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Feminine Experience

Fondation A in Brussels brings together works by some twenty artists, from Helen Levitt to Adriana Lestido, sparking a dialog of women’s artistic gaze. The exhibition Regards de Femmes is accompanied by an insightful catalog.

Inaugurated on October 13, 2012, Fondation A is located near the Brussels main train station, in a vibrant neighborhood that lets graffiti be enjoyed. The foundation’s exhibitions are renowned—suffice it to recall the spellbinding Lee Friedlander show coordinated by Jean-Paul Deridder in 2014—and a visit to Brussels would be incomplete without passing through the place, even this meant missing the train. 

La boda (The Bride), Havana, 1988-1989 © Kattia García Fayat
La boda (The Bride), Havana, 1988-1989 © Kattia García Fayat

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of her foundation and its unorthodox programming, Astrid Ullens de Schooten Whettnall has chosen to focus on women. The goal is not so much to attract attention as it is to foreground her ongoing commitment as a collector:

“I opened the foundation with a Judith Joy Ross exhibition, and I am proud to celebrate its 10th anniversary by showing some of her work again. [She is] an exceptional woman who denounces injustice and corporate interests, and whose mastery of printing techniques has long impressed me. My commitment to these women is my tribute and my contribution to the struggle yet to be waged in the twenty-first century.”

Ora Knowell, Protesting the U.S. War in Iraq, March on Washington, Washington, DC, 2007 © Judith Joy Ross, courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
Ora Knowell, Protesting the U.S. War in Iraq, March on Washington, Washington, DC, 2007 © Judith Joy Ross, courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
Mona Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1996, © Judith Jov Ross, courtesy of Thomas Zande Gallery, Cologne
Mona Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1996, © Judith Jov Ross, courtesy of Thomas Zande Gallery, Cologne

The exhibition Regards de Femmes, curated by Beatrice Andrieux, closed just before Christmas. If you have missed it, you will find the accompanying catalog to be a worthy consolation prize: with its bright orange cover, pop graphics, and high-quality printing, Regards de Femmes features images by some twenty artists, from Diane Arbus to Ursula Schultz-Dornburg. There is one exception: Gabriele and Helmut Nothhelfer (born in 1945 in Berlin and Bonn), who together craft their surprising portraits of a curiously familiar Germany.

Sommerfest der Synagoge, Berlin-Mitte (Summer celebration of the synagogue, Central Berlin), 2001 © Gabriele and Helmut Nothhelfer, courtesy of the artists
Sommerfest der Synagoge, Berlin-Mitte (Summer celebration of the synagogue, Central Berlin), 2001 © Gabriele and Helmut Nothhelfer, courtesy of the artists

While Blind addicts will already be familiar with some of the names—Judith Joy Ross, Graciela Iturbide, Ursula Schultz-Dornburg, Lisette Model, and Diane Arbus, all masters of the art—they will be encountering others for the first time.

Those latter have long been kept in the shadows, as if by an act of enforced discretion (the history of photography has not been kind to women) or for other, sometimes merely pragmatic, reasons, and have had a hard time finding a gallery, finding wall space at photography festivals, and facing an art market greedy for headliners. 

Madonna, City of Mexico, 1980 © Graciela Iturbide, courtesy of Toluca Editions and the artist
Madonna, City of Mexico, 1980 © Graciela Iturbide, courtesy of Toluca Editions and the artist

What makes this catalog interesting is the way it brings together different ways of practicing, and cultivating, photography. These personal experiences are nourishing, some even exhilarating: we get to revisit the great American masters of the nude and the landscape with Tarrah Krajnak; bear witness in situ or travel far away from one’s roots with Yolanda Andrade and Kattia García Fayat.

We get to denounce, sublimate, or archive territorial claims with Andrea Geyer; with Martha Rosler and Jo Ratcliffe, to point at the violence of war or the apartheid without exhibiting the corpses; and with Paz Errázuriz to reveal the life of transvestite prostitutes, their dual struggle against dictatorship and AIDS

Unmarked grave, Platfontein, Cape Town. Johannesburg, Amsterdam. © Ractliffe, courtesy of Stevenson
Unmarked grave, Platfontein, Cape Town. Johannesburg, Amsterdam. © Ractliffe, courtesy of Stevenson

The self-taught Chilean artist Paz Errázuriz brings Regards de Femmes to conclusion: she is a committed artist who confronts her subjects without trepidation, whether they are in the street, in a psychiatric hospital, in a boxing ring, or in a brothel.

N.Y., ca.1940 © Helen Levit / Film Documents LLC, courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
N.Y., ca.1940 © Helen Levit / Film Documents LLC, courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
Untitled, 1991-1993 © Adriana Lestido
Untitled, 1991-1993 © Adriana Lestido

Regards de Femmes,Texts by Astrid Ullens de Schooten Whettnall and Béatrice Andrieux, Toluca Editions + Fondation A., €40, 216 pp.

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