Margaret Harrison. Dialogues between sex, class and violence

20.10.2017 - 14.01.2018

Azkuna Zentroa presents Margaret Harrison. Dialogues between sex, class and violence, curated by Xabier Arakistain from the 20th of October 2017 to the 14th of January 2018. It is the first large format retrospective exhibition of this British artist, pioneer in feminist art.

The exhibition provides a detailed journey through her career, starting with the reproduction of her first individual exhibition in 1971 (closed by the police the day after its opening). Dialogues between sex, class and violence includes her emblematic works about female labour and sexual exploitation, as well as more recent ones, where the feminist gaze is central.

Activism and art

According to Harrison, the exploitation of women corresponds to a complex network of gender, class and race sustained by violence. The artist’s interest in these structural and structuring categories of society and people is not only intellectual but also political. A stance emanating from an artistic vocation aimed at contributing to social transformation, which conceives art as a form of civil disobedience, frequently detained in everyday life, while delving into how politics affects ordinary people. Margaret Harrison (1940, Wakefield, United Kingdom), one of the great feminist artists, began her career in the late 1960s. She participated in the feminist movement as part of the push for the incorporation of women into art theory and praxis. At the height of pop and conceptual art, Harrison and her generation began to see looking – the gaze – as a cultural construct and to ask questions. Who is looking at what? What does it mean to look? What place do women occupy in the visual regime, and why? Through her involvement in this reflexive process, Harrison contributed to the emergence of a feminist art that challenged ‘art for art’s sake’ by insisting that all art is produced in a specific social and historical context. She combined activism and art to denounce sexism in pop art and the hegemonic iconography of the consumer society. From a radical feminist position, the artist also confronted the incipient sphere of conceptual art, which she considered the flip side of self- absorbed abstraction.

New ways to express feminist content

In her quest for new ways to express feminist content, Harrison’s five decades of work can be considered a process of perfecting the artistic method that accompanied her conceptualization of the feminist gaze: one that perceives the asymmetry between the sexes and inverts the symbols of the sex-gender- sexuality triad to reveal the hierarchy behind them. The gaze broadens in scope as the artist contemplates categories – such as social class – that intersect with this triad, resulting in a series of iconic pieces on the sexual and labour exploitation of women. For Harrison, sex, class, and race create a structural framework of oppression and exploitation that is maintained through symbolic and physical violence against women. Her intellectual and political interest in the categories that underpin society and the visual regime caused her to stop and look at everyday things, to ask how politics affects people, and to see art as a form of civil disobedience. In contrast with the idealism of other perspectives, Harrison insists on a materialist artistic praxis and ‘working with concrete evidence and its effect on the material lives of people.’

This exhibition develops one line of the Azkuna Zentroa programme: to bring pioneers of international feminist art to our public and provide the artistic and theoretical references that are necessary for a critical understanding of art history. Built on the premise that the exclusion of women in culture is linked to a deficit of feminist discourse in educational and artistic institutions, this line includes courses, conferences, and the creation of an archive of feminist knowledge about art.

Guided visits

Join the commented visit (45′) around Dialogues between sex, class and violence on Thursdays at 7:00 pm (CET), from the 20th October 2017 to the 14th of January 2018. Free admission.

Day and time can be arranged for group visits (between 5 and 25 people), at least one week in advance. Price: €25

Information and bookings: +34 944 014 014 / info@azkunazentroa.eus

Educational program

Enjoy the interactive visits and workshops about Dialogues between Sex, Class and Violence aimed at Secondary (ESO) and 6th Form (Bachiller) students, likewise other groups and associations interested in the proposal, whose age range is 14 to 18. We will approach the concepts tackled in the exhibition via an interactive methodology, and we will take the opportunity to reflect on the work and career of Margaret Harrison (1940, UK) from the artistic practice.

Fridays: 10:00 am – 11:30 am and 12:00 am – 1:30 pm (CET).

Basque / Spanish.