• Anna Beeke ©

Unbeschreiblich Weiblich

Unbeschreiblich Weiblich was the title of a hit by the renowned German punk-singer Nina Hagen, who gave great acclaim to women's independence and freedom. In her opinion women should not conform to any of society's expectations. This song was and is an ode to the identity that women want to experience themselves.

More than twenty years after Nina Hagen's musical protest, the biased image of women as naive, attractive and dependent still persistently seems to prevail in the media. Images of both men and women are still stereotyped despite various different campaigns by action groups and the government.

It is a well-known fact that to a great extent the two sexes are considerably diverse. The question then arises why this knowledge is not used to eliminate existing stereotypes for good. One of the reasons could be that certain stereotypes, like that of women, are defined by culture and tradition, and have thus penetrated all parts of society. They serve the purpose of examples, which we may choose to encourage or confront.

The role played by the media in creating a certain image should not be underestimated; they daily treat us to an incessant flow of images, which strongly influences our manner of perception. The direct perception of reality is exchanged for a passive, indirect perception of reality, amplified by the media. The dependency on this artificial reality determines to a great extent our views and mental images. It is truly sad to find that despite the enormous range of information that is at our disposal, more information and knowledge clearly do not lead to new or different views. Archetypes and stereotypes persistently exist in our world of multi-media.

The exhibition Unbeschreiblich Weiblich? aims to show an unconventional image of women. Defying the well-known image that is so frequently propagated by the media, it shows the other un(der)exposed side; that of the female identity.

The Oxford dictionary defines femininity as: 'of or characteristic of women, having qualities associated with women'. This is a rather unspecified definition, which is therefore open to many an interpretation. Does 'characteristic of women' point to the previously outlined image of women in general? Do we yet again encounter the stereotype of 'the women'? Indeed there are inner and outer characteristics that women share, but the female identity is unfortunately often overlooked. When we consider women as individuals or as women in general, the meaning of this term is different. It is just this individual female identity that necessitated the redefinition of femininity.

Various artists (in particular female) focused on the search for female identity in art- and photo history. Leader in this area was the American photographer Cindy Sherman, who caused a furore at the beginning of the eighties with her portraits in which female stereotyping was the main focus of attention. Since then there have been many artists who have occupied themselves with the female identity. The exhibitors in Unbeschreiblich Weiblich? also aim to create such an image. On the one hand by criticising the familiar stereotype of women, that is primarily directed at the beauty myth, and on the other hand by consciously showing female identity as a whole, instead of 'the' female identity. In both cases clearly the definition 'characteristic of women' is far broader than the stereotype suggests; even when women have acquired male traits, they do not lose their femininity.

The exhibition Unbeschreiblich Weiblich? presents women as valuable and independent individuals with an identity wholly detached from archetypes. Female and male photographers from home and abroad, some well-praised, others recently graduated, aim to show the viewer different conceptions on women and femininity. In the context of the exhibition the works of art together form a statement about 'the' female identity.