The Ties That Bind
A collaboration between Kim Putnam and Tya Anthony
Our collaborative piece, The Ties that Bind, speaks to the commonality of experiences shared between women who are racially different. The corset is a metaphor for the restrictive way our society and culture have viewed women throughout history as well as the connection between women. Our shared experiences bind us together and make us a stronger collective whole. Ours is not a new partnership, Tya and I have collaborated in past art installations. In formulating our current collaboration, we focused on our strengths as individual artists and came up with an idea that pulled together our areas of expertise. As female artists, our work often focuses on gender identity, objectification and inequality. We have stayed connected and in communication throughout the Coronavirus lock down; however, it has impacted our ability to access our traditional studio spaces.
In My Shoes
In My Shoes is a multi year exploration into the world of fashion and advertising’s portrayal of women. The ‘Vagina Slipper’ series which is featured in this exhibition is inspired by Jean Kilbourne’s documentary films Killing Us Softly, Still Killing Us Softly and Killing Us Softly 3 as well as her TEDX Talk on The Dangerous Ways Advertising Sees Women at Lafayette College.
I started the series by research styles of shoes and delving into my own closet and affection for shoes. After getting the concepts down on paper, I then constructed my ‘slippers’ in porcelain clay, starting with the vagina and building the shoe around it. Next came the designing of the shoe brand I call The Vulva. This show includes three different ‘mock’ advertisement posters along with images of different shoe styles using silkscreen printing.
Advertising both past and present show a casual attitude toward sex while marketing women as a product. The fashion industry through advertising, be it in television, print or over the internet, continues to dehumanize the female form and portrays it as an object on display. In My Shoes invites the viewer to metaphorically place themselves in the shoes of a woman, to contemplate how society views the female gender and how even today this objectification continues.
If Walls Could Talk
The installation If Walls Could Talk and the sound piece Silent Conversations is my response to the Kavanaugh hearings that took place in 2018. Both were created for all the women who were victims of sexual assault and for those who ‘might’ have been – it is meant to draw attention to what goes on behind closed doors. For me as well as the women who helped create and participate in Silent Conversations, the hearings and more specifically the testimony by both Ford and Kavanaugh brought back long forgotten memories about situations and incidents that happened when we were younger women. Things that in retrospect were not okay; things that at the time were either laughed off, excused or simply kept to ourselves, being unsure as to ‘if’ what happened was actually cause for alarm.
Ten, Twenty, Thirty plus years later, that uneasy feeling felt at the time, still lingers. I believe that nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right is our subconscious speaking to our conscious. Silent Conversations brings these voices to life with the aid of three strong women willing to share their own personal experiences.
By creating If Walls Could Talk and Silent Conversations my hope is to inspire outward dialogue within the community providing an opportunity for voices that perhaps have not yet been heard to speak up and speak out.
One in Eight
The inspiration for One in Eight came about when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. I’ve been working on the installation ever since. Over the years the concept has evolved and grown much like how cancer does in a persons body. What remained constant throughout the installation’s evolution is the percentage.
It is estimated that one in eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in life. Through census research in 2013, approximately 160,593,450 women live in the United States; twenty million or one in eight of those women are destine for breast cancer. The disembodied breasts in this installation represent this statistic. There are a total of 160 latex breasts varying in flesh tones representative of the different ethnicities of women found in the United States and abroad. Breast cancer does not discriminate nor is it limited to one country. It is a global disease that affects both men and women; although the percentage of men who die from breast cancer is much smaller. A rare occurrence, less then one percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men and only one in a thousand men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer. And so this exhibition focuses on the one in eight women who will be affected by this terrible disease.
The installation began with the idea of using flesh colored latex balloons filled with three different materials, flour, pepper and marbles with the nipples painted on with oil paint. The balloons fill with flour only represented the uninfected breasts. The marble mixed with the flour represents the discovery of the lump, one of the possible signs of breast cancer. And finally, the flour and pepper combination, which is not nearly as obvious, is symbolic of my mother’s experience.
Similar to the destructive nature of cancer, over the months I discovered that both the pepper and the oil paint had a corrosive effect on the latex; each ate through the skin of the balloon exposing the flour and destroying the breast. Another discovery pertaining to the fragility of the latex occurred when I realized that by blowing up the balloons for the purpose of stretching them, they then became more prone to breaking. Originally the idea was to have the installation be an interactive one, where viewers could touch and squeeze the breasts to identity which ones were cancerous. The now fragile quality of the latex aligns itself with the sensitivity and tenderness of a woman’s breast as well as the emotional vulnerability experienced by a woman diagnosed with the disease. These revelations were disclosed through the creative process, which evolved as a response to these discoveries.
Another part of the installation’s evolution is the inclusion of the laundry basket that holds the dismembered breasts. It is a reference to the idea of ‘dirty laundry’, the shame, discomfort or embarrassment some women experience emotionally when discussing their diagnoses. The breasts are piled in a discarded manner, separate from the individual yet held in a container that is historically associated with a woman’s role in the home. It is a symbol of the emotional burden that weighs on the woman diagnosed with the cancer, as are the anonymous breasts that fill the basket.
Accompanying the laundry basket and its contents are black and white photographs of eight women. These women, a variation of age and ethnicity, surround the basket and represent the statistics of one in eight. Similar to the women that fill our lives, we cannot visibly tell which one has been diagnosed with breast cancer. They could be our mothers, grandmothers, friends, sisters, daughters, aunts, wives, and or the stranger we pass in the street. These women represent the fact that no one is immune from breast cancer – even if we ourselves do not or will not get the disease we know someone who will or does. Breast cancer affects all of us.
This exhibition is dedicated to the survivors and fighters of breast cancer and to my mom, Terri Carey, who is my heroine.
A Pot to Pee In
As a feminist artist, my work primarily focuses on identity and gender and the cultural challenges one experiences with gender discrimination. Segregation, which is a form of discrimination, ended in 1964 and yet gender segregation specifically in the restroom continues in our country.
A Pot to Pee In explores the visual history of urinary segregation emphasizing the importance of gender equality in the bathroom. The separation of public toilets into gender categories of male and female did not start in the United States until the late 19th century. Prior to this, toilets consisted of outhouses, which were utilized during daylight hours and located 50 to 100 feet away from living quarters; and chamber pots used inside the home for nighttime business. These ‘early’ loos were not gender specific.
The motivation for identifying gender specific restrooms was in response to women not having access to toilets in the workplace. Prior to this, public toilets were men only. Therefore, the reason behind gender specific facilities was to provide access not to deny accessibility to individuals in need of urinary relief.
Contemporary culture seems to have forgotten this particular fact, considering the heated debate regarding transgender students being potentially denied access to bathrooms that match their gender identity. This exhibition is about supporting gender equality and promoting cultural change. The best way to advocate for cultural change is through storytelling and humanization.
Objects of Desire
As a feminist artist, my work primarily focuses on identity and gender and the cultural challenges one experiences with gender discrimination and objectification. English art critic and author John Berger explains in his book Ways of Seeing:
“… men act and women appear. Men look at women; women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male; the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision, a sight.”
Objects of Desire is not a show about pastries. Instead, it is an examination of Western Culture’s dehumanization of the female breast via the male gaze. This exploration began with researching the various slang names for women’s breasts. Once this list was compiled, the question remained, what media would best support the concept behind this examination? What you see before you is a series of media experiments that document my quest for the answer to this question. I leave the final answer up to you the viewer. I hope you enjoy the humor and metaphorical representation of the objects you see while perhaps contemplating the meaning behind the show.
In Pursuit of Non Objectification
The content of my work is portraiture, specifically portraiture of women. I often use myself as the model. The concepts within the portraiture deal with objectification and non objectification of the female form with an exploration into the idea of the male gaze.
In John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing he speaks of how over the course of time women have learned to view themselves through their male counterpart’s ‘gaze’. Simply stated, we have learned to objectify ourselves based on the male standards of beauty. As a response to this, my work shows the removal of the female form as in the paintings of the mouths, the lithographs of the hair. While the gender of the figure is ambiguous and becomes secondary, what remains within each piece is the presence of femininity.
The series Steam began as an exercise in media exploration, created over the course of five months. Each day, at approximately the same time, I drew on my shower wall or mirror and documented the drawing with my iphone.™
In documenting the drawing, I was also recording my presence within the drawing -becoming both the creator and viewer, raising questions about my role within the image. Am I the artist in the drawing or am I the reflection of my act of drawing?
The images of the wall and me drawing upon it are blurred as it takes place in a shower. At times my figure looks like a ghostly apparition, with no identifiable features visible through the steam. At other times, as my figure recedes, the drawing comes forward and at times both forms are visible simultaneously.