Have Tits? I Have Tits!
Cindy told me:
So this woman colleague comes into my office and sits down, and she says: “Do you believe in women helping women?”
I told her that was a really bad place to start, but go ahead.
She said that she’d had this project on her desk for months, but that she’d been pulled in a dozen different directions, and she’d been traveling, and bla bla bla, and the project “got away from her”… and now her calendar was totally jammed, but she was up against a deadline and needed someone to take over pieces of the project to get it finished. And she knew I was really busy too… but could I help?… you know, because we’re both women and we should be supporting each other.
I said: “So let me get this straight. You think that because I have tits and you have tits, somehow that makes me obligated to cover your ass? I’ll tell you the same thing I’d tell any man who walked in here with the same question: NO”
Girl Power… ACTIVATE!
Right when we walked into the Murakami exhibit, Cindy was totally enamored. She laughed out loud: “I love it! He’s got quite the girl power thing going on.”
And boy does he. (no pun intended) One of our favorite pieces was entitled Second Mission Project ko2 — a powernymph who can fold her self up into a rocket ship:
Needle and Dread
By contrast, across the hall in the feminist wing, there is Egyptian-born Ghada Amer, who’s work is completely pickled in rhetoric. She embroiders erotic imagery onto canvass (and other materials)… for some reason thinking that sitting hour after hour laboring with a needle and thread is an effective way to “protest the tyranny” of housework.
Showing, at least, that she has a flair for irony. (no starch intended)
But in sum, the work is overwrought and hyper-intellectual, the kind of art where the concept behind it is more important than the aesthetics of the work itself. The work, in fact, loses a great deal of its meaning when shorn of political context. In effect, it cannot speak for itself because the artist is SHOUTING SO DAMN MUCH!
Ready, Set, Get Off!
Personally, Id rather be riding my rocket boobs to inter-galactic triumph than sitting around diddling my discontent with a needle and thread, which sounds a bit masochistic to me.
I get the fact that Ms. Amer grew up in different cultural circumstances — which were undeniably difficult, even dangerous, for women. And I get that she is addressing her experiences through her art.
My issue is that her aesthetic is masturbatory… and she’s too possessive with her creation… she’s gotta keep at least one finger in it at all times. So to speak.
She can’t give her work to the audience on its own terms and let the two of them go off and have their own relationship. She’s like a proverbial third wheel tagging along on a date — her political monologue constantly braying in the background. One gets the distinct impression that her inner agenda is to make her own “voice” the real center of attention.
I Showed You Mine…
I think this little juxtaposition sums up a key problem of our pandering, co-dependent, identity-base culture. It’s too self-conscious… dare I say self-obsessed?
It’s self-idolatrous, unlike “girl power,” which is an exercise in straightforward, unselfconscious, unmediated power that’s based within her person, rather than her political significance. Girl power is not contingent on anything.
Today’s “feminism,” however, is contingent on capitulation and validation by others. It’s the “I have tits you have tits” world of quid pro quos in which I am the center of my universe, and your obligations to me are assumed rather than earned. It’s enough to make you want to scream… in true shagadelic fashion… “Oh behave!”
Anyone with an ounce of “girl power” would have blasted through that project while sitting in First Class and sipping champagne, or gotten a budget for an assistant and delegated it months ago, or simply marched into the boss’s office and said “I need an extension”… anything other than making some wimpy passive-aggressive request that plays on guilt and the fear of being called a meanie if you don’t help a sister out.
That. is. manipulative. bull. shit. And if that’s all that’s left of feminism, then you can toss a shovelful of dirt on it, because when “empowering” is just another word for “enabling” then it’s pretty much useless.
Give me girl power any day… no pain no gain… feel the after-burn!
There, I showed you mine. Now show me yours… tell me what a sexist putz I am.