In the eyes of the beholder

How do we look at women? And what do we see? In paintings or even in real life? Or do we really see them? Our invisibility is still incredibly strong in spite of some progress made in certain parts of the world.

These are some of the questions that Mary Bevan’s book raises and the answers are often challenging and therefore thought-provoking. Our answers obviously depend on the historical context, on the fate of the painters and, yes, on the eyes of the beholder. Remember?! Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  

Mary Bevan tells us the stories of women in some of the paintings she chose – for various reasons. The book she wrote is “Escaping the Frame. Women in Famous Pictures tell their Stories”. It was published in 2021.

It is a small, beautifully crafted book to carry with you around, maybe when you walk in a park and sit down for a rest, maybe in your own house to read in its various corners. For me it’s a book to come back to. It’s not a thriller you cannot put down. It’s a book that makes you reflect, that engages you, that makes you want to come back to it, to draw up the paintings on Google, to decide whether Mary Bevan’s interpretation is in agreement with what you yourself think or not.

I love the cover: a pink background, what else when you choose women for your reflections, with an ornate gilded frame which shows us a black void from which the title emerges trying to escape the frame indeed and reach out to us. On the front cover, the frame encloses the blackness of women’s still little-known history and on the back cover the same frame shows us the rationale behind the book.

The text is minimalist though it sends the reader on her or his own journey of rich discoveries and helps us escape the frames of our own prejudices. The book is written under the form of monologues of the women painted by famous male painters or by women artists who have been disadvantaged in the world of men. Mary Bevan wants to give them the voice they have been denied as objectified characters in a men’s world.  And she does so with great empathy and cultural sensitivity as well as with a skilful selection of the women trying to break out of the frame of silence and their painters’ gaze across six centuries. Only two of the twenty-two monologues of the book are spoken by men. Both men are either imaginary or unknown which is in some way ironical and in another some sort of late justice for the many women muted by society.

Sylvia Pankhurst, Hanna Pauli, Martha Rosler and Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale are the women artists that Mary Bevan has chosen to stand out and show us women painted by women.

It’s through true literary craftsmanship that such a miniature book offers such a wealth of information and discussion points. Its multiple layers send the readers to explore not only the actual paintings, but also the whole world of commentaries, lectures and videos that are connected to them.

Mary Bevan’s book is a book to keep and a book to give – as a gift.


Pandemics to remember

The World Memorial to the Pandemic, not only the present one, in Montevideo, Uruguay is another wake-up call. Humans are not the centre of the universe and certainly not its masters as we’ve learned for so long.

Remember: “we tamed nature, we harnessed the energy of the atom, we conquered space and outer space”. We are so arrogant as a species and the universe so indifferent to us.

We are subordinate to nature and should constantly remember we are on borrowed time. The underlying philosophy of the project is presented by its lead architect:

“Although its construction stems from the experience of this pandemic, its purpose is to build a collective consciousness that reminds us that mankind is not the center of the ecosystem in which it lives but that we will always be subordinate to nature itself.”

Can we ever learn?


Statues – fallen or standing

We go (again and again) through a period of demolishing statues. In Romania, but not only, we’ve been somehow used to tearing down and wiping out parts of our history. It’s a primitive mechanism of both revenge on what had been unfair and oppressive to those who are now in the position to be able to order the offensive pieces away and of “if I don’t see it, it never existed”.

It’s just that this happens today in places which we used to admire for their balanced, objective and generally democratic capacity to discuss, analyse and preserve public records so that history does not repeat itself. Well, not anymore it seems. And I do hope I’m wrong. This article, on “What the Removal of a K.G.B. Statue Can Teach America”, raises some thought-provoking questions.

However, what happens to the statues that are no longer desirable? According to Joshua Yaffa, a Moscow correspondent for The New Yorker, they are dumped or, if you prefer, preserved in the Muzeon, the Fallen Monument Park. Is this because they are nostalgic, or just want to revive the old times or … you can imagine as many scenarios as you are capable of imagining.

However, in another article, another journalist is quoted as having said that waging war on bronze men doesn’t make your life any more moral or just. “It does nothing really.” An interesting point coming from an anti-communist expert.

But the most interesting point is made by the granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, Nina. “Denouncing Stalin was Khrushchev’s greatest achievement, but removing him from all public spaces, trying to delete that history, was a big mistake,” Nina Khrushcheva said. “Once you demolish somebody’s hero you only incite hatred and force feelings underground.”

And the article goes on giving the example of the Ukraine who tore down the statues reminding them of the Soviets, but the effects has not been beneficial. On the contrary it seems.  

We have our own stories of dealing with our past. The three pictures above are emblematic. The sources for them are below.

However, have we learnt our lesson/s?

1. https://www.agerpres.ro/documentare/2020/03/05/romania-post-revolutie-1990-demontarea-statuii-lui-v-i-lenin-din-fosta-piata-a-scanteii–460114?fbclid=IwAR2-886NZXcU1qLteQqAFQEDZ0-DfgSLn40KLkB4FPL-xXN4BBCn9xqPnQ8

2. https://www.forbes.ro/cover-story-100-cool-ioana-ciocan-transgenerationarul_0_5813-13007

3. http://ioanaciocan.com/