Winding through the tourist scattered streets of Málaga on a Sunday afternoon, sun beating down on me, I headed to El Centre de Pompidou, a smaller branch of the world famous contemporary art gallery in Paris. Making my way through the gallery, I stumbled across many striking exhibits, such as ‘Self Portraits’ which featured feminist icon Frida Kahlo’s The Frame (1938), as well as a sincerely thought provoking exhibit, ‘The Man Without A Face’. However, it was the gallery’s segment for ‘The Political Body’ that struck my attention most. This is where I discovered Sigalit Landau, an incredible Israeli female artist who uses video, sculpting, installation and her own body to create political art. Her art was astounding, but her message was even better.
Projected onto the wall of the gallery was Landau’s work Barbed Hula (2001); the artist, naked on a Tel Aviv beach during early sunrise, simply filmed herself hula hooping with barbed wire whilst her stomach gets progressively more bloody and bruised. The loop lasted around 2 minutes, and had me in a trance of ongoing thought. Throughout history, women have been punished for their female anatomy. For example, the horrendous act of female infanticide still takes place in India and China, where very young female babies are killed for their sex, purely due to the fact that a female child is not a financial earner in terms of earning power, pensions and dowry. This gendercide is reflective of the horrendous levels of sexism still taking place in Eastern countries. Not only this, but the barbaric practice of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is still ongoing in many different diaspora populations around the world, including 29 countries in Africa as well as communities in Asian and Middle Eastern countries. And yet, it continues. All of these ongoing issues filled my mind as she hula hooped in front of me, both confined and damaged by the cyclical, ongoing action.
The Israelian sculptor, video, and installation artist created her piece in line with Body Art of the 60’s and 70’s, a movement that allowed performance artists to express their views on politics, humanity, sexuality and liberalism through using their bodies as canvases. Most of all, it was a way for women to create ‘a form of activism that strikes at the heart of male domination by means of the artists’ own bodies.’ It was the perfect way ‘to make the political personal’, which is exactly what Landau achieved through Barbed Hula (2001), a piece created with the intention to address notions of ‘border, history and identity’.
I found it significant that both her head and feet are cut out of shot; personally, I find her decision to physically decapitate herself out of shot a reflection of violence towards women across the world, and the depersonalization and objectification of their bodies through time.
Landau’s overall idea is that the innocence of this ‘hula hooping’ game is superimposed with images of confinement, bruising and pain.
Of course, this message remains relevant 16 years on amidst a refugee crisis; Landau’s depersonalization is something we often see reflected upon victims of the Syrian crisis. Our society is a constant source of ignorance and fear; through our media, we decide to demonise them, removing their humanity and absolving our own guilt. This one example is an ongoing reflection of Landau’s notion of border, history and identity.
Landau’s entwining of politics and feminism establishes a solid ground for the progression of modern art, and poses many critical questions for the viewer to ask both themselves and other people.