Ragged CULT caught up with leopard print loving, Creative Debuts artist Helena Cardow prior to her debut at Nasty Women’s: Empowerment Exhibition. We chatted to the Durham University graduate about feminist art, the female form as motif in her work and her highly anticipated Sustain Series. Check out what she had say below.
Sustain Series – Helena Cardow
Who or what inspires you?
“In terms of inspiration, I follow so many talented artists on Instagram – too many to mention, but simply seeing great art being shared is one of the reasons I decided to put my own work out there! In terms of current favourite, I’m crushing on the works of Chloe Wise, Hola Lou and Henri Matisse. More formally, Ghada Amer’s works introduced me to embroidery as an art, and I also began incorporating this typically domestic craft into works. I especially appreciate the contrast between incorporating a traditionally ‘feminine’ craft into works that subvert traditional conceptions of women and femininity. I was also impacted by the visuals created by Lorna Simpson, who combines texts and images in her works to explore how meaning and identities are constructed. Simpson explores ‘identity politics’ through the juxtaposition of striking staged photographs of a universal representation of the black female body positioned alongside text; examining the processes through which meaning and understanding take place.”
What is your first memory of being interested in Art as a subject?
“Being an only child I spent a lot of time in my own head, I learned very early on how to entertain myself, and art was an easy way to do it. Creativity has always been a part of me, all of my school books were filled with doodles, my skin became a canvas and a blue ballpoint pen my tattoo-gun. I drew on everything and anything, it didn’t have to make any sense, or even look aesthetically-pleasing, I just had to leave a mark on something. Until recently however, I never saw a career in art as a possibility. Society insists upon getting a ‘real job’, and it’s extremely hard to put yourself and your work out there without knowing how people will take to it so platforms like Creative Debuts have helped massively. I’ve also slowly been easing myself into the bathwater, after getting my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology last year I enrolled in a Master’s in Visual Arts and Culture. It wasn’t a practical course so I wasn’t spending a lot of time making any art. So I made a personal promise to myself to create something every day. It doesn’t have to make any sense, or even look aesthetically-pleasing, I just have to leave a mark on something.”
The female form is consistently referenced in your work, why?
“It’s the first subject I knew, as an artist and as a woman. The female form is the body I have lived in for over two decades. The female form as my corporeal home has shaped how I’ve been seen by others, how I’ve experienced life. In some ways it is all I know; your own body is sort of your first confirmation of reality. It is the only thing I am a hundred percent sure of, that I exist, that I can feel my body, I am here. I find a certain comfort in the familiar folds and contours of the female body. Most importantly, the female body is beautiful! It deserves to be seen, to be visible, to be loved.”
Can you describe the concept(s) behind your ‘Sustain’ series?
“The Sustain Series that will be showing at Empowerment on International Women’s Day is a photography project based on a collection of conceptual garments designed for a conservation society show by my mother. I directed and photographed the models in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria who each wore a different garment from the collection. These pieces each tackled a different theme: The Condom Dress highlights issues around safe sex and the HIV crisis in Africa, The TV Dress tackles the e-waste and recycling issues that modernity has brought, and The Magazine Dress is fashioned from the disposed-of pages of consumerism. The models are juxtaposed against a setting strewn with litter and the decay of debris, adorned in haute-couture trash. Simultaneously, the series places the subject of the Black Female Body front and centre, a form often marginalised in society, is here celebrated and captured as the Critical Covergirl.“
One of the descriptions for your art is listed as ‘Feminist.’ What are your thoughts about Feminism or the Feminist movement in a postmodern, technophiliac world?
“As a sociologist I also tend to view Feminism as a collection of movements, Feminism(s) if you will. Whilst all these movements may share common goals in achieving gender equality, as we’ve seen with the historical ‘waves’, there are many varied ideologies that affect how different people understand the movements, the aims they wish to achieve, and how to go about doing so. We might all be women but we don’t all have the same thoughts and experiences. Ultimately, I think there needs to be a more nuanced understanding of Feminisms as an intersectional plurality. When I think about Feminisms in the context of the present, I feel as though there’s a danger of commodifying the movements, of creating a marketing buzzword that big brands can use to signal being ‘on trend’. We have to be vigilant, while it might be great that clothes shops are selling “the future is female” tops, this has to be followed through with real action. Gender equality isn’t a topical way to sell cute pink tops, it’s a continuous struggle to be heard and respected.”
What is the future for Feminist art?
“I like to think that we are currently making art history and the popularity of Empowerment is evidence of that! In my utopic crystal ball, I see more women being written into Art history, more women with sold out solo shows, more women getting obscenely large bids at Sotheby’s, more women owning galleries, more women referred to as Masters, more women of colour making art, more trans women making art, more women being seen. Long live the female gaze.”
How do you deal with the tensions that may occur between being an employee and working for yourself; or does one mode of work inform the other?
“Variety as they say, is the spice of life. I don’t really see it as a tension, but more as a change of pace. I think it’s great to have several projects to work on, it keeps you sharp and you never know which area of your life might inspire the other!”
What’s next, after the Nasty Women exhibition?
“My next project is going to be a visual exploration of my Masters dissertation. In my thesis, for which I received a Distinction, I explored how online pornography acts as a digital culture, through which images are produced and consumed. Images which hold a complex range of meanings about power dynamics, race, gender and sexual differences. I’d like to explore the role of ‘pornographic’ images as a legitimate digital culture, to analyse the ways through which images, image-making technologies, and ‘looking practices’ construct social realities, and ultimately, how these highly sexualised meanings can be subverted and distorted through collage art. This woman is staying nasty.”
You can see Helena Cardow’s work along with 39 other artists at Empowerment by Creative Debuts and Nasty Women Exhibition that will take place at 7-11pm on 8 – 10 March in London, GB. Tickets start at £5.86 and includes entry, a goodie bag, and a charity donation for End Violence Against Women Coalition.
Featured Image courtesy of Creative Debuts
Interview by Chenaii Crawford Corri
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