The answer to the question of ‘What do we want from art?’ is continually evolving. There are thousands of responses and permutations worldwide. Many are problematic. Is this from a lack of understanding the images or not trusting our own eyes? It is very hard to misinterpret a painting of naked girls on an auction block, unless you want to believe it is something other than the obvious.
Historically, we seem to demand less from art works. We want beauty and familiarity, readily forgiving scenes of violence, sexual exploitation and perversion as ‘of its own time’. However, ethics and morality did not just suddenly spring forth in the 21st century as recently invented, so to not interrogate imagery that celebrates the sale of people as commodities is a bit naive.
We have assembled imagery from several genres, but mainly what is known as Orientalist. This was a label given to art works in the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries that romanticized the ‘East’ for a ‘Western’ audience who had never been there. The predilection for imagery that depicts girls and women for sale and in harems is evident and disturbing.
The contemporary art included in this exhibition has been created by the girls themselves, some with the assistance of an agency or photographer. As a part of rehabilitation, education and creative expression, these works provide what is missing in the historical work—the girl’s voice. These are intended to give a sense of hope. Definitely not as glamourous as the Orientalist paintings, but the truth never is.
Let us know what you think about these works.