A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Birmingham exhibition explores body image and identity

Works from artists including Francis Bacon form part of a new experimental exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery which explores underrepresented stories of body image and identity. 

Within and Without: Body Image and the Self, open now until February 1st 2019, examines the questions, anxieties and stereotypes faced when trying to attain the ideal body we see reflected in public spaces. 

Including artworks dating from 1825 to present day, with a new photography commission created especially for the exhibition, the display explores how body image impacts on issues such as social status, gender, health, aesthetics, religion, politics and sexuality. 

Stand out works in the show include Pygmalion (1997) by Donald Rodney, which is on display for the first time since the artist’s death in 1998. Pygmalion explores the complexities of racial identities, masculinity, perfection and fame through an irreverent depiction of Michael Jackson as a moving automaton. This piece provokes a discussion about one of the exhibition’s key themes of colourism and how racial identities affect lived experiences.
One of the other main themes in the exhibition is the Male Gaze and how women are often presented as sexual objects for a male viewer. This is explored through Helen Chadwick’s Vanity (1986) which asks the observer to consider whether the artist is challenging or playing up to what is typically considered the desirable behaviour and appearance for a woman. 

I spent some time exploring the exhibition recently, and here is what I enjoyed the most...

Francis Bacon - Figures In A Landscape (1956)

This painting is a key piece in the exhibition. When looking at the oil painting, you can see that the figures are human, but are naked and distorted. It has been placed in the exhibition to recognise that for many people, body image is a struggle.

Henry Wallis - Study of a Nude Man with Club (1850-1860)

This piece from Henry Wallis has formless genitals and a smooth body, relating to those who are not represented as a particular gender.

Chila Kumari Burma - Autoportrait 28 Position in 34 years

This artist painted over 28 images of herself to create a mixed media self-portrait. In the piece, Burma explores the construction of her racial and sexual identity, by wearing various costumes that illustrates that the identities are fluid.

Wooden Dolls made in Kumming, China (1988-1990)

This piece shows a selection of handmade dolls. It was chosen to be included in the exhibition as the collection highlights a lack of diversity in commercialised and popular dolls.

This is the second prototype exhibition in the ‘Story Lab’ gallery at BMAG, which has been created with the city’s diverse individuals, communities and professionals to help define innovative new ways of understanding Birmingham’s collection of museum objects.
The specially designed ‘Story Lab’ space has been created to test new ideas and radical approaches to provide vital insight and feedback for the plans for the museum re-development. The innovative approach means that visitors have multiple ways of experiencing the exhibition and its content, including personal and academic responses to the artworks, so they can decide what they prefer. 

Within and Without: Body Image and the Self has been created alongside various groups, including Lordswood Girls School students, Birmingham LGBTQ+ Refugee Group and an over 50s group.

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