Last week I finally finished the first panel of The Anatomy Lesson Triptych. The Anatomy Lesson is a feminist art project, sourced from the 16th century anatomist Andreas Vesalius illustrated textbook 'De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem' and in it I am reflecting on the way women's bodies were/are approached in art and science, specifically addressing the male-centric bias therein.
I started working on the first painting in December last year and am ready to call it done. The work is based on a painting I made for the #OBJECT! series. That series portrays real women and girls as they are experiencing everyday sexism, inequality, gender based violence. The piece I'm talking about refers to the 2017 Trump care bill as it was being written in the Senate by 13 men, not one woman. The bill would deny women access to the full range of reproductive health care options. Protests noted that being woman was viewed in that bill as a pre-existing condition and that the bill inferred a return to a kind of regressive gender politics in which men make the decisions about what happens to women’s bodies. A recent newspaper article discusses what the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg might entail for Roe versus Wade, the historic 1973 judgment that legalised abortion in the US, if Trump manages to get a third Supreme Court judge, resulting in a conservative six-to-three majority. Coincidentally, or not, in my country Belgium, the amended abortion legislation, initiated in 2016 (!), relaxing the legal period given to pregnant women before proceeding to abortion will be sent to the House Justice Committee. This as a condition for the participation of the Flemish Christian Democrats in the federal government that was being set up earlier this month. The party fervently opposes the revision. The legislation is thereby put on hold, to ensure that parliament cannot vote on and ratify it just yet. I guess 'the personal is very much political' in terms of women's bodies.
The composition of the subject matter of this first panel leans on the cover illustration of the 16th century textbook by Andreas Vesalius 'De Humani Corporis Fabrica,' in which he teaches anatomical structure of men and women. The illustration depicts Vesalius demonstrating the dissection of a woman's body, in an aula, attended by students and dignitaries of the city Padua, church and university. In the syllabus, Vesalius keeps referring back and forth between illustration and text, a first in anatomy, with which the theory became clearer and many ambiguities about the human body were cleared up. Vesalius spent time at my Alma Mater, the KULeuven. I've always been intrigued by anatomy and the anatomical theatre of the university, though not from his time, imagining the anatomical studies of bodies that went on there. The story goes that the woman whose body Vesalius dissected was a prostitute who had been condemned to death for murdering a boy she wanted to use the heart and small toe of to which, she believed, magical powers were attributed. She had tried to escape hanging by faking pregnancy, but a midwife had exposed her. On the original illustration, the rope marks are still visible. What a story!
This painting has been a trip. I learned a lot from working on it on and off. For starters I stressed the canvas with some unusual household tools as you can see in the progress video below. Then, only a couple of weeks ago, well into the project, I decided to get into the background and audience of this panel more. I put it back up on the wall, to do the auditorium architecture details I, thus far, was too 'resistant' to attend to, too fidgety I felt. Yet, I also remember feeling impatient first time around, which makes me unthorough, sloppy, too hasty in painting. Considering each fragment a partial painting on its own is a trick to help me focus my attention and patience for the details with respect to perspective, composition, foreground/background. The only thing left to do now, before releasing it, is straightening the painting's top edge and add eyelets to hang it on the wall, as it is, a bit like Flemish tapestry -I am after all, Flemish. Or in a box behind glass, but always unstretched.
Here's the Process Video: