Contested Territories Reflective Essay.

The woman’s body is a contested territory. It is personal yet open to scrutiny, debate, and
to govern. Editorial illustration is my area of interest as well as reportage and activism. I chose to compose my work around the reportings of the media rather than solely academic reading. I am interested in what is being reported, looking at how and where my target audience is getting it’s information from, and how people are engaging with what is happening in the world right now. My BA and MA practice work focuses on sexism, gender, and stereotypes, naturally I found myself engaging with the reports of people fighting for women’s reproductive rights.
Judith Butler (2012) describes how the mass of bodies together creates a presence and
how the collective takes up space in an area that is public although this space is nuanced. Butler also discusses the impact of technology on protests.Smartphone recordings on social media can quickly disseminate the action to places that would otherwise be unaware or disconnected. Using technology and the internet has been imperative to how I have mapped the protests across Poland, Republic and Northern Ireland, and America.
Since Roe v Wade in America in 1973, there seems to be a determination to peddle backwards rather than forwards. Carole Joffe (2003) refers to the effect on reproductive rights once a Republican is elected into office and it is happening again. De-funding Planned Parenthood seems to be a priority yet this is contrary to preventing terminations when birth control is a service they provide. Donald Trump wrote an executive order to reinstate the Global Gag Rule within days of taking office which will restrict access to contraception worldwide. For Trump to appoint a pro-life judge to the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v Wade which means women could no longer have access to a safe termination. Reports have been released of lawmakers expressing their views on how women are ‘hosts’ when they are pregnant1, and another of how it would be detrimental
to the family if women were granted equal pay2. Already astounded that a man who has
been recorded clearly stating he would grab women’s bodies without consent3, has been elected into power and is now working on eliminating a woman’s right to reproductive choice and health care for her own body. I fear this election has given a voice to misogyny and believe this is the true undertone rather than moral and religious beliefs.
Throughout the reports on the debates and protests in Northern and Republic of Ireland,
and Poland, the Catholic Church is prominent. Protesters suggest the Church has too much of an influence over society, politics, and education in all countries. Siobhán Mullally (2005) recalls numerous referenda on abortion in Ireland and progress has yet to be made. In 2013 Sarah Ewart had to travel to England to terminate a planned pregnancy after being informed the baby could not survive outside the womb. Ewart has continued to campaign for the law to be changed. In 2014 a refugee was raped in her own country and on discovering she was pregnant in Ireland, she was denied an abortion. Mullally (2005) already references how forcing a woman to carry to term after rape is a breach of human rights. When the threat to her life was acknowledged after turning suicidal, a court order was obtained to carry out a caesarean at twenty-five weeks. A woman who was diagnosed brain dead by her doctors was kept alive in 2014 as she was 18 weeks pregnant forcing
her family to go to court to allow her to die. Across Ireland it is only legal to have an abortion if the woman’s physical or mental health is at risk. Towards the end of last year there were calls for politicians from the rest of the UK to offer help to Northern Irish women who were having to travel to terminate. The country has not yet come forth
with another referendum on the issue and there are plans for a protest on the 8th March 2017. In Poland, a citizens initiative legislation was proposed to make abortion legal only if the mother’s mental and physical health is affected. It proposed abortion for rape and incest to be illegal. Women across the country conducted a protest named Black Monday. The government agreed they would not implement the bill and the protests had given them “food for thought”.

Upon reflection of the lecture on memory and trauma1, I wanted to juxtapose objects along
with collage and create a zine2. After visiting Tracey Emin’s bed at Tate Liverpool, I contemplated how the emotion was embedded within the materials rather than from a narrative3. I changed my initial idea for the type after my practice tutorial4 and drew on a Suddedeutsche Zeitung magazine edition shown in an artist talk I attended held by David Britain5. I wanted to represent the amount of simultaneous editorial documentation being released and communicate how the sheer volume of words, although necessary, can almost suppress emotion towards a situation6. As Susan Sontag suggested regarding journalistic photography, the exposure can anaesthetise (1997:20). My intent was to map and illustrate the rise of people protesting and moving forward together but leave space around the images for thought. The idea of a zine comes not only from a history of zines in feminist discourse but also from another tutorial where we discussed what people perceive
as authoritative7. This influenced my decision making on the choice of paper weight and
gloss, and getting it printed professionally, also choosing to print type I could reference from reliable sources rather than my own opinion.

My exhibition piece was originally 8”. I decided to reconfigure her so she could command
attention in the space. I want people to stand with her or view her as an authoritative, intimidating presence to stand against. I spoke with the curator about my intent and how I wanted people to be taken aback when walking into the exhibition and the space I was given delivered this perfectly8. It has been an interesting experience to work together as a collective to bring the exhibition, called apart, together, to life. The curators were invaluable, grouping us together in a way that flowed, and how they envisaged the space for so many people despite the interpretations being unique to each artist. I appreciated how this felt wholly collaborative rather than orchestrated by the curators. The practical knowledge of how to hang my work and how to promote the event will stand me in good stead for the future. I have come to realise that it is important I work on my time management. It took around four times the amount of time I set aside to complete my zine as I was using programmes I had not used before and learning to compose my work for print. In reality, I have dedicated near equal time to the project and my practice work. I found the lectures encouraged ideas to test within my practice also.

