Through the looking glass

Victoire, Sasikala (2007) Through the looking glass. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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There are pertinent questions in one's life that develop into that central, challenging grain in the oyster. Questioning the lack of choice perceived in my mother's life led to an investigation of the role of the gaze through memories of the gaze, as a child. This led to further questioning into adulthood, a probing of female identity, and analysis of layers of cultural veils that exist in society. Initially integral in constructing my own identity as a child within Malaysian society, the gaze continued to be relevant to my adult life in Australia in sometimes creating a negative, confining and unpredictable impact on self- identity.

The gaze in this research refers to looking according to social codes and values. The role of the gaze has been analysed by theorists in terms of gender relations to uncover issues of power instrumental in creating the inequality that contributes to the lack of adequate representation of women in society.

This research was designed to explore and confront sanctioned structures and mechanisms in society that covertly use the gaze as an instrument of power and control. In a broader context, it is argued that the gaze is used by society to harness women's behaviour and to procure compliance to benefit patriarchal aims. When the agenda of others become predominant in articulating self, a person becomes an artefact of multiple gazes and the person suffers a loss of control over the definition of self.

To validate the premise that women are artefacts of society, the artist narrowed the framework for visual enquiry to provide contemporary, feminist light on the psychoanalytic theories of Freud (1931), Lacan (1954), Sartre (1953), as well as Foucault (1988), through the writings of Beauvoir (1972), Grosz,(1990) Spivak, (1990) Bordo,(1993) Ramazanoglu (1993), Moi (1999), Irigaray,(2000) and others. Berger's (1972) theories of looking are also interrogated for insight into looking for conceptual decisions in the visual enquiry.

The artist probes for evidence of mechanisms in society through her gaze using personal narratives as child, wife, and mother to question the role of the gaze and uses visual evidence of violence and inequalities in many cultural frameworks. Personal experiences also lead to the questioning of the role of cinema (specifically Bollywood) in reinforcing acquiescent behaviour in women and towards constructing value systems. By probing Mulvey's (1975) film theory, the representation of women in mass culture is revealed, whereby the woman is placed under spectatorship within a masculine gaze. These theories are pivotal in uncovering power and control mechanisms in culture that uses the gaze to covertly dominate women's behaviour, to coerce them into acquiescence.

The research uncovers violence perpetrated against women in the name of religion, culture, popular art and fashion. It exposes the power politics that invalidates their position in society through shaped acquiescent behaviour. The research also questions the representation of women in terms of body politics, ideals in beauty and fashion across a variety of cultures to provide a visual framework for the development of artworks. The exhibition explores the role of the gaze in objectifying woman through stereotypic notions of gender, colour and reveals the patriarchal agendas that continue to define and hence confine women in society through institutionalised religion.

Feminist art has historically been used as an agency for change, to raise awareness of political, social and environmental issues. The artist, similarly, has developed this exhibition as a deliberate intervention strategy for visibility and to defy the gaze. Issues embedded in this research challenge the audience to absorb and reflect on inherent messages. The decisions are made in the artmaking process as a deliberate strategy for advocacy, to increase visibility and to highlight the role of women in society.

Using a variety of media such as digital photography on canvas; installations with mirror and mannequins; kiln glass; sculpture and mixed media to build the visual and verbal dialogue in the artworks, the exhibition Through the Looking Glass opened in the Cairns Regional Gallery on 28th August 2004 with subsequent tours throughout regional Queensland in 2005 and 2006.

As a result of this exploration, many new directions and possibilities arise to further question current trends in gender roles in a cross-generational and cross-cultural framework. The discovery of kiln glass process also opens up infinite possibilities to combine other processes like printmaking and film making to further challenge and explore visual narratives in the gaze.

Item ID: 24952
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Cairns Regional Gallery cinema; control; digital photography; exhibitions; fashion; feminist art; gaze; gender roles; identity; installations; kiln glass; mass culture; mixed media; power; religion; representation; sculpture; women
Additional Information:

Appendix B (Women's forum) on a DVD accompanying print version housed at JCU Library in Townsville, QLD.

Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2013 06:43
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190504 Performance and Installation Art @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft) @ 100%
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