F*cked-Up Re-Appropriation

Vanessa Hodgekinson's The Origin of the World

Fucked-Up Re-Appropriation or In Defense of Vanessa Hodgkinson

by Sophia (Mohamed) Al-Maria

Orientalism is a bad word. Its offensiveness is gauged not only by
inflection but by whose mouth it comes out of. If you are white and
you are dealing in the iconography of odalisques and arabesques you
will be given a wide berth in the contemporary art community.
Here lies the trouble with Vanessa Hodgkinson, a young English
artist with a special interest in Orientalist art, classically trained
in Islamic art methods, collected in earnest by the same Arabs who covet
the work of Delacroix and eyed with suspicion by her peers for exactly
these credentials.
The current cultural climate (and market) is obsessed with all voices
‘other’ – and all names that begin with ‘Al-‘ or ‘El-‘ or ‘Bin’. So
with the double-damnation of ‘problematic’ visual language and the
absence of an Arabic prefix to her name, Hodgkinson has been
banishedfrom the conversation to which her work is most relevant.
In truth, what she is doing is not so different from many young
artists of the Middle Eastern Diaspora. As I can attest from personal
experience, nothing buys you attention (and cred) in the cultural
sphere like having Mohamed as your middle name. If you take a photo of
yourself in Brick Lane wearing a chador with your stockinged legs
exposed and you spent summers in Tehran as a child – you get a book
deal. If you paint a portrait of yourself in hijab suckling a pig at
your bare breast and you grew up in a strict family – you’re the new
Tracy Emin. You guild your paintings in Kufic script and your
uncle was British Ambassador to Kuwait – you’re way out of order.
Somewhere along the line, authenticity got confused with an artist’s
origin. And so Hodgkinson is forced to make apologies and couch her
work in disclaimers. In the video piece, Post-Colonial Apology, 2011,
she stares directlyinto the camera and delivers an exhausting barrage
of earnest “I’m sorry.”ies. But she doesn’t let the imposition of penitence cloud all
of her work. In This Is Not A Sales Pitch, 2011, she takes up the
sprawl of Ingres’ Odalisque.It’s abrasive at first glance but she is
owning the fact that the females in Orientalist painting were European models, women just like
herself and not in fact the mysterious harem females cloistered nude
together in a wallow of silk and perfume. In The Answer is On My
Teeth, her calligraphy is done with an intuitive skill that isabsent
in the work of many contemporary Arabic speaking artists
working in Hurofiya. And yet the work is perceived with suspicion, not
because of what it is but who she is.

This is because art economy is still modulated by a dated
post-colonial logic calibrated to subvert the dominant and give voice
to the voiceless. But sub-altern does not necessarily equal
subversive and the equation that ‘other’ = ‘original’ = valuable seems
a lot less valid. So here at the dawning of the age of the internet –
it is the clarity and rigor of ideas that bear true worth, not
geographic location or economic status or ethnic background. Here in the throes
of globalization, everything including heritage, language and iconography are fair game and open source.
Hodgkinson’s triptych Origin of the World, 2011 disguises a QR code as
a piece of intricate Islamic design, foiled in gold. The scannable
mosaic leads to the website of Musée d’Orsay. For a moment I am
shocked by the disembodied genitalia of Gustave Courbet’s “L’Origine
du monde”
spreading out on the liquid crystal display of of my
handheld device. It’s a good joke, crass and clever. And as I stare
into the bared cunt of Joanna Hiffernan (commissioned by Turkish
diplomat Khalil Bey) it is clear that the work in Hodgekinson’s
Economies of Language is baudy, blunt and like all the best satire,
also true.

If you’d like to know more about her vork, caress this link: http://vanessahodgkinson.com/

5 Responses to “F*cked-Up Re-Appropriation”
  1. Nancy Benson says:

    Very critical. Like the part about for a moment I am shocked. : )


  2. Lina Bin Laden says:

    what is critical n e way ? why chose to write about this artist ?

    • S A-M says:

      We met, we had a conversation. About these things. Among others. This is why. And I believe my Aunt is using ‘critical’ in the non-artspeak sense.

  3. Sam X. says:

    That is so cool (Origin of the World as QR code). Thanks for the link to Hodgkinson, her work is beautiful.

    Also, the idea of “other” as “authentic” is an old phenomenon, but nevertheless disingenuous and racist. It’s related to the naturalistic racism that, in the 19th and 20th centuries, would posit the Native American as somehow more pure and wise (see: Pocahontas). It’s difficult as a consumer of art to try and figure out how to gauge fetishized art–as in, I want to respect the artist but it’s tough to separate the production/medium from that. Difficult, but worth thinking about.

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