Wonder Woman: Stephanie Leigh’s positive projections for woman form in her latest exhibition.

Stephanie Leigh, Suspended Woman: A Weighty Burden. Exhibiting at Mars Gallery, 7 James Street, Windsor 3181, 30 June – 30 July 2016.

Wonder Woman. She was strong and tough and sexy. Stephanie Leigh matches this description. Leigh’s two-dimensional sculptural nudes in her latest exhibition, Suspended Woman: A Weighty Burden, also match this description.

Much like Wonder Woman herself, Leigh’s strong, tough and sexy work does not comprise representations of ethereal women, untouchable by the real woman, much like wonder woman herself. There is no frantic pixie girl here.

Leigh’s carefully carved and rendered wood, although flat, results in figures that highlight the voluminous capacities of the female form. There is great beauty to be found in the geometric shapes that constitute these nudes. Whether or not this beauty is equal to that of previous representations is not in question. Rather, what is of significance is that these nudes do not function as the nude did in the past – that is, as a sexualised female figure for the eyes of the viewer to consume.

Of course the headless format of Leigh’s figures could easily renounce any power these nudes hold. Instead, the lack of obvious identity on their faceless bodies makes these almost alien creatures not only beautiful for their own sake, but wholly themselves and never wholly attainable by the viewer.

Leigh’s comment is on the sexualised nature of the female form.

Her practice seeks to reconfigure the cultural and political oppression that has surrounded the female form through centuries of art, uncovering modes of resistance and change in order to renegotiate female objectification.

What takes her work a step beyond the trendy feminist commentary that currently envelops middle class affluent society is her Baudrillardian aesthetic: her work operates as a type of simulacrum of all the nude female forms that flood the media and social networks. In this manner it immediately responds in our minds to the images that surround us daily. Instead of playing into the hands of non-ownership and overt sexualisation, these figures, in their almost alien aesthetic and with their new geometrics, unmistakably resemble the nudes of western art. Yet there is an insurmountable difference.

Leigh’s clever use of bright and unrealistic colour highlights that this is the future, as does the placement of the sculptures. They hang in space, above us, literally, but more importantly symbolically, unattainable in our current existence. These bodies are simultaneously recognisable yet alien, awe inspiring yet beyond our grasp.

Perhaps these figures represent the shape of things to come, those who will move and mould the environment, defining it. No longer will female bodies be depicted as objects to be consumed.  We cannot know for sure, but one thing is clear, this is not a forewarning or negative jibe at our culture, but rather a vision of hope.

Yet, Leigh’s hand and intent are so strong that her authorship does much more than simply present a dream scene of a utopian society.

Leigh herself astutely describes her work as ‘drawing on the historical linage of the representation of woman in art, and its ramifications for the objectification of woman in contemporary society’ and explains that, ‘this exhibition interrogates these historical precedents and generates contemporary feminist forms.’

Here Leigh gives us a promise equal to her own Wonder Woman ways:

No longer dream figures, these headless geometrically-voluminous shapes are the new type of female form, owning their own body, floating in the bold, bright new universe. Bright young things, or perhaps even a new gender and consumed by no one but themselves. Perhaps for a fleeting second they will be a reminder of our once gendered, colonised and polarised world.

Welcome to the world of the future female form… Stephanie Leigh is also here to stay.

 

Stephanie Leigh_portrait

Stephanie Leigh is a Melbourne based artist. Working with painting, sculpture and installation. Leigh has achieved critical success as an emerging artist with a number of prizes and exhibitions. In 2014, Leigh graduated from her Masters at RMIT University in Melbourne. Following this, Leigh was selected to exhibit at Linden New art for their 2015 PhD and Masters exhibition and went on to win the MARS Gallery award. In 2015, Leigh was invited to co-curate AS IF: Echoes of the Women’s Art Register at West Space, Melbourne, which was funded by Arts Victoria, City of Melbourne and City of Yarra. Leigh was also invited to exhibit in F Generation: feminism, art, progressions at George Paton Gallery in 2015, a major exhibition of Australian feminist art.

 

Article by Author/s
Ariele Hoffman
Ariele is a curator at the Jewish Museum of Australia and contemporary arts writer. She has an MA by Research in History, University of Melbourne.

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