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Inequality by (Interior) Design

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to share this site as a supplement to the book:

From the about page:

I am working on this blog as I begin a project on “man caves” in contemporary couple households. I’m interested in how men and women talk about, use, justify, and decorate man caves.

Imagen de Yagul

Ana Mendieta, Imagen de Yagul. 1973. Source: Artstor

In an open Zapotec tomb in the ancient city of Yagul, Mexico, Mendieta’s naked body lays within the formation of rocks that encapsulate her. Her body is covered with white flowers and green leaves, whose density increases around her chest and face, making it difficult to discern her facial features amongst the cluster of flowers. Mendieta leaves the viewer with only the outer contours of her body, arms and legs to discern. This image, Imagen de Yagul, is the first in a series of silhouette portraits in which Mendieta traces the outline of her body in different locations between Mexico and Iowa. This particular piece differs from the other works in the series, in that her body is fully present here, rather than just represented as an ephemeral silhouette that marks where she once was. These locations are significant as they trace a personal journey between places that she identifies with. On a trip to Oaxaca she identified with the region’s “mixture of indigenous and European cultures with her own hybrid Cuban heritage “and she developed an appreciation for pre-Colombian iconography [1].

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States with her sister at the age of twelve. As an artist, she plays a large role in the history of feminist art. Her work crossed multiple categories including land art, body art, and performance and her work addresses the ideological struggle of gender and race. Mendieta herself described her work as “earth-body work” and “earth-body sculptures”[1]. Her early work as a student at the University of Iowa addressed issues of gender formation, as in the performance Facial Hair Transplants (1972). In 1992 an exhibition featuring Mendieta’s widower (and accused and acquitted of her murder), Carl Andre, sparked a protest outside of the Guggenheim Museum on the exclusion of female artists in exhibitions and lack of women in powerful positions in art institutions. Protestors held signs reading, “Where is Ana Mendieta?” My own decision to write about the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta is an expression of interest in addressing the underrepresentation of minority women in Gender and Art and the lack of focus on female artists who address issues of race more specifically in this publication.

Jane Blocker describes Imagen de Yagul as dealing with the “themes of death and rebirth staged in an earthen, womb-like cavity. Here, the category woman is sanctioned by the first woman, by Mother Earth, by the biology of childbirth.”[2] Mendieta uses her body as a channel to address issues of life, death, and regeneration, themes that she alluded to throughout her career. [3] The female body is represented in unison with nature, as creator and created. It is from her body that flowers sprout and flourish, symbolism that could be interpreted as a sign of fertility. Also significant is that Mendieta positions her body inside of a Meso-American tomb in Yagul, not far from the ancient city of Mitla that was designated in Zapotec culture as the place for the dead to rest.

What I find most intriguing about Mendieta’s work in general and about this piece specifically is the manner in which it identifies with a geographic identity. Ana Mendieta, represented as a Cuban-American artist, spent her early childhood in Cuba and was exiled to the United States, where she spent years bouncing from foster homes before settling in Iowa. Below, she speaks of her experience and feelings of displacement and the urge to connect to the earth:

I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed with the feeling of having been cast from the womb. My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. [4]

Not identifying with one nation, Mendieta ventured to form a connection to the earth. In channeling Meso-American civilization, she was connecting to her roots through contact with the land, which created a deeper connection to the body. This physical involvement in the creation of her work is inseparable from the work itself. The strength in her works lies in its power to relate to and its ability to interact with the viewer. That the viewer cannot make out her face in this portrait allows for one to automatically situate herself in her position.


2.Blocker, Jane. Where Is Ana Mendieta? Duke University Press, 1999. Pg. 37


4. Perreault, John. Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective. Exhibition catalogue. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987. Pg. 10

Self Portrait with a Portrait (Pinboard #2)

Frida Kahlo. Self-portrait with Portrait of Dr. Farril. 1951. Source: Artstor

Frida Kahlo is known internationally as a prominent female figure in Mexican art, and is recognized for using her surreal self-portraits as a means of expressing her inner self. “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best,” she said [1]. Together with Diego Rivera, she was part of the Mexicanidad movement of the 1950’s to establish the prominence of traditional Mexican culture. She suffered immense physical pain most of her life, enduring over thirty surgeries, largely a result of a bus accident she was involved in at the age of eighteen. Self-portrait with Portrait of Dr. Farril is one of Kahlo’s last self-portraits, completed three years before her death in 1954.

