EXHIBITION: TERRAINS OF THE BODY: Photography from the National Museum of Woman in the Arts

I visited this exhibition (The Whitechapel gallery, London January- April 2017) to give me some more background for assignment 3 “putting yourself in the picture”.

Artists photograph the female body to express identity, communicate individual and collective experiences and to give life to the imagination. Photography here from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, of 17 artists from 5 continents, show that their contemporary images are increasingly performative and can narrate strong stories. These images are actually mainly stills taken from films or documented performances. Some verge on documentary whilst some are purely narrative. Anna McNay suggests that “The show’s title, Terrains of the body, makes reference to the staging of female subjects in various settings, but the term terrains also evokes a sense of ownership…taking possession of the medium of photography by woman, as a means of expressing her history and identity” (McKay 2017).



The focus is storytelling potential of the body in photography. It was good to see close up Nikki S Lee’s “The Ohio project 2002” where she dressed up and integrated with a group as a Midwestern trailer park resident, posing questions about identity and social behavior.

lee hip hop (Guggenheim, 2017).

As the female body has been a political and cultural battleground, images of fragmented or marked bodies, like Ingrid Mwangihutter “Shades of skin” (2001) with images of scars on her back and dangling feet, as if a hanging corpse impact deeply.

Women are shown in roles acting out masquerades such as Daniela Rossell’s “Medusa” (1999) where she lies on a bed with her hair arranged as medusa staring at you.

Rossell (Sooke, 2017).

Nan Goldin’s “Self-portrait in kimono with Brian” (1983) is half posed and shows an intimate daily life moment.

Goldin (Sooke, 2017)

Kirsten Justesen’s (2013) “Portrait in a cabinet with her collection” of statuettes a teapot and a box is thought provoking.

There were however images that left me with many questions:

  • Justin’s Kirkland’s “Waterfall mama babies” (2006) of a raft expedition where the naked mothers and babies are resting at a waterfall. What is it trying to say?
  • Janaina Tschape’s “He drowned in her eyes as she called him to follow” (1999), with a floppy woman on chair, looking down at her hand in polythene glove? Where is he?
  • Charlotte Ggyllenhammar “The Fall 111” (1999) where I thought she is wearing a ballet outfit, viewed from above; is she falling? Reading elsewhere I discover she is hanging upside down with the ruffled skirts suggesting a wedding dress suggesting loss of virginity.
  • Marina Abramovic “The hero” (2001), a strong image of a woman on white horse, holding a white flag dressed in black. Though I discovered in a review that it is a memorial to her soldier father.

I have read that the artists extend the scope of feminist art, reclaiming their own representation, and embrace the female body as a medium to express identity, however as a viewer I need some help with contextualizing them to build meaning; some more accompanying texts would have been helpful.


Guggenheim. (2017). The Hip Hop Project (1). [online] Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/12992 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2017].

McNay, A. (2017). Terrains of the Body: Photography from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Studio International. [online] Studio International – Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. Available at: http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/terrains-of-the-body-photography-from-the-national-museum-of-women-in-the-arts-review [Accessed 20 Apr. 2017].

Sooke, A (2017). The Whitechapel Gallery’s all-female exhibit is a quiet, intelligent protest: Terrains of the Body, review. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/all-female-protest-terrains-body-whitechapel-gallery-review/ [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this siteare accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only


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