Political violence as a figurative art form. Nancy Spero’s career has been a statement against the pervasive abuse of power, militarism, and sexual predation.A feminist artist preoccupied with myth and the repetition of eternal themes within the context of contemporary social and economic history. Executed with a raw intensity on paper and in ephemeral installations, her work often draws its imagery and power from its narrative of anxiety, suffering, pain of existence from recent events such as the torture of women in Nicaragua, the Holocaust, atrocities of the Vietnam War, China’s Cultural revolution and present day Iraq as seen from a feminist critique and sense of democratic social justice. A central theme of vulnerability and the fragile pervades.
The Art Newspaper: Your installation at the Venice Biennale is both physically attractive and rather gory.
Nancy Spero: Well, it’s called Maypole: Take No Prisoners and from this maypole we’ve hung almost 200 heads. They’re cut out of aluminium sheets, scrubbed down to give them a surface with a power-sander then primed with house wall paint, like priming a canvas but with a much more severe surface, then we paint and print on them. The head images come from these little paper cut-outs I made.
TAN: Can we assume these are people being tortured?
NS: Well, yes they are, they’re kind of screaming, the tongues sticking out, I think that has to do with language and also obviously with being tortured, it’s like vomiting, just the body in a dire situation. But it’s also about a language, about sticking one’s tongue out at the world… I’ve always wanted my art to be something that would not be acceptable in the usual daily, ordinary, polite way of communicating.
Spero ( 1926-2009 ) was influenced by Structuralism’s interweaving of ancient and contemporary myth, and holding those terms in balance is central to understanding her work.Most of her art takes the form of long friezes of hand-printed and collaged paper; sometimes they run vertically, but generally they extend horizontally and can stretch to over 200 feet.
In the symbols that dance along them, Egyptian goddesses give way to strippers, while in the texts that often dance with equal vivacity across their surfaces, references to the sexual thuggery of ancient gods sit at close quarters to extracts from news reports about young girls brutalized by soldiers, interrogators, street gangs or other symbolic representations
ale violence. A collage aesthetic,involving painting, cutting and stamping was compellingly created with a pop art sensibility. Her surfaces often present themselves as empty vessels for different signs, and when she does cover them with colour and pattern, it is only to facilitate her loose narratives further, either by veiling or revealing figures.
Nancy Spero’s oeuvre draws together imagery and figures from ancient mythology, contemporary media, literature, and her own work, redefining and rearranging them into a series of haunting and thought worthy representations. The juxtapositions subvert the common meanings of signs and meaning to reveal more hidden and obscure realms of history and memory.