17. May 2022

Are women allowed to be angry?

By: KP Flügel

In analogy to the exhibition Anger and Femininity, 'Like Water', the wissensART foundation has addressed the topic, asking itself the question of the social relevance and responsibility of art and culture. Is a perhaps more radical view by means of new perspectives necessary in order to be able to name the causes that provoke anger and criticise them even more decisively? Also and especially in gender relations. Whether anger in relation to femininity can be a driving force - not only for artistic articulations - but beyond that for social interventions. An essay on the exhibition.

A question that can be existential for women, especially in a world of social upheaval.

Creating “access to the relationship between femininity and anger” by means of “selected artistic positions”, as formulated by the exhibition organisers, moved the wissensArt foundation to support the project. Interested in new perspectives and expanding the horizon of knowledge, it considers it necessary to name and show the causes of anger. Also and especially in gender relations, and with regard to the consequences in terms of femininity.  Whether anger in relation to femininity can be a driving force, not only for artistic articulations, but also for social interventions, is a complex of topics that the wissensART Foundation is dealing with.

Can anger be sexy? That depends on the point of view. Men are granted this privilege, women are not. Commonly, women suppress their anger. In her book “Anger and Evil”, Ciani-Sophia Hoeder says that women who give free rein to their anger quickly get a bad reputation. Anger is meditated away with yoga, meditation and an almost neurotic self-care hype, says the journalist, columnist and managing director of the online magazine RosaMag. Yet the consequences “of internalised anger are disastrous. Eating disorders, self-harm, headaches, a lack of self-esteem, increased anxiety, burn-out, depression ….. .” Those who are never angry accept the world as it is.

In the field of art, women have always and still face disadvantages, as Britta Jürgs, publisher of Aviva Verlag, writes in the foreword of the book “Unfortunately, I have completely forgotten how to fly”: “As progressive as women artists and writers and their heroines were in their professions, they themselves were often still bound by traditional ideas and images of femininity as far as marriage and family were concerned”. In the same book, Jane Kienle draws attention to the art critic Hugo Sieker, who wrote about the art of the artist Anita Rée: “In sum, a woman’s destiny is to be mature. That of the man: to acquire property.” In this way, he reproduces the “traditional conservative view of gender-specific attribution, which assigns nature to the woman and reason to the man as determining their nature”.

The Parisian graffiti artist Miss.Tic still finds the milieu of painting very macho today. “At least in Europe, painting created by women still doesn’t sell today compared to literature. You just have to go to galleries and look at the proportionality of how many paintings are by women and how many are by men.” However, she said, women themselves are responsible for this. “All my fellow female artists who were out there artistically gave up because they got married and had children.”

Women artists in particular have made great sacrifices for their submission to social role prescriptions and male domination. For the most part, they were left with the role of muse or mistress. Only slowly is their visionary inspiration for art being appreciated. This is what Gabriele Buffet-Picabia’s great-granddaughters do in their book “A Life for the Avant-garde”. Anne and Claire Berest trace the life of their great-grandmother, who made Francis Picabia think of his painting as music and who, as a “woman with the erotic gaze”, made Marcel Duchamp and Guillaume Appolinaire, among others, fall at her feet. But of course with the consequence that the men were world-famous, but the woman could not achieve this fame.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as the artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who became world-famous with her poppy, plump Nana figures. Few viewers will know that she discovered her creativity in a psychiatric ward. For her, painting was the medium to deal with the trauma of sexual abuse by her father.

What follows from this? What does it mean when Virginie Despentes writes in “King Kong Theory” that feminism is a revolution that is not about balancing the small advantages granted to women against the small achievements of men, “but in fact about bursting everything”. “Rebellion can be feminine”, the Zeit titled to the effect of Pussy Riot, “who protested not only against Putin, but also against a masculine pop culture”, which is why critics would hardly deal with their art.

Anger and femininity should not be mutually exclusive. Anger is a powerful emotion that, when revealed, has the potential to bring about social upheaval. In this respect, women should and must be angry.

Text: KP Flügel