A couple of years ago, Amar Singh approached a group of feminist artists to take part in an exhibition celebrating women at his new gallery in north London. They turned him down.
Since then, he has consolidated his reputation as a campaigner for women and LGBT rights in his native India where the stigma of homosexuality remains despite its being legalised in 2009. In fact, this week it was announced that a new LGBT centre is to built under his name there.
As his campaigning became better known, the artists changed their mind and this week, Eve, an exhibition of drawings, installations and photographs opened at the Amar Gallery. According to the publicity, the exhibition incorporates mythical themes from the Genesis story of Adam and Eve focusing on the Fall of Man, heavenly wrath, nature and rebellion. The exhibits, it says, are inspired by nature’s first heroine as well as showcasing female empowerment in modern society.
The result is a somewhat disjointed affair cherry-picked from various series in which the motivation of the artists has to some extent been contrived to fit the theme.
Take South African multi-disciplinary artist Jenna Burchell’s exhibit, for example. In a signature combination of “emotive intelligence” and technology, she has sculpted an interactive plaster tortoise which, when you lay your hand on its back and then remove it, plays music that emanates from a speaker. It’s fun and intriguing. But Eve?
The same goes for an embroidery by Indian artist Mekhala Bahl on which is sown various abstract and enigmatic shapes. But does this really takes us back to the dawn of womankind?
Central to the theme, however, are a group called The Guerrilla Girls who are represented by two contributions. Feminist activists, they seek to address equality for women in politics, commerce and culture. They wear gorilla masks to hide their identity as they conduct “interventions” at galleries they deem worthy of protests. Both pieces are collections of six identical poster-type prints placed together in what they call “public service messages”. Entitled Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum? and Women in America Earn Only 2/3 of What Men Do, they are self-explanatory.
African-American photographer Reneé Cox’s photographs are taken from a series entitled Adam and Eve. Cox has created a stir in the past in her efforts to celebrate not only womanhood, but black womanhood in a society she deems both sexist and racist. In one memorable exhibit entitled Yo Mao’s Last Supper at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 2001, she reinterpreted Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper with a naked Cox replacing Jesus Christ in the company of his disciples who are all black save for Judas who is white. It didn’t please the traditionalists!
In this exhibition Cox, who uses her naked body as a symbol of feminism, has three black and white photographs on show. One sees her naked in a forest, a symbol of strength in the jungle of gender and racial conflict. She is Eve personified in a Garden of Eden far from Paradise, innocent but prepared for the struggle to come.
The other two pictures comprise another of her nude self as Eve, again looking innocent and holding the apple. Opposite is a naked Adam, an African-American male of course, also with an apple, a statement of equality. Both are using their hands as fig-leaves and look pensive. Has he been tempted?
The highlight of the exhibition for me are the photographs of Sonja Klaas, a German-born photographer who has lived for 20 years in the United States. However, the link to the Eve theme is again tenuous. At first sight, her Firestorm appears to be a cityscape shot from high on a starlit night with traffic-laden freeways dissecting the grid-plan and a distant fire threatening the community. All is not what it seems.
Klaas has created a clever illusion in a low-tech way by constructing a model into which holes are drilled in various different sizes in a board which creates perspective when painted and lit from behind. Similarly, the fire you see has been painted on to glass and backlit. The result is striking and somewhat unnerving in its deception. “It’s about destruction and our perspective of destruction,” she tells me. “There is a destructive element in Eve in that she is blamed for the destruction of Paradise.”
The photograph is one of two on show taken from a series entitled The Quiet of Dissolution. Klaas has also included another from the series, An Abundance of Caution entitled Eclipse which again creates the illusion of a solar eclipse but created in a studio. It burns with a force and is motivated by the idea that fear is being used as a weapon to manipulate people’s lives, be it fear of immigrants, war, crime, male harassment even.
“It also hints at something mysterious, a vague fear of something that comes from the outside which you have no control over”, she says. “We chose this one because of the element of creation, of fire, of something far out there…which works well into the Eve theme.”
Eve is showing at the Amar Gallery, 48 Penton Street, London N1 4QA until 23 March 2018.
The images are courtesy of the gallery.