Your Body Is A Battleground – Barbara Kruger
Elena Dolcini sheds light on activist artist Barbara Kruger.
Your body is a battleground.
How many of us can say they have never heard this slogan before? For those who happen not to be aware of that, these are the echoing words epitomizing the long-lasting gender battle. This expression brings memory back to 1989 when 500,000 women marched together on Washington to manifest in favour of legal abortion.
Barbara Kruger was the artist who created THE poster putting together the unforgettable statement and a woman’s face divided in two parts, positive and negative, white and black, light and darkness. The picture symbolizes the conflict not just between public opinion and personal values, but also between contrasting individual certainties, which can’t help but fall down while facing a struggling experience such an abortion.
Kruger, born in 1945, started her career as a designer and became a visual artist in the 1970s. Women have always been a matter of concern in her practice. They asymmetrically embody a society, which doesn’t value equality principles between male and female. Even more, it doesn’t promote the specificity of being a woman as a precious resource.
However, Kruger has never been convinced of drastic oppositions – in her art there is no space for dichotomies between right and wrong, good and evil, linearity and degeneration. We are a whole, a holistic multitude of people who, despite heterogeneous political convictions and personal beliefs, live and communicate in the same space.
Here comes the controversial statement. For Kruger, everybody, and I mean everybody, is involved in consumerist attitudes. Nobody is absolved. And who thinks of himself as an extreme outsider, embodying with his own persona the Alternative to capitalism, oh well, he will have to re-adjust his self-consideration.
As Kruger once sustained, ‘If you and I think we are not susceptible to these images, than we are sadly deluded’.
Kruger’s art has often been considered conceptual due to the irreplaceable importance of the language she uses, refers to, and values as a great method of communication; as a consequence, images are simple, usually in black and white, they don’t catalyze too much attention per se. It’s the combination between words and pictures, their solid interaction that impresses the viewer.
Words are fundamental in a practice of dissent or, al least, of denounce and information as Kruger’s; she believes dialogue is not a common myth on people’s lips to conventionally promote fairness and tolerance, it’s the effective instrument of a practice of discourse which pushes people to challenge their stereotypes.
One of her recent exhibitions was titled Beliefs + Doubts, a motto carrying a precise idea with it: a balanced existence (sanity) is given by the sum of personal convictions, which are formed within a certain cultural environment, and the courage of questioning the same judgements.
The conversational practice is a vital resource for people who want to grasp the world they live in, and Kruger acts as a questioner by scratching the surface of things. She seems to amplify the awareness of beholders who, from the state of sheer consumers, become responsive citizens.
The American artist’s practice reflects contemporary issues and reveals itself as extremely up to date: we know well how women are still in search of fulfilling their potentialities in a world that is so boringly, partially, unimaginatively and violently ruled by men.
On Newstatesman (15 March 2013) Rafael Behr wrote that, ‘A more recent study for the University of Arkansas found that 90 per cent of mass-market video material contained elements of verbal of physical aggression towards women’.
In Italy, it is estimated that 877 women were killed by their partners in between 2005 and 2012, truly alarming data that concur to the idea of a taboo-society, which has been hiding and undervaluing these frightening situations. Hopefully Kruger can be a mentor for new generations of people who, unsatisfied by the mere state of things, actively question their place and promote constructive changes. Although distinctions can be offensive instruments of power, the artist’s voice arrives clear and discrete to a specific audience that needs to feed and strengthen itself – the kind of women (and not) who will to take part in the construction of a new common sense.
For more on Kruger’s work, head to http://www.barbarakruger.com.