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Gagged

Gagged

Alexandra Drawbridge Gagged at Project 78

Sometimes one enters an art gallery and is intrigued, surprised, yet finds the work somewhat unsettling. Unsettled is what HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths felt when she went into Project 78 to see Alexandra Drawbridge‘s show, Gagged. She wasn’t thinking of reviewing the exhibition but as the work slowly filtered through, she wondered what it was about and there were questions she wanted to ask.

The show is stark and disturbing. The gallery is small, there are few images on the walls, three are large, uncontained, unframed. They portray young women who stare unblinking, a glistening eye looking directly at you. The women are alluring, pretty but then you look closer and you see that they are gagged. The images both attract and repel.

These are stills from violent television crime series. Drawbridge sets out to investigate the media portrayal of women. She has watched hours of mainstream television to isolate frames of disturbing images of women who have been kidnapped and abused. Yet their depiction is attractive, fully made up, mascara in place, beautiful women, frozen, silenced by broadcasters.  Both sexes, women and men, contributed to these productions.

Drawbridge explains: “I find the gagged imagery interesting for many reasons. Aesthetically, I was intrigued with the composition of the face with part of it obscured. And I liked the idea that the gag could be seen in different ways, as maybe a scarf or a surgical mask. I’m also concerned by the idea of the loss of the voice.”

Women understand what an emotive act this is; they often feel metaphorically gagged; not only just silenced by sex, age, and – even in today’s, still patriarchal, culture – women can silence themselves by keeping quiet, not speaking out.

She wants the viewer to reach their own conclusions about the work. Inevitably, storytelling comes into play; the images allowing space for the viewer’s own imagination, interpretation and emotions. By figuring it out oneself, the viewer’s reaction is “more prefound and more impactful than just telling people what to think and feel.”

Gagged

Gagged

She continues: “There appears to be a deliberate attempt by broadcasters to create violent sexualised imagery of women. I watched only three different crime series and would watch one episode an evening, making notes about the imagery. What is troubling is when I started to examine individual frames, so much more was revealed about the lighting, compositions etc, but also the sexual element of the imagery: women who had been supposedly in a violent kidnap situation for days were still flawlessly made-up.”

Drawbridge is mining her own concerns “with recent media reports about women who have kept quiet about abuse”. This work could also operate at another level, she explains: “The women do not appear to be afraid, they may be staring back with acceptance or even be complicit in the situation and that is quite chilling.” Drawbridge hopes that by reshowing this imagery in a different context she is creating some level of debate around the subject.

“These are  powerful images. The direct stare may be one of acceptance, but could also be one of strength and I wanted the women to have a dominating presence in the gallery. I deliberately made the work alluring because I wanted to hold the viewer in place over time, otherwise with overtly shocking imagery it would be difficult to create a dialogue with the viewer.”

Deliberately, beautifully printed, by herself at Solaris Print, the initial lure of the image can create some uncomfortable reactions. In her previous project, Acting Up, she had taken TV stills from American and British beauty pageants. These were  young girls, pubescent, attractive; people were initially captivated and then upset, appalled and repelled by their responses to what they were looking at.

It is fascinating work, a deep and daring subject, and if it opens up a debate, making people think about sexual imagery and violence against women that has become so commonplace in television detective drama. This can only be a good thing.

Gagged is at Project 78, Norman Road, St Leonards,TN38 0EJ until 12 May. Open Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm.

Posted 13:41 Tuesday, May 1, 2018 In: Visual Arts

1 Comment


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  1. Zelly Restorick

    Very very disturbing, the number of horrible scenes of murder, violence, rape and kidnapping with women on TV/film. As if there isn’t enough horror in real life, some people feel we need more in the realm of fantasy on the screen.
    Violence, murder. rape and kidnapping of men is equally horrific.

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Tuesday, May 1, 2018 @ 13:46

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