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An Introduction to Gender

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The female nude is part of a revered tradition, although she is not to take authority over depictions of her nudity. She is just to be available.
—  Carolee Schneemann

Feminist theory in the 21st century is entangled in a broader, deeper and diverse range of voices and interests. Its agenda and definition remains elusive because of generational interests and philosophical intent. However the culture (which I preference over the term movement) is still unified by the constant concerns over social, political and economic equality.  Feminist culture today is a globally informed and multicultural theory that seeks to account for the differences in race, gender, nationality and class.

As an axis of power relations, gender can be shown to shape the social existence of men and women and determine their artistic representations. Feminist theory has become a renewed topic for art and art history in recent years (we’re currently in the fourth wave of feminist theory), giving rise to gender analysis of both artistic production and art historical discourse.

The visual consumption of women’s bodies in the media and the accompanying political debates over the control of them has grown in the Internet age. How do feminist artists now critique a system of which they are irrefutably a part? How do they relate to histories of feminist art and male-dominated histories? What new subject matter or strategies do they embrace?

Whilst there is no unifying direction in feminist art, the disparate theories and practice communicate the complicated negotiations facing artists who engage with body identity. Many questions remain unanswered and the act of categorisation, like in other industries, takes on a life of its own. Perhaps what we have seen in most recent years is that artists are carving out their own individual identity rather than aligning with the universal agenda of movements and classifications.

As a complex system of societies and cultures how do we then delineate the expanding theory of gender? With renewed interest and redefining acts within artist’s practices we have uncovered greater meaning and varying visions behind the term and its ongoing evolution.

The analysis of gender, sex, feminism and orientation has exposed and introduced (beyond the art world) a new focus on gender identity and fluidity. And, in many ways, the current challenge disrupts more deeply. Cultural fault lines are shifting and the most foundation-shaking question artists are exploring is the very principle that we are located—unequivocally, and immutably—on one side or the other of the male-female divide.

Representation, authenticity and self-construction are shared thematic cues being investigated and challenged by a growing number of contemporary artists today. Perhaps a driving force for many is a connection to the possibilities of political and personal liberation from predominantly oppressive social and aesthetic conventions.

For our eighteenth issue we will traverse a number of contrasting perspectives on the topic of gender. The published pieces take into account the historical framework of which this theory is innately linked to yet positions itself clearly in the direction of future perspectives and attitudes. This issue seeks to explore the intricacies of artists’ approaches within gender and feminist culture and asks what is the critical agenda of their practice?

Our conversation begins with Matt Barlow (SA), Zoe Freney (SA), Harriet McKay (SA), Adelè Sliuzas (SA), Jess Taylor (SA) and Henry Wolff (SA).

— Rayleen Forester for fine print