Times are changing. The patriarchal leadership that has been ruling for centuries is slowly but steadily decaying and women are finally getting their power back. Forget about the angry feminists stereotype, that’s just another tool to feed the patriarchal propaganda, we witness the rise of cultivated, independent, creative women that are braking through the system for their elevated consciousness, their intuitive intelligence and their guts. The rise of a matriarchal, feminine, energy that inspires alternative ways of consumption, holistic economics, kindness towards the planet and the self (see the rise of the wellness industry, currently bigger than the pharmaceutical business), conservation and community against solipsism and destruction is undeniable. And thus are the great achievements reached in women rights by Countries still pretty much dominated by the toxic, capitalist, male-centered matrix.
It is not by chance that forty-two of the seventy-nine artists taking part in the 58th International Art Exhibition of Venice Biennale opened earlier this month are women—that’s 53%. In 2015, the number of solo female participants was 33%, and in 2017 was 35%. Since forever, Venice Biennale has been an institution that offers a lucid account on the Zeitgeist of our time by showcasing the developments and changes in the social and cultural customs through the highest forms of human artistic expression, eventually suggesting what the next phase in the history of mankind could be. To echo the title of this year exhibition “May You live in Interesting Times”, curated by Ralph Rugoff, those are certainly interesting times for being a woman and being an artist called to represent your Country in front of the rest of the world. Golden Lion-awarded Lithuanian artists Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte did a wonderful job with it, by piercing through our desensitized and egocentric body-mind system through Sun & Sea (Marina), an opera performance on an artificial beach, in which swim suited performers break from sunbathing to sing warnings of ecological disaster, revealing our frivolous inertia in front of the climate change emergency.
Animated with the same spirit the Nordic Pavilion meditates on the varied relationships between the human and the non-human in an age where mass extinction and pollution are threatening the life on Earth. In this context the video-cum-installation by the Finnish female artist duo Nabbteeri is particularly interesting as it integrates organic matter gathered by the artists across the Giardini to create self-maintaining ecosystems in lifeless environments and broadcasts imaginative narratives in a world ran by plants, bacteria etc… where humans are the “small life forms”.
Another knock to our senses are the two installations by the Indian artist Shilpa Gupta. ‘For, in your tongue, I cannot fit,’ in the Arsenale features suspended microphones and texts perforated by metal spikes that give voice to 100 poets who have been jailed through time for their writing or their beliefs. Untitled, on show in the Central Pavilion consists in a mechanical residential gate with exaggerated spikes that swings back and forth of its own accord, hitting the gallery wall aggressively and eventually cracking and breaking it, creating the feeling of a hole in the brain. In the same room, Romanian artist Andra Ursuta presents Divorce Dump, a series of trashcans in the form of human ribcages containing within their skeletal frames items that the artist has kept after her divorce. In discarding these memory-laden objects Urusuta puts on display the deeply private emotional and physical process of parting with remnants of a failed marriage. Peaking out Mexican artist Teresa Margolles’s wall for the victims of drug-related criminality that pervade her home country, Frida Orupabo digital collages strongly impact on the visitor’s eye. The Norwegian artist’s central concerns is the depiction of the black female body, explored through large scale figurative paper collages held together with split pins akin to the mechanics of shadow puppets that question the authority of the gaze and recall colonial violence.
Topics such as the constraints that society places on women, sexism, phallocentrism, and sexual violence come into focus in the solo show of Renate Bertlmann for the Austrian Pavilion. Titled “Discordo ergo Sum”, a reference to Cartesian’s famous cogito, the radical artist uses the female body as a political vehicle to manifest her dissent towards the abuses, the misconceptions and stereotypes with which women have been tortured throughout the years—all of which she addresses with wit, and no small amount of dark humor through film, photography, painting, and sculpture. A glass garden of bloody red roses seems to have grown in the middle of the Pavilion from all the pain that women have suffered, a strong message that the feminine always rise upon tragedy with immense strength and beauty.
Whimsical and delicate, yet deeply touching, the work of Cathy Wilkes for the British Pavilion inchoate visions of interiors and places of loss, and meditates on the cycle of life and death. Alienated sculptures of women whose thin bodies seem to disappear are placed across the rooms, their thin frames seem to convey a renounce to live, the will to disappear, and yet their pregnant bellies indicate the generating and unstoppable force of creation that women embody above all things with the possibility of a rebirth in melancholy. In a similar dreamy attitude, Laure Prouvost invites visitors to plunge into a utopian escapist journey. For her project for the French Pavilion the artist has imagined a liquid and tentacular environment, questioning who we are, where we come from and where we are going. The exhibition takes the form of an invitation to melt into the different unveiled and shared realities intermingling through video, sculpture and performances that challenge the representation of a fluid and globalized world, made of exchanges, connectivity, and discrepancies.
Multiple realities meet also in the installations of Haris Epaminonda, who has won the Silver lion for a Promising Young Participant. The Cypriot artist constructs carefully organized assemblages from fragmented memories, historical and imagined connections, proving that history is made of a web of personal projections with open meanings. Back to a more solid ground, the work of Shakuntala Kulkarni for the Indian Pavilion, that celebrates 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi, presents tribal amour for women as a form of protection and empowerment. Made in bamboo, a material used extensively to construct panels for Gandhi conferences, those structures are for peaceful warriors as the primal element would break at any violent attack, but their elaborate design gives them a noble and imposing quality, graceful as the women’s soul.
Emotions and craftsmanship intertwine in the Saudi Pavilion that presents the installation After Illusion by Zahrah Al-Ghamdi. The land artist starts from local leather, a medium that recalls abandoned spaces from her childhood, and reshapes it in 52.000 pieces that give it a new life by making it part of her present space, and thus her future memory. This personal motif is allegory to the Saudi national identity caught between tradition and progress in an ongoing process of being ‘defined’. Last but not least Nujoom Alghanem introduces us to Arabic poetry with Passage, her installation for the UAE Pavilion. Moving from her quintessential poem The Passerby Collects the Moonlight, Alghanem builds up a narrative split in two videos, one “real” and one “fictional” showcasing two facets of the same story that connect the director, the actress and the fictional character plaid by the artist in an experience of shared dualities: the hidden and the revealed, fragility and power, belonging and displacement.
The women artists in the 58th International Art Exhibition of Venice Biennale have chosen bravery instead of perfection, the bravery to peacefully fight with their ideals and unique creativity against all those forces that shut down the voice of the feminine for centuries and still try to keep it quite. The shift from patriarchy to matriarchy is not something that happens overnight, we are far to see the light, and yet it seems we may live in interesting, brighter, times.