It was brought to our attention that the event venue had contacted the curators stating that due to the political nature of some of the work, they would like it to be invitation only. I have been promoting my work and the exhibition details via social media platforms as discussed with the group during our meetings. I had included the venue on the posts and I can only guess they encountered my interpretation. Similar situations have occurred in the past where people do not want to be seen endorsing the work or a disclaimer has been suggested. My work and the research can leave me conscious of segregation. I am involved in a debate with a man who was extremely vocal on his views on hiring women of childbearing age and how the law is now unfairly bias towards women and the conversations I have encountered during my working day with women can leave me depressed and dumbfounded. Women appear to be reduced down to the fact they can give
birth, no matter the context. For a woman to ask whether I am ready for the wrath I will face upon showing my work is frustrating. I am not promoting the procedure, I am promoting body autonomy, affordable birth control, and safe health care. Abortion will happen regardless, but it will not be safe. I have been involved in exchanges where a man believes child support is proof that men are not legally allowed to avoid their responsibilities. I would argue that paying money does not equate to the responsibility of women carrying a child, giving birth, and being the primary or sole carer of a child forced by law. People have a lot to say in other contexts but not when I present my work and
invite a conversation.

I believe the exhibition was a success for everyone involved. My work was not discussed
with many people who were not artist themselves and I noticed that not many picked up the zine until I opened it. Upon reflection, I think the zine may of been more successful in a different environment and this gives me something to think about and take forward. The piece was enough on it’s own for the event. I could possibly situate the zine somewhere where people have to sit and spend some time. I predict there will be the opportunity to work on this as this exchange of views is far from over.

1 Trauma, Effect and Empathy lecture held by Fiona Barber for Contested Territories option 19/1/17.
2 See images 1 and 2. The front cover of my zine and an inside spread.
3 See image 3. Photograph of Emin’s Bed taken at Tate Liverpool. October 2016.
4 Clinton Cahill suggested I play with the typography. I was so attached to the idea of evoking anonymity with the style of a ransom note, I could not see for looking. This hindered the work. Although I prefer now what I have done with the text, I do believe I could have explored this much further.
5 David Britain shown an image of the political magazine Suddedeutsche Zeitung. This specific edition was released without any words. It highlighted the political despair at the time of print. I wanted to use this effect to allow room for a visual impact after the volume of typed reports. Unfortunately, after contacting Brittain, he can not pinpoint the exact edition that was referenced.
6 See image 4. Inside spread of zine.
7 Recalling another tutorial with Clinton Cahill, this influenced my decision making in regard to paper choice, choosing to print in colour, and getting the final printed professionally. I also decided to only use text I could reference from reliable sources rather than including my own opinion or reflection.
8 See images 5a ,5b & 5c. Photograph I took during a group visit to the exhibition space and of the exhibition, apart, together, with permission of owner and curator, Chris Bailkosky. Taken at the event on 23/03/17.


apart together- Artist Statement.

Deliberately barren, accidentally fertile.


Her body.

People comment on it.

How it looks,

how it is used.

…If not used properly…

It is her body. Open for debate.

To judge.

To decide what happens to it.

To rule.

To take away her choices.

To rule her out

exclude, eliminate, reject, dismiss, disregard; preclude, prohibit, prevent, disallow.

It is her body.

Framed in a public gallery.

For others to view.

To decide what it means.

To interpret what it is for.

It is her body.


It is your body. Stand up.




Contested Territories and Grayson Perry, and how they help me to approach my practice.

The thing with Contested Territories is it is almost too interesting. I think I have mentioned this before, at least I have in conversation, it is so big. It is a huge option with so many avenues you can walk down, however, so is my practice. I have read some of the required reading; if I am honest, for where I wanted to initially take this project, I found the reading was too distracting as my area of interest was being documented by the press regularly. I felt engaging with editorial pieces was more important and relevant than academic reading. Some of the talks have been fascinating and today’s has made an impact. I have found throughout the option, my ideas and thoughts have flown freely but for my practice research. I’m not sure whether I have been stimulated enough but not fully engaged with some of the lectures and this has triggered me to take what is being said and take bring it into the context of my option.

I have been watching a lot of Grayson Perry documentaries and questioning how he is able to approach people and get them to engage with him. Is it because he is male? Surely this makes it easier to approach other men and question their identity and ideas of what masculinity means than if I asked them? Is it because he is open about how his inner research on his own identity has enabled him to unpack this in relation to masculinity? Having already done the work on himself, so to speak, does this break down barriers and enable his subjects to feel less judged. Is it because he is an established and celebrated artist who is successful and has acquired a certain status? If you look him up on google, he will appear first, not hundreds of other people with the same name. Is it because he has money behind him and camera crews that makes it easier to source the exact people he is looking for? It would be reasonable to believe it could be a combination of these things and I commend him for using all of them to work to help people. Because that is the desire behind his work.

