Works on Gender and Identity is an exhibition series of contemporary art.
It understands itself as a practice of curatorial activism, committed to positions that challenge the master narratives that shape the art system. By questioning dominant accounts on the notion of creativity, the project not only relativizes asymmetrical binaries and disseminates critical knowledge. It also offers a curatorial corrective to omissions, misrepresentations, and hegemonic appropriations perpetuated in the history and current practice of the art system. The project develops along three thematic concerns:
Originally, the term gender was introduced to distinguish the socially constructed aspects of sex from the biological ones. However, this differentiation maintains the assumption of a binary ‘nature-culture’ opposition. The biological sex proves to be as socially constructed as gender since it is an epistemological ascription. Gender is not pre-given, but the result of historical and cultural factors embedded in relationships of privilege and power. Judith Butler introduces the term ‘performativity’ of gender, which points out that the practice of expressing gender is producing it meanwhile concealing that a gender at core does not exist: “Gender identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results” (Butler 1990: 25). Therefore, gender identity is a process, not a fixed outcome. Rather than being settled, it is in a state of being and become. Gender(ed) identities are fluid.
Nonetheless, gender relations are inscribed in gendered bodies in form of power relations. Gendered binaries produce hierarchies, in which the male or masculine is constructed as the norm in opposition to the female or feminine as the ‘other’. These meanings are further perpetuated through representations in language, science, and art. Western cultural production has a long tradition of representing gender difference while placing the power in the masculine. Since these representations contributed to the consolidation of gendered power relations, cultural production was dominated by those constituted as powerful in this hierarchy. Dealing critically with this matter of facts defines a central concern of works on gender and identity.
The political project of feminism requires the subject ‘woman’, which turns out to be highly diverse: The oppression white middle-class women face differs from the oppression Black middle-class women or middle-class Women of Color or working-class women face. The oppression heterosexual women face differs from the one homo- or bisexual women face. The oppression cis-women face differs from the oppression transwomen or non-binary people face. The oppression old women face differs from the one poor women face. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Black American lawyer, introduced the term intersectionality, which describes the intersection of different forms of oppression such as gender, class, race, sexuality. These intersections work together and produce injustice in the plural experience of being a ‘woman’. Such differences within the subject ‘woman’ are mirrored in the heterogeneity of feminist approaches.
The history of feminist movements is shaped by Western European and Northern American white middle-class activists and theorists who draw attention to women’s struggles and general conditions in a system dominated by white men. According to the plurality of feminist concerns, other theories and analyses addressing specific needs developed too. The writer Alice Walker e.g. coined the term womanism as a result of the racism Black women were facing in white American feminist movements. The occupation with Marxist thought and theory resulted in a feminist analysis of the intersection of gender oppression, patriarchy, and capitalism, developing into material feminism and socialist feminism. Social feminists tend to hold economic dependence responsible as the driving force for women’s oppression in a capitalist patriarchal society. Further occupation with gender relations, desire and sexuality developed into queer theory. Queer theorists deconstructed further the normative notions of sex, gender, and desire which are based upon heteronormativity. All these feminist approaches consider the end of sexist oppression of women to be a necessary part of a larger quest for social, economic and political justice. Giving expression to those concerns by means of aesthetic production constitutes a central issue of works on gender and identity.
Power structures underlie the relation between cultures. This is not the outcome of the encounters of different cultures and the seemingly natural duality resulting out of them, but of the assumption of the superiority of one culture above the other. A fallacy with major consequences as the history of colonialism dramatically proves. Since Eurocentric thinking became the hegemonic episteme around the world due to the conditions of specific historical processes, it generated power structures capable of regulating relations between cultures. Without questioning the assumed certainty of its own standpoint, it constructed foreign cultures as inferior ‘others’. Furthermore, it implemented its own epistemic system in their societies, controlling that way the means of representation.
Although in the contemporary world, postcolonial issues, as pointed out by several theorists (Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi K. Bhabha, Toni Morrison, Walter D. Mignolo), constitute one of the most important concerns of culture, the production of art is embedded in a paradox system of relations. On the one hand, a global reorganization of the art world has taken place since the late 1980s that not only questions cultural hegemonic demands, but also promotes an exchange that crosses the borders between cultures and continents. On the other hand, a specific tradition of aesthetics, founded on Western art and culture, claims a cultural hegemony reproduced by the institutional art system as well as by the art market. The destabilization and alteration of these patterns represent a way both for testing new definitions of the concept of work and for articulating a critical speech that problematizes each form of already existing dominance as a result of colonial structures.
Programmatically, it eludes the stabilization of their plurality into a regulative category. On the contrary, the project understands itself as a way of destabilizing institutional discourse orders implicitly founded on normality. But as much as the project maintains an openness for constantly changing specifics, it also proceeds from the necessity of self-determination. It explores perspectives while questioning the heteronormative, white male-dominated expectation system.
Assuming gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and identity as relational constructs which themselves constitute a central issue in contemporary art, the project seeks to provide a formal space for the production of meaning and unfiltered visibility for artists dealing with these concerns.