In the age of reclaiming identities, confronting social structures has become paramount in rethinking our social hierarchy. The ever-present patriarchal dominance makes the process of regaining femininity and equal power to women rather challenging.
Sondra Meszaros takes this on with her latest work, Two Blazing Glares, For Her Pierce. Varied portrayals of female bodies, interplay between nudity and violence create the main theme of her work. A clear touch of revision is present in each piece as she uses photomontage to modify found images from early-twentieth century erotica. Through this process she is overturning their purpose for male consumption by correcting the framework they once belonged to. I use the word ‘correct’ here to describe what Meszaros successfully accomplished with her conveyance of female nudity. Rather than succumbing to the perverse attributions of male dominance, the artist takes the power back and gives autonomy to her once-imprisoned female characters.
Installation view with (L-R) Sondra Meszaros, Damned #1, strange spot #1 and Damned #9
Upon entering the gallery, three large works greet the viewers, immediately setting the show’s vibe. On either side are Damned #1 and Damned #9 (2019) presenting nude female forms predominantly covered with black pigment while only revealing slivers of their bare-naked bodies. Flanked in between is strange spot #1 (2019). Mounted in vibrant red pigment, the work stages a female figure posed in midmotion of spanking the unadorned bottom she has been overlaid with.
Sondra Meszaros, strange spot #1, 2019, oil pastel on digital pigment print on rag paper, 53 x 41 inches
It is inevitable to associate female nudity with violence. Many of these photographs were originally displayed for exploitation where women were positioned in subservience to their male counterparts. In this exhibition Meszaros reclaims the female body, putting her in charge of her own fate by stripping her sex-slave identity, as the black veil of pigment covers most of her body from the male gaze, replacing the impulse of male violence with female strength and ferocity.
Sondra Meszaros, Damned #10, 2019, mixed media, digital pigment print on rag paper, 52 x 41 inches
The exhibition felt like a step back in time with its Dada-inspired outlook. Set against the Corkin Gallery’s vast industrial space, the show negotiates between modern and contemporary sensibilities visible not only in Meszaros’ use of avant-garde aesthetics but also in the underlining message of the images. They not only confront injuring gender roles, but also proclaim rebellion against patriarchal practices. They declare emancipation from longstanding gender stereotypes where women are pervasively marginalized. The artist suggests a resolution to the subservience of women in the early-twentieth century by reworking them in acts where they are empowered to reclaim their sexuality.
Sondra Meszaros, it’s damned if you don’t and it’s damned if you do #15, 2019, mixed media collage on found image, 12 1/4 x 14 3/4 inches
Sondra Meszaros’ body of work is both invigorating and stimulating. Challenging its viewers to examine their own gender biases, Two Blazing Glares, For Her Pierce acts and reacts against misogynistic representations of women, successfully reclaiming female identity.
Maria Mendoza Camba
Images are courtesy of Corkin Gallery
*Exhibition information: April 27 – September 1, 2019, Corkin Gallery, 7 Tank House Lane, Distillery District, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue -Sat: 10 am – 6 pm; Sun: 12 – 5 pm.