It’s always gratifying to come across art that both aesthetically moving and thought-provoking. Tess Korobkin’s ’06 art show “Imaging Femininity/Imagining Feminism” effortlessly seams together the division between activism and art.
The exhibit calls into question previous aesthetic notions of femininity, gender performance, female corporeality, and race. Korobkin’s show focuses on various forms of expression with her own self and body.
A series of pencil self-portraits line the wall; each drawing boasts the torso of a female body in various states of undress. The figure is cut off at the head and at the top of the thighs — an interesting choice, for without a face, the figure is racially unidentifiable. The racelessness of the images is underscored by the fact that the drawings are done in black-and-white pencil shading, leaving the viewers to flounder when attempting to ascribe race onto the portion of the body that we can see.
The female body is rendered lovingly in the drawings; it is celebratory and voluptuous without being sexual or objectified. There seems to be a certain bravado present in the drawings’ resistance to cave to stereotypical feminine desires and cover up that tummy: the body is openly and affectionately displayed sans embarrassment or hesitation.
Another particularly striking work was a photograph of a man’s dress shirt and tie in the window display of a store. Korobkin’s face, reflected in the glass of the store window, seems to float eerily above the dress shirt. Using a layered reflected image, Korobkin appears to be wearing the men’s clothing. A felt Yale banner hangs in the corner of the store display, touting the idea of the old-boys’ academy and camaraderie. Korobkin seems to be commenting on the demand for women to perform masculinely in order to be accepted and incorporated into the ranks of power networks, whether in academia or business. She subtly references the glass store front, echoing the notions of a glass ceiling, reinforcing the idea of being somewhat included — her head does fit into the image of the dress shirt — while simultaneously being separated from the world behind the glass.
The focus on gender in the workplace is extended to Korobkin’s sculpture. A pair of white-painted briefcases constructed out of matboard rest upright and side by side. A carved-rubber placard next to one announces “About Race.” Another card labels the other: “Made by a Woman.”
The definitive statements “About Race” and “Made by a Woman” seem to reflect the types of categorizations that others might make of Korobkin’s work: “Of course her piece is ‘about race'” or “that sculpture is obviously ‘made by a woman.'”
By affixing the labels herself to her own work, Korobkin subverts others’ power to categorize and diminish her artistic efforts. The greatest irony is that the two briefcases are devoid of symbolic meaning — the white color symbolizes blankness. The fact that the briefcases are made of paper products renders them utterly useless and non-functional. Her work is replete with nothingness. Her meaning resides in her utter lack of meaning and her resistance to create easily marginalized “racial art” or “women’s art.”
Another piece that both was my personal favorite and a main topic of discussion amongst the opening night attendees was a wooden chair facing the wall with the seat removed and a paper jacket draped across the back. What most interested me about the piece was the relationship between form and function: even though the chair was completely unusable, we still call it a chair; even if the jacket was unwearable and divorced from its function, we still recognize it a jacket. The chair is empty, and therefore theoretically awaits a someone to come and sit there. However, because the seat is removed, the idea of someone is negated and turns into no one.
Korobkin’s exhibit, while impressive, failed to inhabit the room. The exhibit could have been fleshed out more dramatically and I would have loved to see more of her work.
The artist takes no definitive stance on what feminism is — a position that is reflected in the musing nature of her title “Imaging Femininity/Imagining Feminism.” To imagine is to go beyond the scope of the normal, to play with ideas and concepts. The notion of feminism and femininity in this art exhibit is allowed to expand, contract and exist in myriad protean forms.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”1041″ ]