For many of us, the irreparable damage made to our natural environment has become a more common and pressing thought. Unsurprisingly, the art world, often considered the mirror of our society –its developments and pitfalls-, has been shining new light and bringing awareness on our current precarious relationship with earth on which we stand. As history has so often reminded us, women and nature share an intimate and fierce bond ever since both their creations. We ask art curator Julia Rajacic, how women art stands as a testament that this fundamental relationship remains resilient, as the rest of us see the environment rebel against society.
Julia, you’ve focused your curatorial research on the question of Gender across contemporary art. In particular, you curated the travelling show Gaia, that explores the relationship between Gender and Ecology. Can you tell us more ?
The Gaia exhibition project started from one observation: the universality of Mother Earth as a mythological figure. Whether it is called Terra Mater, Pachamama or Gaia, this female Earth figure is present in the origin tales from many civilizations. From this observation, I found it interesting to gather artists from all over the world around the question of the contemporaneity of this ancestral myth.
While some artists have responded to the call with an aesthetic reinterpretation of Mother Earth, others have explored the link that effectively unites women and ecological changes in our contemporary society, thus visually addressing some themes tackled by ecofeminism.
Mamoune The Artist, “Pachamama”
In the latter case, artists depict women not only as victims of ecological changes, but also as fervent actors of the ecological transition. For example, it is known that climate change affects mainly women, who account for 75% of environmental refugees. On the other hand, women have been playing a key role in many ecological movements, like the Chipko Andolan struggle initiated by Indian villagers in the Garhwal region, which consists in circling trees with their arms in order to fight deforestation.
You mentioned earlier ecofeminism. Can you tell us more about it?
Ecofeminism is a movement that links patriarchal oppression with the exploitation of nature by Humans. This idea was first conceptualized by Françoise d’Eaubonne, a French feminist author, also friend and biographer of Simone de Beauvoir. In his 1974 book “Feminism or death”, Françoise d’Eaubonne describes how the ideological matrix allowing men’s domination over women is the same as that underlying men’s domination over nature.
Nowadays there are two main trends of in this movement. The first focuses mainly on socio-economic aspects. It denounces the position of economic externalities to which both natural resources and many women are relegated, exploited by the economic system, without receiving any remuneration (much of the domestic work, still mostly performed by women, is not recognized as productive work). This socio-economic ecofeminism is widespread in the countries of the South, and adds to the two cross-dominations of women and nature, that of colonial and post-colonial domination.
“What is logic without emotion?
What is reason without humanity and compassion?
It is only Danger and Destruction “
Elena Lezhen, “Birdman”
The second trends lies in a spiritual, mystical and poetic ecofeminism. It is often based on polytheistic or animistic beliefs and advocates a return to a more harmonious relationship with Mother Earth.
And in the art field?
From an artistic point of view, I find ecofeminism particularly fertile, in that it questions the dualisms firmly rooted for centuries in Western societies: Masculine / Feminine, Human / Nature, Reason/Emotion, Objective/Subjective. By advocating to overcome these dualistic conceptions, this movement carries a strong subversive potential within itself.
Several pioneering artists of ecofeminist art inspired me in the creation the Gaia show. I am thinking especially of the Cuban performer Ana Mendietas and her performances Silueta, of the Australian artist Jill Orr and her photographic series Bleeding Tree, but also of Helene Aylon and her piece Earth Ambulance.
Left: Ana Mendieta, Silueta, 1981 / Right: Jill Orr, Bleeding Tree, 1979
April 22nd is International Earth Day. Can you introduce us to some artists whose works focuses on our relationship to the Blue Planet ?
Many artists offer a new perspective on our relationship to the Earth and even give us some suggestions for the foundation of a new relationship to our environment.
I am thinking in particular of Ukrainian painter Elena Lezhen and her imaginary worlds, where images of nature and human-like characters are merging, highlighting their interconnectedness and similarities. Lezhen honours values such as emotions, sensations and intuition, that have been historically devalued and traditionally linked to the Feminine.
I will also mention Jisook Min, a franco-Korean artist who suggests a sensory reconnection with the element Earth. Through performances and installations, the artist collects this material on which we walk and live, but with which we have lost contact in our increasingly urbanized environments.
“I dug a hole to look at the smell of the Earth. With the smell of the Earth, I meditate”
Jissok Min, Meditation Hole, 2000
Finally, I would name Laura Sanchez Filomeno, a textile artist who creates embroidery using human hair as her main material, thus producing works with a new meaning, and an unusual beauty. By giving life to residual elements, considered as waste by our society, the artist is particularly interested in the experience of Attraction / Repulsion felt at the sight of these bodily residues.
Laura Sanchez Filomeno, Spondilus Gaederopus, 2015-2016
Franco-Serbian art curator, Julia Rajacic is interested in the themes of Identity and Gender within the contemporary creation. She fosters a dialogue among artists, public and institutions by stimulating a collective artistic emulation. Through the creation of Off-Sites projects, the curator is aiming at highlighting an underrepresented scene, towards a sometimes forgotten audience.
Julia Rajacic has recently co-curated the Belgrade International Triennial of Expanded Media, and worked as curator for Institut Français, Embassy of Republic of Korea and Istituto Italiano di Cultura.
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