FEMIN

Tian SG Weinberg

 

Majestic beauty, undeniable power, and deep sorrow are the motivating factors in this large scale installation by Chinese-born American artist Zhen Guo. Using an array of soft and hard materials, Guo uses the severed breast of an abstract and spiritual depiction of women to announce a societal need to come to terms with widespread disembodiment of women from humanity. FEMIN is a reclamation, from a long silenced artist, that her lived experience as a woman both in China and the United States is a source of power and prestige.

 

The assemblage of punching bags and tapestries make an overture to the legacy of craft in feminist art. Whereas many women artists reject the assumption of gender in their art, Guo accentuates her femaleness by incorporating the folk and community art that is relegated to crafts. Using a combination of accessible brightly woven fabrics, yarn, and silks, Guo elevates the art of the household to a feminist platform, extending her message beyond class, race, and national origin, and using history to defend her understanding of the current state of women transnationally.

 

Soft breasts like mollusks tacked onto leather and canvas punching bags, juxtaposing texture and manufacturing process. At once exposed and vulnerable to the hard fists of a heavyweight boxer, the breasts reclaim the surface area of the brutish column. The coarse canvas which once absorbed the bare handed strikes of the fighter, over time tearing at their knuckles and beating their hands raw, is overcome by the multicolored breast. Latching onto this new habitat that rejects the very existence of the breast is no simple task, and the resilience of women to survive in a hostile world is here memorialized.

 

Natural destruction of environment is a very optimistic understanding of the progression of women’s rights and feminist reality in the United States, and especially in China. One in which the most natural ambassador of women, the breast - severed from the body and thus its role as a symbol of age, vitality, of its ability to support life, and thus left in its material role as sexual object - is replicated in different colors and materials across the space. Confronting the warm yet morbidly dismembered objects as an enveloping pattern along the wall leads the viewer to confront their position against and along the symbol.

 

It would seem that in 2016, and in the next emerging year, that fundamental women’s rights should have been a past conversation. However, globally, women are murdered for daring to speak their minds, exercise their rights to choose who they love, travel on their own, and engage in other activities accorded to men of all ages, but to no women. In the United States now, young women are censored from seeking justice to violence against their bodies, and most recently the right to make decisions about one’s own health is being challenge in Ohio in a brazenly unconstitutional step to block termination at the heartbeat - a date before most women even realize they’re pregnant. A fundamental lack of empathy and understanding of women as human beings with abilities to make decisions for themselves pervades our society. The need to confront our position to the maternal symbol of the breast seems outdated, but is still present, especially in an international context.

 

A basic reminder of the historical resilience of women and the continued movement toward repudiating violence against women is needed now more than ever. The punching bag also stands as a reminder of how female empowerment can be seen as a threat to male supremacy. The mass attachment renders the utility of the punching bag useless, and corrupts the phallus. The polar charges of the verticalized phallus are canceled through the multiplicity of perpendicular charges; the textual masculinity of the punching bag is negated by the pillowy silks that collapse and envelope intrusion rather than reflect. Coming to terms with our position relative to the breast as a symbol of sexuality, motherhood, livelihood, and vulnerability is the slowly replicating mollusc that eventually renders the phallus useless, provoking the castration anxiety theorized by Freud and psychoanalytical surrealists, and leaving a multicolored object that documents the radical notion of being recognized as human.

--Tian SG Weinberg, 2017