This Saturday 8th October, starting 2pm, we at the Women’s Library are delighted to welcome renowned American artist Sharon Hayes and her latest commission In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You, a video installation that re-stages material extracted from newsletters and small-run publications produced by feminist, lesbian and effeminist political collectives in the US and UK dating from 1955 to 1977.
Sharon Hayes is an artist that I’ve only come across recently, but even in those few months, her art has touched me as deeply memorable and thought-provoking; stunning in both its way to spark cultural reflection, and the way it seems to transcend the divisive political climate we in the modern world have made for ourselves. Though Hayes’ works are often concerned with specific controversies and transient cultural moments, their apparent single-issue focus is actually quite misleading. Hayes actually deals with issues surrounding gender, politics, communication and language across a wide range of art forms and performances. She has a knack for digging down to the bare foundations of life and relationships, and the emotional qualities that unite people within them. Hayes’ work reminds us of what is truly important across our world’s many political divides, without downplaying the very real concerns that give rise to social activism. Perhaps the greatest and most persuasive aspects of her artistic resume are her works on identity politics and gay rights, two issues that deeply affected her personally when she first emerged onto the New York art scene at the height of the AIDS crisis. My favourite of this constellation of sexuality-focused artworks is her 1998 performance The Lesbian, a subtle and self-aware parody on stereotypical lesbian culture as seen from a heterosexual perspective. Through such works and the road trip nature of research Hayes employed to gather material, she manages to mix the anthropological with the deeply personal – a theme central to her art in general.
Though Hayes’ inspiration is focused primarily on specific historical and contemporary debates on gender, identity and militarism, its broader suggestions and insights roar just as powerfully into other relevant social battles blazing in America right now, notably the increasingly divisive feuds over health care, immigration, race and the recession. Though no work of art has the power to magically conjure these conflicts out of existence, either within the U.S or on a global scale, Hayes’ works remind us that we are no different from each other, and our many petty disagreements are just that – petty. The socio-political problems we deal with need to be worked out if we are to grow as humanity, but the problems can only be solved through a mutual-respect that is, simply, quite non-existent in the current system. In this way, Hayes places a deep but cautious trust in us – her observes, her audience – and a faith that we can give that respect. Her art challenges us to believe that whatever is left unresolved at the end of the day provides fuel for our continued growth tomorrow, if only we remember the humanity behind the slogans, and the need for love and respect that fuels every conviction.
If you would like to read more on this topic, check out these books available from our library:
Gender and Global Justice (2014) by Alison Jaggar
Doing Gender in Media, Art and Culture (2009) by Rosemarie Buikema
Feminism and Contemporary Art: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Laughter (1996) by Jo Anna Isaak
Don’t miss Saturday!