From Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964) and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #175 (1987) to Sarah Lucas’ Self-Portrait with Fried Eggs (1996), there is an undeniable history of women creating artwork about and with food. In the context of second-wave Feminism, food was largely mobilised by women artists with political motivations. During and since, it has been used to champion female emancipation from domestic duties, as a vehicle to discuss the objectification of the female body and as a tool to enact a once repressed female sexuality.
Thankfully, society has changed since the 1970s and the feminist movement has won a multitude of victories. Western women are generally liberated from exclusive domestic labour and the preparation of food is not always a gendered act. Yet within this new circumstance, food continues to be a primary topic in work by women artists. These contemporary creations are less about female emancipation alone and instead are tackling wider issues such as capitalism, over-consumption, media culture and the commodification of female identity. Perhaps, gender equality remains at the heart of the works, but these artists are approaching the issue from a wider standpoint. They are critiquing the very systems, such as capitalism and the media, that perpetuate inequalities both gendered and otherwise.
Ceramicist Alma Berrow’s handmade ashtrays, oysters and plates of crab or caviar appear as relics of a riotous party the night before. Her works are a favourite of Instagram influencers and prestigious art collectors alike and tell humorous stories of drunken debauchery over forgotten feasts. She does not identify her work directly with feminist aims, instead intending to relish in retro delights while creating a sense of play. Yet, she acknowledges an intrinsic relationship between women and food, “The ‘feminine’ has long had links with food, in Ancient Greece Demeter was the goddess of Agriculture, Annapurna in Hindu and Edesia in Roman mythology. Before the liberation of the ‘housewife’, women were expected to spend their days looking pretty, keeping the house pretty and making pretty food. It is no wonder food plays such a huge part in art created by women.” Beneath the light-hearted and humorous revelry of her work, there is something political though not expressly feminist at play. Her ceramics immortalise the mess that is left behind once the party is over, which illuminates over consumption, excess and, by extension, the dark side of capitalism.
See Alma Berrow’s work at Nino Meir Gallery, NADA Miami 2021 (Ice Palace Studios, Miami – till 4 December 2021). Follow @almaberrow. Visit www.almaberrow.com.
NATALIA GONZÁLEZ MARTIN
Food is an essential topic in the work of painter Natalia González Martin, through which she explores desire, sexuality, sin, pleasure, and ownership. She works primarily with oil paint on wood, creating hazy and mythical renderings that feel as if they are from another time. Her works often depict semi-clothed women with fruits and glassy tears reminiscent of the weeping Madonna of Syracuse. She acknowledges the political dimension of food, noting that it “means different things at the level of class, culture and also gender.” Her work draws on religious mythologies to excavate symbolic and sinful connotations of food going back to Eve and the Forbidden Fruit. She comments, “in the western world, food has very clearly adopted a sinful quality for women. We can choose to reject it but there is guilt around indulgence and eating. That’s why, for me, when women talk about food in their work, it directly becomes rebellious.”
See Natalia González Martin’s work at Run With The Wolves (Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai – till 1 March 2022), Tree and Leaf (Hannah Barry Gallery, London – till 22 January 2022), And What Does Pleasure Accomplish? (Steve Turner, Los Angeles – 14 February 2022 till 23 March 2022). Follow @natalia.gonzalez.martin. Visit www.nataliagonzalezmartin.uk.
Founder of Bad Art Collective, curator and painter Anna Choutova monumentalises jars of preserved snack food and gigantic hot dogs through large-scale, high-gloss paintings. The works are ingulfing, yet the food is mostly rendered within its packaging creating a sense that it is to be observed rather than consumed. For Choutova, “food is an infinitely interesting vessel to use within art” and she explores it as an “object of desire – to be admired from afar and not as a source of nourishment.” She has a self-proclaimed complicated personal relationship with food and acknowledges that for herself and others, it can be a “daily challenge and source of anxiety”. Her works are presented as an exploration of this fraught territory, she comments, “I create these luscious oil paintings of food, to hang on white-gallery walls, as a way of elevating this basic human resource into an iconic, untouchable arena.” Choutova’s works manifest the distance and discomfort many endure in relation to food when suffering with disordered eating. She links this to women’s experience and the media, “women have also felt the weight of a beauty ideal thrust upon them throughout history, a constantly changing one which becomes truly impossible to navigate.” She allows the viewer to experience the sensation of seeing a food as an object rather than as sustenance, and, by extension, draws our attention to complex beauty standards within society that may precipitate struggles around eating.
See Anna Choutova’s work at New Contemporaries (South London Gallery, London – 10 December 2021 till 20 February 2022), and Bad Art Presents Hot Air (Pipe Factory, Glasgow – 8 September 2022 till 11 September 2022). Follow @annachoutova1. Visit www.annachoutova.com.
Painter Phoebe Boddy creates canvases inspired by the experience of eating – using colour, humour and a deliberately naive style to celebrate the food we consume. She is interested in flavour and the sensorial rather than the political, she says, “food and flavour are my greatest influences” and is aiming to explore “the relationship people have to food and how common it is for them to attach memories to certain dishes or flavours”. Her newest series expressly explores the legacies of artists such as Sarah Lucas, Cindy Sherman and Linda Nochlin, which she feels might allow her to uncover a new dimension to her work. She comments, “My most recent work Eggy Bread is inspired by Sarah Lucas, I am very drawn to the way she uses humour to underline the sexism present in everyday life. Perhaps as I continue to explore this, I will realise feminism is a more prominent theme in my work than I originally anticipated.”
See Phoebe Boddy’s work at Figurative Art Now Prize Winners Exhibition (Mall Galleries, London – March 2022). Follow @phoebeboddyartist. Visit www.phoebeboddy.com.