Hannah Wilke (1940-1993) was a conceptual feminist artist based in New York whose practice consisted of sculpture, photography, drawing, performance, assemblage as well as installation. Wilke was a very controversial artist and is known to be one of the first feminist artists to have used vaginal imagery in her work, becoming a huge influence on the feminist art movement. Wilke deals with issues surrounding feminism and femininity as well as the broader issues of life and death and how they affect the mind and body, especially female, within her work.
Wilke started exploring her personal identity through body art in the 1970’s using her body as her primary subject by posing nude. Some feminists see her work as aggressively opposing and even sometimes merging with the accepted views on the female body within Western culture such as the womans body becoming the object to satisfy the male eye. Many critiques see her as an unsuccessful feminist artist due to her being a beautiful woman exploiting her femininity to express the female body and vanity with sexual and flirty undertones. However, I feel the context of her work really becomes more clear and impacting in the art of her last years whilst suffering with Lymphoma sadly causing her death in 1993.
Whilst suffering with the disease that she was diagnosed with in 1987, Wilke continued to make her body art whilst undergoing extensive treatment including a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy. I chose to show her specific piece ‘Intra Venus’ as for me these images show clearly the extreme changes her body was put through and how her beautiful feminine image quickly deteriorated along with her health. By continuing to create these images, for me this shows Wilkes true feminist views on the matter of the female body. She shows that even when exterior beauty is removed, the ‘venus’ pose of her feminine identity still remains.
Another piece I’ve chosen to discuss is Wilkes ‘Portrait of the Artist with her mother, Selma Butter’ showing an image of healthy beautiful Hannah Wilke with healthy breasts, in contrast to an image of her mother after suffering with breast cancer. The images show the extreme damaging affect on the female body from breast cancer and for me shows more of the external effects of the female body compared to the more internal approach which I take in my current work through looking at breast cancer cells.
For me, Wilke is one of the key turning points in how the female body was and is represented in western culture. Within her work she reflects upon something many women suffer from on a day to day basis, not only through female related illnesses, but also struggling to meet the high standards of feminine beauty of an image-conscious society.
Fig 1. Wilke, H. 1975. Ponder-r-rosa 4, White Plains, Yellow Rocks.. Latex Sculpture. New York: Museum of Modern Art. Available at: http://batootah.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/hannah-wilkes-exploration-of-personal.html [Accessed on: 3 Dec 2013]
Fig 2. Wilke, H. 1978-1981 . Portrait of the Artist with her Mother, Selma Butter. Photography. Available at: http://batootah.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/hannah-wilkes-exploration-of-personal.html [Accessed on: 3 Dec 2013].
Fig 3. Wilke, H. 1992-1993. Intra Venus (Collection of images). Photography. Available at: http://batootah.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/hannah-wilkes-exploration-of-personal.html [Accessed on: 3 Dec 2013].
Batootah.blogspot.co.uk. 2013. HANNAH WILKE’S EXPLORATION OF PERSONAL IDENTITY. [online] Available at: http://batootah.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/hannah-wilkes-exploration-of-personal.html [Accessed: 3 Dec 2013].
Hannahwilke.com. 2013. Hannah Wilke.com Home. Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, LA. [online] Available at: http://www.hannahwilke.com/index.html [Accessed: 3 Dec 2013].