Magazine article Artforum International

Justine Kurland: Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Magazine article Artforum International

Justine Kurland: Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Article excerpt

The celebration of motherhood hasn't been a favored subject for artists since Impressionism and the early-twentieth-century movements on which its influence is immediately discernible. German Expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, for example, is renowned for her intimate portraits of mothers and their children (which look back to Renaissance portraits of Mary and the infant Jesus), as well as for her nude self-portraits in nature. What is unique about her art is the visualization of a subjectivity that is decidedly feminine. Indeed, taken at face value, Modersohn-Becker's oeuvre portrays a modern-day cosmology with an entirely female cast of characters. She presents the female body and the experience of motherhood from the inside out, making images that refuse the voyeuristic overtones of those of many of her male counterparts.

Like a latter-day Modersohn-Becker, Justine Kurland goes against the grain by taking up the subject of motherhood without any apparent ambivalence about maternity. Kurland gives her all to fashioning a female cosmology--a Garden of Eden without Adam--grounded in the fertility of nature and modeled as a communal matriarchal culture. In fifteen color photographs that made up a show titled "Of Woman Born," Kurland weaves a visual fiction of a place beyond time. A tribe of pregnant women, together with their infants and young children, inhabit this unspoiled scenic environment. Traveling from rocky ocean shorelines to sunny mountaintops, from spectacular waterfalls to verdant pine forests, implying a nomadic way of life for her subjects, Kurland directs her cast of mamas and babies in idyllic pursuits that point in the direction of paradise. But one woman's paradise can be another's prison. Remember when feminist debate first erupted over the waning viability of conventional gender roles, and over the problematic of nature (feminine) versus culture (masculine)? …

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