From „Shaving the Caterpillar” exhibition to Margaret Atwood’s „Handmaid’s Tale”

Ileana Pașcalău is a visual artist and art historian, who lives and works in Berlin. After completing her studies in visual arts and art history at the National University of Arts Bucharest, the young artist continued her master’s degree at the University of Arts in Berlin (2015).

The “Shaving the Caterpillar” exhibition, launched at the Mobius Gallery in Bucharest, starts from research in medical archives – documents and illustrations that once justified theories about the dangerous properties of the female body, especially the uterus. The artist’s works represent a subjective, surrealist exploration of the collective trauma built by the tyranny of psychiatry in relation to female needs and sexuality.

The title of the exhibition is a tribute to the American poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974), who dared to write about sexuality, breasts or wombs, in a long line of risky themes, carefully avoided for centuries.

“The walking wombs” from “The Handmaid’s Tale

If all this seems too scary and far from a distant past, impossible to relive, remember the absurdity of the movie and the book “The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood. A dystopia where women are deprived of all rights and freedoms. Due to the low birthrate, the Handmaidens are reduced to the role of “walking wombs” who must produce newborns for rich families who cannot have children.

“It is a history of the female body, starting from the impact that male doctors had until late in the 20th century, in amputating the image of the physiology and psyche of the woman, in turning her into an anatomical bestiary figure. The big lie remains that of the dangerous womb, the mascot of the exhibition, that hustérā that the Greeks still talked about, an organ palpated, pricked, twisted, invaded and examined from all sides. This organ inspired doctors to invent hysteria, a misogynistic diagnosis that has decimated countless women in mental asylums. A real femicide, which must be commemorated and cured. The works will act as forensic tools that will bring to light new facts in the process that culminated, at the end of the last century, with the confinement of many women in mental asylums”, declares the young artist.

There was a time when medicine was a tool for regulating women’s behavior and controlling their bodies and thoughts

Starting with the rediscovered interest in female anatomy in the 18th century, a period that saw the first representation of the female skeleton and many theories about the dangerous qualities of the uterus, doctors allowed themselves an increasingly closer look at the nature of the “second sex “. Medical concerns, constantly fueled by social anxieties about women’s reproductive responsibilities, moved in the 19th century beyond bodily ailments to a “hygiene” of the mind. There was a time when medicine was a tool for regulating women’s behavior and controlling their bodies and thoughts. From the invention of hysteria in the 1880s, to prison asylums like the famous Salpêtrière mental hospital in Paris, women have paid a huge price for being different from male doctors who dictated misogynistic diagnoses and the lack of female doctors who could bring much-needed empathy to medicine.

Photo: Odeta Cătană

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