Kahlo paints herself alone inside a vacant room sitting beside an easel that holds a portrait of Dr Farril, her surgeon. She depicts herself in a wheelchair wearing a white shirt with decorative tassel and a full black skirt that completely covers her lower body. In place of oil paints on a palette, there is an image of a human heart. In her left hand she holds a handful of brushes dripping with blood from which she paints her portrait. The walls that define the room are painted white and the lower half a shade of blue, emphasizing the vacuous scene.

During this period, Kahlo was recovering from the amputation of her leg and was confined to a wheelchair and her bed. Dr. Farril performed the operation [2] and Frida gives him credit for saving her life through this votive offering in the style of Retablopaintings [3]. Kahlo depicts Farril here as a saint, his eyes drawn to watch over her and the connection between them heightened by the shared unibrow. The palette, the source of her paint, is a symbol of her endearing gratitude. Most intriguing is that Kahlo depicts herself in such a fragile physical state, while dependent on a wheelchair. Her clothing is likely selected to hide her physical disfigurement following the procedure.


2. Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York Harper & Row,1963. Pg 413


Cindy Sherman, Untitled #193 (Pinboard #1)


Cindy Sherman. Untitled #193. 1989. Source: Artstor

Cindy Sherman. Untitled #193. 1989. Source: Artstor

Cindy Sherman paved her career by expanding the idea of the self-portrait, beyond that of her own, to explore issues of identity and representation. In her photographs, Sherman alters her physical appearance to create characters that become framed in the narrative and environment she constructs. Her most iconic works, and arguably the body of work from which all of Sherman’s subsequent photographic series have stemmed, are the Untitled Film Stills [1]. Her photographs often examine the role of gender and class in society, however other thematic elements of her work explore history and geography’s role in identity formation.

In Untitled #193, Sherman engages with female portraiture in 18th Century France by channeling a woman of the aristocracy. She dresses her character in a blue silk robe and white linen dress that harks back to the Neoclassical fashions of this period. The orange sash tied above her waist draws attention to her low cut dress which reveals her glistening chest. A string of pearls rest on her neck and she holds an oriental style fan, both possessions made readily available through colonialism and the international market. She reclines on a bed of silk sheets, her backdrop is a curtain of lace and silk, and below lies a ball of yarn and crochet needle, all signs that her character resides in the domestic private sphere.

Through the medium of photography, Sherman strips away the illusion inherent to painting to reveal a less elegant depiction of the upper class woman of this period. The scene is highly staged and stylized and results in a parody of the representation of the woman in French society. Sherman’s character embodies the identity of a woman that would have commissioned work from the artists Elisabeth-Louise Vegée-Lebrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard. Through the depiction of femininity in this historical period, Sherman is drawing a parallel between this period and the one in which we now locate ourselves. The viewer is forced to reflect on contemporary values and concepts of the feminine ingrained in modern society.


Women’s Work / Artist’s Work (Pinboard #2)

Mary Kelly (b. 1941) is an American conceptual artist. Her work is frequently text-based, or text-heavy, with what she describes as “a specific relation between the meaning of the text, its materiality, and the site.” [1] It is also highly theoretical, reflecting her second occupation: Professor of Art and Critical Theory at UCLA.

Detail from Post Partum Document, 1974, Perspex unit, white card, diaper linings, plastic sheeting, paper, ink

The image to the right is a detail from Post Partum Document, a six-part installation that documented Kelly’s relationship with her son from birth to age 6. Post-Partum Document became a seminal work of “feminist art” – although Kelly herself prefers to think of it as “art informed by feminism.” [2] Post Partum Document is seen as a physical testament to the feminist slogan “the personal is the political”; the work has been perceived as a political statement because it brought “private” elements of female experience – aspects of womanhood that have historically been marginalized – into a public space. When the installation was first shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London) in 1976, Post Partum Document was considered highly controversial. Viewers were shocked by the display of dirty diapers, obsessive diary notes, and other material artifacts of motherhood.

Here, a soiled diaper on which Kelly has neatly typed the date, information about her son’s nutritional intake, and details of his bowel movements. Kelly’s obsessive documentation suggests maternal fetishization of the child, but Kelly ultimately investigates herself more thoroughly than her child. Her exploration of the everyday rises to the level of art precisely because of, rather than in spite of, its banality. Kelly’s compulsive, comprehensive attention to minutiae recharacterizes the value of “women’s work” by transforming it into “artist’s work.”

[1] Mary Kelly, interview with Klaus Ottmann, Journal of Contemporary Art Online
[2] Mary Kelly, in Chloe Wyma, “23 Questions for Mary Kelly”,

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