“Be a Lady” curator’s text by Marta Szymanska

“Be a lady, they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight. Don’t show much skin (…). Be a lady, they said. (…) Don’t attract attention. Don’t work late. Don’t crack dirty jokes. Don’t go out at night. Don’t trust anyone. Don’t say yes. Don’t say no.”

These are the first and last lines of a manifesto written by the American writer and feminist Camille Rainville that gave name to this exhibition. Her text shows how difficult it is to “be a woman” surviving through the intricacies of bans, rules and gender stereotypes. Camille speaks of “woman” as a cultural construct that has been formed over centuries through the perspective of the so-called “male gaze”. In feminist criticism, “male gaze” refers to ways of representing the world, including women, from the perspective of a heterosexual man. And this dominant vision, inscribed in our culture, upbringing and visual habits, is so strong that it applies to both women and men. Thus, both men and women unconsciously use “male gaze”. A woman, presented from this point of view, is usually defenseless, weak, reserved and submissive. These cultural codes are exceptionally powerful in photography, especially in advertising, as well as in thousands of images daily uploaded to social media. So, photography becomes an extremely powerful and influential medium of expression with a huge reach, also accountable for reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Female artists (now more often male artists, too) have been engaged in a conscious discussion of these stereotypes since the 1970s. However, “female gaze” movement in photography has become especially prominent only in recent years. Fundamental to it is the representation of the world through the perspective that would differ from that of males – the one that has been culturally dominant for many years – and assumes diversity in the reflection of reality. Now, female photographers enthusiastically take part in debates about the position of women in art and photography and are especially active in fighting gender stereotypes, and showing alternative points of view on the so-called “masculinity” and “femininity.”

Anna Bundeleva, Dasha Buben, Dzina Danilovich, Yulia Leidik, Masha Svyatogor, Olga Kirillova, Tatiana Tkacheva and Zhanna Gladko challenge and resist these stereotypes: they give the floor to women, use their own experience, offer new images of femininity, and show how with sensitivity, attention and without objectification, one can photograph another person.

Women consciously speak out in different spheres – including photography. Today it is more important than ever. They assure: be a lady – if you want. Say “yes” – if you feel that it’s all right for you. Say “no” – if the situation calls for it.

Curator: Marta Szymanska

Artists: Anna Bundeleva, Dasha Buben, Dzina Danilovich, Yulia Leidik, Masha Svyatogor, Olga Kirillova, Tatiana Tkachova, Zhanna Gladko