Perry made a comment during the first episode of Grayson Perry, Who Are You?, ‘there is always an element of myself in there’. He said there are issues that are talked about that remind him of things he has dealt with or questioned. I wondered if that helps to make his work work? Because there is always a personal element in there or because he is able to empathise with the subject/ topic. When I released the videos of my reportage illustration, I might have got a few ‘likes’, but no one really engaged with it. I gave an interview for GRRRLIZM digital art collective magazine and released that across my social media. I spoke about what I was trying to do with my work, what I had found so far and a couple of my own personal childhood experiences. People liked it, shared the post and messaged me about it to say it made them think. I wonder if this is a good place to start? Maybe I can address my experiences first and use them as prompts? Would people open up if I could show this when asking for their stories?

Today’s Contested Territories lecture was on memory and trauma. Something was said; trauma is never in the past, it is always in the present. I believe this is true. Is trauma on the body worse than trauma on the mind? And how is trauma measured? If something small affects you for years, is it huge? Can it shape you even if you can’t see it? This lecture gave me lots to think about and also artists to look at. We spoke of how trauma can be embedded in objects and materials; as with gender. Memories can be triggered by objects, songs, certain smells and maybe this is where I need to be looking? I will research in to the artists over the weekend and go rummaging through my parent’s loft for old objects. I have the email of the lecturer to talk with her about my project.

I am going to email Sian Bonnell too as her artist talk was inspiring and I am thinking about placing objects in certain places to evoke certain feelings… this is a separate blog post, I think.

At the end of the day I wanted to hear a talk given by Gary Spicer as part of his PhD journey but my train was booked for 7pm… I did manage to quiz him on his approach to his work. He said he sees no separation between his reading, writing and practical work. There is no order, he may read until he feels he has to make or document; they are equal in value to the Phd as a whole. He is allowing his research to guide him and has no end goal. He wrote a letter to himself asking what it was that he wanted to find out knowing that he knows himself best and would subconsciously be able to answer. He has his interest in memory, and again, his personal aspect of being of half Jewish and looking at the Holocaust. He found his area of interest during his MA and even though he took a long break after his MA, his interest remained. What resonated with me is that I feel like I know my area of interest, I have a personal aspect invested, and I also have no firm idea after this. I do not know what I want to make and I can not imagine getting to the point where I feel I have read enough and I fully need to make practical work now. I’m not sure whether I need to be completely experimental until I touch on something, investigating one thing, then maybe another area? What if I don’t make anything that particularly works? Does this matter? Because I am still investigating and unpicking? Do I have to be set in where I want to go on MA or can I deliberately leave it open? With this topic of gender and identity, I can’t imagine my work will be done by the end of MA.


Photographs of Gary Spicer’s PhD practice, Necessitating My Alliance.

Contested Territories.

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For my option unit I chose Contested Territories. The pitch for CT excited me as it addressed issues that I am passionate about; the woman’s body as a contested territory; masculinity and sex as violence in war; memory and trauma; and migration. When it got to the lectures it became apparent that this was also a very heavily research based option with a huge amount of academic reading to be done. Although I stand by how interesting and relevant I find the option, part of me thinks I could have benefitted from one that was more hands on and proactive to balance out my own research and maybe bring a different approach or method to my methodology. As I have been feeling overwhelmed with the amount of reading this week, I have decided to make this option my own in the sense that I read some of the recommended reading but tailor it to what I am finding relevant at this very moment in time.

Gender as politics is dominating parts of the media coverage at the moment. Abortion Laws, Donald Trump being elected and what this means for women, why hasn’t America ever elected a female president, breastfeeding stigma in public places and in the workplace, women striking in Poland over abortion laws, and many more. I remember my BA tutor Anna Bhushan saying that sometimes you make an image, it might come out of nowhere or be based on something small and the content and context come later, I feel this has happened now. To sum up CT we are to hold and exhibition and I feel I have my work for it. This could obviously change, but I have a piece I made after I read about the comments made in Australian parliament to Julia Gillard calling her ‘deliberately barren’. I feel like my image has universal prevalence right now as women protest against the political control over their bodies and lives across the world. I have ideas about how I can exhibit my piece. I am thinking I would like to print her large, either life-sized or larger, but that does depend on cost. At this moment it is a small image, around 13 inches tall, for the impact I want her to have, she needs to be bigger. She needs to be slightly intimidating and authoritative to leave no doubt that she should be the one who is in control of her body. If I have to go smaller due to lack of space as there will be 20 of us exhibiting, I have an image that represents how women should be quiet about their body. The image was originally made to address the taboo surrounding menstruation, however, I feel this image would represent how politics is trying to lock down women’s control of their bodies and lives with the abortion laws. This image is already very small, 8×8, and it should be displayed with a fair amount of space around it in order to draw the viewer in. It is titled quiet and needs to be viewed that way. It is an image to ponder over, in contrast to my other piece.

To go forward with CT I plan to work backwards. I have my images, I now intend to read around social activism through art whilst keeping up to date with the media reports of policing of women.