Women House: Home is Where it Hurts

Questions about a woman’s “place” resonate in our culture, and conventional ideas about the house as a feminine space persist. Global artists in Women House recast conventional ideas about the home through provocative photographs, videos, sculptures, and room-like installations. Birgit Jürgenssen, Mona Hatoum, and Monica Bonvicini explore the implicit and explicit oppression of domestic space and the desire to escape.

Birgit Jürgenssen, Ich möchte hier raus! (I Want To Get Out of Here!), 1976/2006

Birgit Jürgenssen, Ich möchte hier raus! (I Want to Get Out of Here!), 1976/2006; Black-and-white photograph, 22 7/8 x 18 7/8 in.; Estate of Birgit Jürgenssen, Courtesy of Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna; © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Bildrecht, Vienna

“Woman is so often the subject of art but only seldom and reluc­tantly is she allowed to speak for herself or to produce her own pictures,” wrote Birgit Jürgenssen (b. 1949, Vienna, Austria; d. 2003, Vienna, Austria). Jürgenssen and her feminist contemporaries had to write themselves into a male-dominated narrative of art history.

Jürgenssen portrayed herself as a stereotypical mid-20th-century housewife in the photograph Ich möchte hier raus! She appears silenced and trapped, with her face and hands pressed against glass. The message scrawled across her neck and lace collar, means “I want to get out of here.” The translucent glass alludes to a physical and metaphorical barrier between the housewife and the outside world.

Mona Hatoum, Home, 1999

Born in Beirut to a family of Palestinian exiles, Mona Hatoum (b. 1952, Beirut, Lebanon) “always had an ambiguous relationship with notions of home, family, and the nurturing that is expected.” Like other Palestinian refugees forced from their homes in 1948, Hatoum’s parents were never able to acquire Lebanese identification cards. When civil war broke out in her home country in 1975, Hatoum settled permanently in London.

Mona Hatoum, Home, 1999; Wooden table, 15 steel kitchen utensils, electric wire, three light bulbs, software, and audio; Courtesy of the Tate; Purchased 2002; Photo: James C. Jackson

Reframed in the context of exile, the word “home” can connote instability, lost identity, and even danger. Hatoum’s complex relationship with domesticity manifests itself in the installation Home. Ordinary kitchen appliances, including a colander, a whisk, and a cheese grater, sit atop a long wooden table. Connected by live electrical wires, the appliances are potentially deadly to the touch. Hatoum’s interpretation of the kitchen as a place of literal danger “shatters notions of the wholesomeness of the home environment.”

Monica Bonvicini, Hammering Out (an old argument), 1998

Monica Bonvicini, Hammering Out (an old argument), 1998; Color video with sound, 18 min., 45 sec.; Collection 49 Nord 6 Est, Frac Lorraine, Metz

Multimedia artist Monica Bonvicini (b. 1965, Venice, Italy) views the built environment as a metaphorical representation of cultural and political constructs, particularly gendered power structures and social class divisions. Bonvicini says, “There is no such thing as a neutral architecture. Nothing is neutral from the moment you open a door and go in somewhere.”

Hammering Out (an old argument) is an 18-minute video in which a woman’s arm repeatedly strikes a wall with a mallet. The wall’s underlying brick foundation is gradually exposed, symbolizing the hidden ideologies within the architecture. While inherently violent, the act of destruction can also be empowering and liberating. Within the context of Women House, this video demonstrates a forceful reaction against the restrictive gender roles traditionally associated with the home.

Visit the museum and explore Women House, on view through May 28, 2018.

—Kali Steinberg is the 2018 spring publications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: April 22, 2016

TIME magazine released their list of the 100 most influential people. Bustle writes, “with 60 men and 40 women, the TIME 100 list is still experiencing a gender gap.” The magazine also highlighted 13 women whose influence exceeds their fame, including Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei and 87-year old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

In a TIME interview, rapper Nicki Minaj gives advice to women and says, “Don’t ever be ashamed to ask for the top dollar in your field.” Jennifer Lawrence writes an essay about Adele and calls the British songstress “an international treasure.” Tina Fey writes a feminist ode to UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. The list also includes actresses Melissa McCarthy, Priyanka Chopra, and Gina Rodriguez—among others.

Front-Page Femmes

The Guardian examines how the death of student Sara Ottens profoundly impacted Cuban American performance artist Ana Mendieta.

Ilma Gore faces a potential lawsuit from Donald Trump’s legal team if her painting of a nude Trump sells.

The Guardian discusses how to buy indigenous Australian art—ethically.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz discusses career advice she received from Queen Elizabeth II.

Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. There are also plans for seven more historic female figures to grace the $5 and $10 bills.

ARTnews discusses how artist Lynn Hershman Leeson published art criticism under the guise of three invented personas.

Everybody Loves Raymond actress Doris Roberts passed away on Sunday at age 90.

“It takes a lot of bravery to be kind,” says Newbery award-winning author Kate DiCamillo.

Slate interviews photographer Amanda Marsalis about Ava DuVernay, gentrification, and directing her first film, Echo.

Barbara Holmes used wood reclaimed from a dump in San Francisco to create a spiraled, site-specific installation.

After tragic news of Prince’s death on Thursday, women artists paid their respects on social media and Slate explored his history of collaboration with women, calling Prince “one of music’s great champions of women.”

Coachella has no female headliners—for the ninth year in a row.

The documentary series, The Ascent of Woman, recognizes feminist trailblazers in an attempt to “retell the story of civilization with women and men side by side for the first time.”

Shows We Want to See

Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at the Imperial War Museums closes this Sunday. The exhibition showcases over 150 images by the war correspondent, alongside Picasso’s portrait of Miller, and her personal correspondence with Condé Nast.

The first major survey of Mona Hatoum’s work in the U.K. is on view at Tate Modern. The Lebanese-born Palestinian artist is best known for adjusting domestic items to “imbue them with a certain lethal horror.”

A new exhibition features Pati Hill’s “delicate, remarkable images, all made on the rather unremarkable IBM Copier II.”

Roz Chast creates a larger-than-life mural in the Museum of the City of New York, for an exhibition of 200 of her drawings titled Cartoon Memoirs.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.