Pablo Picasso once said, "Women are machines for suffering." He was not the only man to use and abuse in the name of his art. Margaret Keane's husband took sole credit for her sought-after "big-eye" paintings for years, keeping her quiet by threatening her life. Even Frida Kahlo did not become an icon until long after she was dead.
We know this: erasure and historical revision are simply a curse the "other" must bear. Statistics on the vastly skewed ratio of known and renowned white male artists to any other kind speak for themselves (see: Guerrilla Girls). How many artists have been forgotten, ignored, and abused—all because they are not male, not white, not enough?
Here, Kahlo's stoic portrait acts as a centrepiece, surrounded by a golden sun and a kaleidoscopic arrangement of female figures in silhouette. They could be any woman; they stand for every woman, and the ones who face inward, disrupting the usual pattern, drip blood from their heads—reminding viewers of the punishments bolder women receive.The remainder of the canvas boasts a hyperchaotic collage of acrylic and spray paint, ink, masking tape, gold leaf, and newsprint from media chosen to highlight the differences between how male and female artists have historically been treated and perceived. "Less than average" is the handwritten message scrawled over and over again, and in stark contrast, a singular, standalone phrase: "Bless the average".
Queen of Pop, icon of feminism and femininity, revolutionist in the realms of music, dance, fashion, and identity. The portrait at the centre of this piece has been selected to represent the early years of the star's career, when she pushed boundaries so well it changed the social and political landscape of entertainment forever. Controversy abounded. Disapproval surrounding her image—which was hypersexual, religiously blasphemous, and unapologetic—led to banned videos, cancelled sponsorships, and even, at times, outraged fans; Simultaneously she was breaking world records time and again, enjoying massive success not just as a musician but also as an actress and businesswoman, gradually transforming the way women and members of the LGBTQ community perceived themselves and their potential.
The artist has surrounded Madonna's image in newsprint featuring stories of other feminist icons from a similar era. The loud, proud defiance of Madonna—and the ways in which her privileges allowed her to make and defend the choices she made—is necessarily contrasted against the experiences of women in other parts of the world. There are places where the punishment for a woman's self-actualization might have been—and still might be—her execution. A chaotic collage of various mediums, from newsprint to acrylic paint, forms the backdrop for a single bold, bright word: TIME. Time continues to pass and the world continues to evolve, but how much have things really changed?