Late at the Tate – a bi-monthly evening of poetry, paintings and performance – a popular venue and experience; certainly worthwhile for any culture vultures like myself. The feminist tour, led by the capable and renowned Sutapa Biswas, was indeed enlightening and every bit as feisty and liberal as eye-rollers might imagine when they hear the illegitimately notorious f-word. Biswas perhaps sacrificed delving into the intricacies of the works we saw for the sake of name-dropping and Gove shaming, but nonetheless the hour was insightful and rightfully rigorously opinionated.
I was made abundantly more aware of the difficulties artists encounter when having their work belatedly acquisitioned by the Tate; a problem that seemed particularly sexist to Biswas but perhaps is more political than it is gendered. Of course, female artists are generally first in the firing line in an era of austerity and attacks on the arts, but this is an increasingly prevalent issue that should be greeted with a united response to ensure art remains an appreciated necessary aspect of british culture. However, it is signifiant that just 13% of Tate Britain’s collection can be credited to female artists, as I was repeatedly told. The history of art has generally been the history of male orientated works; women are the lucky objects of sexualisation, rarely the protagonist.
We were shown a piece by Rose Finn-Kelcey, The Restless Image: An effective photograph capturing the distance between what is felt and what is seen; a perfectly calculated motion in front of an eerily silent backdrop. Biswas seemed to be grasping at straws when she attributed the handprints in the sand to leaving a mark for the rest of womankind in the exclusive world of art, but when presenting a feminist tour whilst providing a colourful list of friends and contacts it was an understandably tenuous comment. Biswas’ main rhetoric with regards to Finn-Kelcey revolved around her work being acquisitioned by Tate Britain after four decades’ worth of attempts. A frustration shared by many aspiring artists, supposedly of both genders but nonetheless hard-hitting.
I fail to see a direct gender focus in this photograph – the title itself addresses the theme and orientation of Finn-Kelcey’s art; motion and restlessness. Gender and Identity are significant contemporary motifs that could have been better explored, especially considered our current context where the realms of feminism and popular culture are no longer discrete. Regardless, Biswas was a charismatic artist and the tour was well worthwhile.
-Alex Newell (BogeArt contributor)