The Saatchi Gallery is toasting it’s 30th Birthday with ‘Champagne Life’, its first all-female exhibition. It was the gender-specific promise which inspired me to visit; Saatchi and his crew successfully made enough of a point about it to fool me into thinking it would in some way inform what was on show. Critics have thus far collectively noted that the show had no real theme or curatorial arrangement, and that the all-female element was nothing more than ‘tokenism’...and on the whole I’d have to agree. Very little information was to hand to suggest reasoning behind the chosen artists or work, leaving nothing but the knowledge of shared gender to guide you through the show.
I searched for meaning on these grounds, and found it to be lurking in the domesticity implied by Maha Malluh’s ‘Food For Thought’ pans, the mundane yet essential objects signifying the nurturing mother figure; the tenderness in Seung Ah Palik’s ‘Maitreya', bare flesh touching bare flesh; and Alice Anderson’s giant bobbin ‘Bound’, just waiting for a giant woman to pick it up and begin making and mending. This is, however, where it stopped.
Such meanings were ascribed by myself as a way to make sense of the combination of works bundled together. Shellie Sojhanvari’s taxidermy horse ‘Moje Sabz’ and Mia Feuer’s ‘Jerusalem Donkey’ seemed at odds with the theme I was trying to build, serving instead as a sign to stop looking for something that really wasn’t there.
Instead I saw the talent, and nowhere more so than in the portraits by Jelena Bulajic, which reminded me just how beautiful age actually is; in her work wrinkles become lines of experience, expressions from days gone by, and eyes shine with wisdom and emotion. Bulajic’s technique of adding limestone, marble dust and ground granite to her oils creates a texture which only adds to the realism of the faces before us, beginning to set their life stories in stone.
Some of my favourite work ironically wasn’t from ‘Champagne Life’ at all, although it was nonetheless another female artist which wowed me. Azeri and Russian artist Aidan Salakhova has currently taken over the entire top floor of the gallery with her 'Revelations' show, which is deserving of the space. Centred around the veiled figure, her work aims to ‘deconstruct and challenge the patriarchal order’. Her ’Naomi Campbell’ piece , and her film, reverse the notion of woman as the submissive, presenting men at the mercy of the powerful female figure. Technically her forms are striking, the drapery of the veil captured perfectly with strong lines and shadow.
Most magnificent of all was ‘Diana’, which on first glance was nothing but a black canvas with a lighter line in the middle. The more you looked, however, the more you saw, and a slit in the veil soon revealed a nose and two eyes. Like an illusion, the work became more and more alive the more you stared - a metaphor perhaps for the perception of the outside world towards the ‘invisible’ veil-wearer. I found that Aidan's work said something far more poignant about being female than anything in the ‘female-only’ show. It was more mysterious, and more relevant to today’s struggles.
The main thing I took from my visit was that the quality of art created by females is of course no less than that created by male artists. This begged the question: why are female artists still so incredibly under represented in today’s art world? Why on earth is only 8% of work by living artists sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in China, NYC and London made by the female hand? And why is there even a need to have a ‘female-only’ exhibition, seemingly only to do us gals a favour and showcase our work, since ‘Champagne Life’ did little else thematically.
In 2014 the Museums Association asked the question: should galleries display more work by female artists? The answer was a resounding yes (91%). So how about we pack in gender specific exhibitions altogether - the all female ones that happen once in a blue moon, and the mostly male ones that take place all year round - and simply open the doors to more female artists in every exhibition. After all, it is 2016.
Check out the work for yourself at the Saatchi Gallery:
Champagne Life 13 January - 9 March 2016
REVELATIONS: NEW WORK BY AIDAN 13 January - 28 February 2016