‘Shapeshifters’ at The Approach Gallery is a group show consisting of works made by three female artists: Sascha Braunig, Sandra Mujinga and Maria Pinińska-Bereś. On view are sculptures, drawings, paintings and one video installation. Although the women participating in this exhibition were all born in different parts of the world, the show’s message is clear and the three artists seem to be speaking with one voice. They all deal with the issue of stereotyping the feminine and oppose constraining women through various gender and social norms.
The show resonates with powerful sexual energy. It is present not only in Braunig’s vibrant paintings, which show female figures accompanied by a shower curtain, polka-dotted bedsteads or with their legs spread, but also in sensual skin-like fabrics in Mujinga’s Shawls and in Pinińska-Bereś’s soft sculptures, the shapes of which can be seen to have phallic connotations. The motif of witchcraft is also visible, referring to the feminine as a destructive power. It can be seen in Braunig’s Shower Scene and Floe, and in Pinińska-Bereś’s Sabbath, which is a wooden broomstick, painted pink and white, installed in the middle of the exhibition space.
Sabbath is both an allusion to magic and witchcraft and to the standardised notion of femininity, here condensed to the idea of domestic duties such as cleaning, one of many stereotypes which Pinińska-Bereś encountered when she was growing up in an orthodoxically patriarchal environment. Although she was born more than 50 years before Braunig and Mujinga, Pinińska-Bereś works are shockingly valid and up-to-date. Some pieces that are display at the Shapeshifters exhibition, were made by Pinińska-Bereś in the 1980s and 1990s, decades after she started to work with softness and a mixture of pink and white colours.
Although Pinińska-Bereś refused to be associated with the feminist movement, she is considered as one of the pioneers of feminist art in Poland, alongside Natalia LL and Ewa Partum. In one of her interviews, she stated that in order to find inspiration for her work she searched within herself. What she realized was that herself was a woman, who was facing a number of problems also encountered by other females. One of these problems was the impossibility of working independently, as her earlier concrete sculptures were too heavy to carry alone, without male help. That is how the softness came in and became her trademark.
Besides Sabbath, The Approach is also showing two other sculptures by the Polish artist. Swirl on San Marco is one of them, and it is a pink and white swirl, made of canvas-wrapped foam which has been painted. Swirl-like, organic shapes are also a part of the other sculpture, Window. De-Construction of the Leaning Tower 1992. The pastel pink used here embodies innocence and chastity. It is girly and infantile, sensual and sexual. The conical shape makes these works even more provocative and sexually powerful. Present also in Pinińska-Bereś’s drawings, these anthropomorphic, conical forms show how deeply engaged with the notion of shape the artist was and how it enabled her to deconstruct the body and its representations.
Sandra Mujinga’s Shawls also have erotic connotations. Made of fabrics such as latex, faux-leather and PVC they are wearable sculptures, which provide the person who wears them with the ability to shapeshift, fusing man and nature. Similarly, in Braunig’s paintings, the feminine can take many different forms, change and mutate, from shadowy ghosts to squirming silhouettes and evil witches. Showcasing the work of three great female artists, Shapeshifters not only shows us the power of womanhood, but also shows how important it is to question and deconstruct stereotypes and traditions today.
Edited by Lisa Barham
Artists: Maria Pinińska-Bereś, Sascha Braunig, Sandra Mujinga
12th January 2019 – 10th February 2019