Well, a show title like The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe is certainly one to grab your attention and grab our attention it did. That was before we even saw the brilliant images featured in this group show that celebrates contemporary women artists.
Curated by Kelly-Anne Davitt, the show features works exploring ideas around “the power of art and femininity” across diverse approaches to painting, sculpture, installation, photography and film.
Billed as an “empowering, punk, pop show”, eight artists from various stages in their career are showing their work. “There is a strong, feisty, feminist theme running throughout the work,” says the gallery, and it certainly seems that way. But it’s playful too – railing against the patriarchy and celebrating the strange business of being a woman and the societal expectations that foist on you needn’t be boring.
Take the work of Clancy Gebler Davies, for instance. Inspired by that fabled first “fallen” woman, Eve, the artist’s Fake Nude project sees her star as the model in a naked bodysuit, showing off “her perfect merkin”. It’s profoundly striking and very funny; but also poses potent questions around how women “should” look; the prevailing culture of bodily hairlessness as perfection (no doubt informed by false pornographic BS); and using absurdist humour to showcase and satirise what’s idealised and sexualised in women’s bodies.
Bex Massey, Jane, oil, acrylic and enamel on linen, 2019
Clancy Gebler Davies, Fake Nude, 2019
Kelly-Anne Davitt, meanwhile, uses dolls as her stars. Often, she photographs clusters of Barbie dolls and the like; and the piece from which the exhibition takes its title, Princess of Power sees an oversized She-Ra action figure amidst an apocalyptic landscape (She-Ra being the 1980s Marvel character known as Princess of Power, The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe.)
Her piece looks to represent her strength and defiance against the struggles and oppression women have faced throughout history. “Davitt wants her audience to feel both empowered and intimidated by this Amazonian warrior/god,” says the gallery.
Clancy Gebler Davies, HerSuit, 2018
Kelly-Anne Davitt, Princess of Power Dolls, photograph, 2019
Bex Massey Installation
US-born artist Nancy Fouts’ work is on show posthumously; with the artist having died earlier this year. Her piece in the exhibition, a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek sculpture of the Virgin Mary with Safeway shopping bags, is typical of her practise, which combined and reimagined quotidian objects and gave them a twist informed by Surrealism, Dada and Pop Art to examine the strangeness of the everyday through bizarre and playful combinations of objects that would never usually be seen together.
Unless, of course, Mary did shop in Safeway, in which case, nothing Surreal about this at all. “I mean she’s a Mother, so why doesn’t she have shopping bags?” as the artist had said.
Salena Godden, Red, film still, 2017
Nina Mae Fowler, Bette, pencil and graphite on gesso, 2018
The other artists featured in the show are Nina Mae Fowler, who creates large-scale drawings depicting actors from the golden age of Hollywood; Sara Pope, who paints bold Pop Art-esque lips to explore ideas around “image perfectionism”; poet Salena Godden, whose work includes a poem titled Red protesting against tampon tax and the daft taboos still surrounding discussions of periods; Bex Massey, who works in installations that nod to pop culture and celebrity; and Hanne Jo Kemfor, who is showing a large-scale oil painting inspired by photographs of women in
Each artist will also be offering their own interpretation of the Princess of Power by creating artwork from a She-Ra action figure for the show. These will be sold to raise money for the Malala Fund charity, which states its aim as “working for a world where every girl can learn and lead”.
The exhibition takes place at Londonewcastle gallery in East London and runs from tomorrow until 28 September this year.