Exiled and Female: Visualising identity in the work of women artists

Carmen Gaitán Salinas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, cagaitan@ucm.es

Mari Paz Balibrea, Birkbeck, University of London, m.balibrea@bbk.ac.uk

In the contemporary world, a great number of people have had to flee their homelands, heading to other countries, for political reasons. Dissidences caused by wars and authoritarian governments have jeopardised people’s lives, requiring them to find new homes in exile. Almost every sector of society that has confronted the ruling powers has been exposed to this situation. While both male and female artists have fled, the experience of women has traditionally been ignored by historiography, and art histories have not been an exception. Women too have had to live in exile as a consequence of the World Wars, the Spanish Civil War, Latin American coups d’état or the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. Their identities have been transformed through the experience of exile, sometimes to reinforce, other times to problematise their previous assumptions about their national identity.

For many years, how these transformations have been represented in their artistic works has barely been studied. Cultural, Gender, and Exile and Diaspora studies have in recent years played a central role in helping us to recover those lives and value the artistic work those women produced. Following on the footsteps of these approaches, this panel aims to bring together an interdisciplinary group of speakers to examine the concept of identity as represented in the visual artistic work of exiled women.

Hilde doesn’t exist: Exiled and female at the Bauhaus and beyond

Sara Torres Vega (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Twice Hilde is the title of two different artworks by Karl Hubbuch. In each of the paintings, Hilde Isai Hubbuch appears twice: seated and impatient; standing with awe, pride and sexual availability. Karl Hubbuch presents his then wife Hilde in these mysterious artworks that now live at the Pinakothek der Moderne, München and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. She exists in the histories of art because Karl saw her. Hilde is, however, an artist in her own right. She brings herself to existence through her experimental photographic work. Hilde entered Peterhans’ photography class at the Bauhaus as a guest student, refused to take exams and avoided paying the 180 Marks for tuition (in contrast to the 150 Marks that male students paid). She divorced Karl and fled to Austria, then London, then New York. While her status as an artist is still under scrutiny, Hilde took care of her legacy through donating her photographs to the Museum of Modern Art and The Getty. This paper travels with Hilde, wondering about the bias of her story if we only see her through the lens of others: the artist that saw her as a model, the migration papers that filter her identity, and the art institutions that own her work but don’t show it. Throughout the paper, the exercise of questioning Hilde’s very existence finds parallel stories that bring about broader questions about patterns of exclusion in modernity.

Strolling along the Green Line: Exploring narratives of exile, identity and belonging within a divided capital

Maria Photiou (University of Derby)

Nicosia, the divided capital city of Cyprus, is a place marked by colonialism, anticolonialism and the ethnic conflict that has left scars on its topography. Divided by the Green Line borders, Nicosia is one of the most militarised areas in the world. It is also a place where nationalism and masculinity still prevail in local politics. This paper will examine the work of exiled women artists who explore in their practice the concept of ‘borders’ and their approach in embodying a physical connection to the border.

For women artists in Cyprus, strolling along the borders of their divided homeland can be seen as a politicised action, as they enter a domain that has been predominantly controlled by masculinised politics. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, this paper will examine the process by which artists Christina Georgiou and Marianna Christofides use the borders of their hometown as a space to create visual interventions to explore the geopolitical partition of their homeland. Their work provides important insights into the post-1974 period, particularly on issues of space and place, identity, borders (both physical and psychological) and the sense of belonging.

In entering the space of the enclosed city and strolling along its borders, women artists have used artistic strategies to reclaim it. The site-specific interventions offer new perspectives into understanding past histories and create new narratives of exile and belonging. Women artists’ reconceptions of place can offer new understandings of seeing and experiencing divided cities.

Home and History: The embodiment of memory and exiled longing in the work of María Magdalena Campos-Pons

Gwen A. Unger (Columbia University)

This paper presents a study of two works by María Magdalena Campos-Pons, an Afro-Cuban artist living and working in the US, Umbilical Cord (1991) and Esa palabra MAR…. (2008). While Campos-Pons’ practice is varied, in this paper I focus on specific works that are fusions of photography, installation and performance. Campos-Pons uses her body and her family as repositories of memory and creates altars to them through installation in many of her works. By using her family and Orishas [spirits] as models, she invokes the memory of all the ancestors and lost histories of peoples who were displaced through the middle passage. The construction of altars around these intimate, personal figures conflates the boundary between past/present, living/dead and fiction/truth. Playing with these boundaries, the artistic practice around imagining Afro-Cuban religions and history allows for Campos-Pons to solidify a kind of kinship with Afro-Cuban women of the past, present and future. In this essay, I connect these works through their portrayals of fragmentation and subversion of it, through the body and the movement of the body in water as a connecting force. As such, I contend that these works enact spaces of belonging, or home, and also rewrite hegemonic history through the performance of diasporic memory. Through the use of photography as documentation of performative acts, Campos-Pons creates an archive of the diaspora. By breaking through the frame and creating connection through different bodies, Campos-Pons constructs an affective kinship to her family, culture and country while in exile in the US.

Fiona Tan’s Provenance (2008): Inhabiting the world as a ‘professional foreigner’

Vivian K. Sheng (The University of Hong Kong)

This paper considers Fiona Tan’s 2008 work Provenance – six filmic portraits of ordinary residents in Amsterdam of diverse professional and ethnic backgrounds, which probe into the notion of provenance in an unprecedentedly multicultural and multi-ethnic globalising circumstance. The work forges interesting dialogues with Tan’s own experience of transnational inhabitation and cross-cultural exchanges. Tan was born in Indonesia to a Chinese Indonesian father and an Australian mother. In her early childhood, her family was forced to flee from Suharto’s military regime and relocate to Melbourne. Tan eventually made Amsterdam her home – the place where she works and resides. She often considers herself a ‘professional foreigner’ devoid of an unambiguous origin, which enables her to investigate multiple localities and cultures via physical research and actual experience unburdened by preconceived conventions. In Provenance, Tan brings to the fore a way of perceiving and apprehending one’s origins and histories not built upon established sociocultural and geopolitical narratives, but on acquired knowledge. This knowledge arises through embodied engagement and identification with people’s quotidian activities in the intimate surroundings of private homes from various shifting positions and angles. This paper examines in what ways Tan’s work articulates an ethical position of being a professional foreigner permanently ‘in exile’, disrupting any consistent and coherent conception of provenance – when and where people or things originally came from; and how Tan’s filmic portraits render identity and home relational and transformative, constituted and reconstituted through, as feminist philosopher Allison Weir suggests, constituted and reconstituted through relations of power and mutability.





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