One Man and his Sheep 1989
Polychromed wood on marble floor
Ana Maria Pacheco (b 1943)
“This piece explores the complex and strange rituals and power structures that humans create.”
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery display notes.
Here is another sketch of Moore’s sculpture in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I sat to draw so my eye was aligned with the knot and radiating cracks in the wooden block. One might view this as a mutilated man, two limbs hacked off in battle. From this angle, though, my view was different. Here is a male body. The one leg, bent at the knee, truncated at the foot, and one arm and hand, wielding the shield as defence and weapon, are sufficient. On the side facing me, the limbs are still present, just not actualised, and instead expressive power is given to the shoulder and hip.
This is another sketch from “Women Power Protest” at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. As in the last sketch, the foreground shows “La Feuille”, Germaine Richier’s response to two world wars. Behind is Melanie Manchot‘s photographic and mixed media portrait of her mother. By mishap, in my sketch, the proportions of the face are of a younger woman whereas in the original, Mrs Manchot has the gravitas of age.
Claudette Johnson‘s larger than life self-portrait, Trilogy part III, Red, holds us in her gaze. In front is Germaine Richier‘s La Feuille, a bronze figure stripped of markers of femininity, imprinted with debris from the forest floor, decayed, impoverished and dehumanised. This was a witness to two devastating world wars in the artist’s lifetime. Painted three decades later, Johnson’s images reclaim visibility and control for black women.
Richier died the year Johnson was born. Johnson is about my age so we have seen the same world through different eyes. Now, the 1980s, when she painted this, feels like a different, historical, world. “Lest we forget” is a much used phrase. We must remember the battles of the 80s as much as the previous wars. Last night I watched the film Pride with my 11 year old daughter. In response to detailed questioning, I had to explain what I know of the Labour Movement, the Miners’ Strike, how the hardship of that industrial conflict disrupted working class social norms and changed womens’ roles, the nature of HIV and AIDS, the death of activist Mark Ashton aged just 26, civil rights and the nature of solidarity across boundaries that has transformed our society.
I drew without structure, starting with the bronze. I find I have exaggerated the broad shoulders of Johnson’s image, emphasising their power. As I drew, the museum guide planted himself in my line of view to explain to a tour an art critic’s view on interpreting feminist art. He made it explicitly clear to me who he felt controlled the space. This was likely just accidental snobbery and rudeness, but it felt like found performance art.
The “Women Power Protest” exhibition is in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until March. It celebrates 100 years of universal suffrage and, importantly for the future, showcases what should be unremarkable, that BMAG’s acquisitions from female artists balance or exceed those from men. Dignity, Hope, Activism are the exhibition’s universal themes, building on the three colours of the suffragettes’ banner.