Pieces of Women and Imperfect Heroine
© Kathy Bruce. Courtesy of the artist.
As a woman artist, I feel most qualified to offer perspectives on what it means to be a woman in the world. Such work enables us to consider women in ways that focuses on our lives, passions, and past histories, and consider how the male gaze has historically objectified women, fragmenting their outward appearance from their personhood and psychological experiences. The longstanding, standardized concept of feminine beauty needs to be recalibrated; it requires depicting the beauty of the female body in all its imperfections, which continue to be so taboo in our culture. Recently, I had some work rejected from an exhibition celebrating World Women’s Day. The curators (both women) found my work intriguing, but inappropriate to illustrate their concept of “celebrating women.” They selected imagery they perceived as ‘feminine,’ represented by beautiful, smiling goddesses in gardens filled with bright pastel-colored flowers, which is not a celebration of women at all. It is a glossing-over of the trauma and anxiety that most women experience during some stage in their lives. I often use images of nudity, blindness, muteness, and amputation to depict notions of vulnerability in a contemporary world where women cannot be complete without additional devices to aid their existence. In the case of “Imperfect Heroine” and “Parts of a Woman,” both female heroines are imperfect, but enduring; for me, this is a more realistic tribute to women—externally, internally, and psychologically.
Many of my collages explore archetypal female forms inspired by the Peruvian saints, historical figures, and 16th century tapadas that I discovered during my early years as a Fulbright student scholar in Peru. “Tapadas” was the name designated to Limena women during the Viceroyalty of Peru and the early years of the Republic, who wore shawls completely covering their body, except for one eye. I find both the notion and the surreal image intriguing. Spanish authorities eventually prohibited the wearing of these garments, because they had a subversive effect on its intention—to protect and hide women’s bodies. The incognito coverings gave women the license to express themselves freely in society, thus leading to flirtatious promiscuity. The other women prevalent throughout the history of art in Peru are the saints—for example Santa Rosa de Lima and la Sarita Colonia, whose stories and images permeate contemporary Peruvian material culture in ways that fragment and objectify them: Key rings, bracelets, postcards, playing cards etc. Additionally, I focus on the (perhaps) lesser-known, remarkable Latin American women heroines such as Manuela Saenz, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, and Clorinda Matto de Turner. These women have been the inspiration for a larger series of collage works I created over the past ten years titled, “Tapadas, Saints and other Heroines.”
My collage work originates from a word, poem, or a work of literature. The process develops from a single photographic scrap, for example, the white forearm of a Canova marble sculpture. From there, I build structures out from it, like constructing a sculpture, and add more photo bits and found scraps until the space around it has been developed into something distorted, which represents the idea I am working on. At that point, the collage reaches its completion. I never work on a rectangular surface or sheet of paper. On the backside of the collages, you can see a myriad of paper fragments glued together like a patchwork quilt. They grow until reaching their logical/aesthetic borders.
I do not normally set out to make a conscious feminist statement, it is a natural response to my own beliefs as a woman that develop within a subconscious context. In my current collages I am exploring the way in which the female body/anatomy corresponds to structures in nature, plants, trees, and the landscape that I find visually and conceptually as radical as any overtly political contribution.