My work can be placed within a feminist framework. This framework helps me to understand the society from the perspective of the fragility of its institution, spoken and unspoken codes and its functioning. It offers conditions for criticism and at the same time, a safe space for my presence within the (art) world.
I produce mostly paintings. In the past, my approach was more interdisciplinary, using a palette of different materials (ceramics, wood, fabric) to create object-based installations. My main field of interest is in investigating the world of emotions and relations and its preoccupations with gender and class roles. I often surround my depictions with specific historical, social or class references as an act of subversion. To do so, I find figurative painting the most advantageous.
I asked myself once „What does Feminist painting look like?“. However this question has changed over time. I think about feminist artwork not that much in terms of aesthetics (although it is still a challenging question and the process of painting is crucial) but in terms of the conditions of its production. The important question for me would be: in which context does my artwork exist and has been produced?
Therefore this is my personal context – as a graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, I was educated within a traditional academic system. Surrounded by the rhetoric of “gift” and “exceptionality”, I was unable to recognize that this system is build upon inequality (class, race, gender). This evergoing selection between the “gifted” and “not gifted one” or the “universal” and “emotional” led me into total disillusion and indifference towards painting as a medium. My “comeback” as a painter is based on this experience. I understand the medium within its historical, masculine and selective context and this knowledge makes me produce artworks very carefully and doubtfully.
My approach to this question comes from an opposite perspective. I am learning how to appreciate “genealogy” rather than the exhausting “exceptionality”. It is exciting for me to learn that I can share the same interests, symbols, gestures and focus on the topic with other artists and be a part of an inter-generational dialog.
I am fond of the works of the modernist painters Milada Marešová and Vlasta-Vostřebalová Fisherová. I share a lot of interest with Polish painters focused on the issue of body and gender - Martina Czech, Agata Slowak, Marta Nadolle, Karolina Jablonska and many others. But I get most excited when art meets theory, using its methods to embody an urgent socio-political question and welcoming others to participate in it. In my opinion, this approach is represented by works of Christa Doner or Lubaina Himid.
I try to build my body of work on similar values. It has been shaped by the PhD research I am undertaking for the past three years, and hence has been developing simultaneously along theoretical background. Its specificity lies in my strong interest in the “common language”. I aim to create my work (theoretical or practical) intelligible and accessible, even though it is rooted in complex grounds.
As mentioned above my work is interwoven with my PhD studies.The general focus of my research is Female painting and the construction of the “Women’s painting” concept with emphasis on mutuality, diversity and relationships in the art production. My research method applies interpretation and discourse analysis on archival material in the context of social conditions of the 1990’s era of economic and political transformation. My research material is sorted according to its main archival findings represented by particular case studies with special interest in the sexualization of reason. I argue that the false dichotomy between reason and irrationality present in the archival material and in society in general made possible to keep women in invisibility. I applied Geneviéve Lloyd’s criticism of “male-rationality concept” in the part of my research demonstrating how the assessments of the diplomas reproduce the framing of women as a “natural element”. Qualities as subjectivity, intuition or nature are mostly assigned to women and these archetypes are rooted in traditional gender roles. This is where the research overlaps with my painting – as an embodiment of these power relations in my artworks. Theoretical background appears in the paintings through absorbed thoughts, ideas and even words or sentences. While the archival work requires detachment, the artistic practice allows me to visualize emotions behind the research. Thus, my paintings capture bodies in many intimate situations as sleeping, hugging or collapsing. They are often exhausted but unable to have a rest (e.g. the painting capturing two people trying to relax their bodies folded over the armrest.) Their exhaustion departs from constant representation of his or her role. They are mothers, daughters, partners, servants, youngsters or aristocrats.
My body of work (i.e. theoretical and practical) aims to provide understanding of the critical lack of female painters in teaching positions and the position of woman artist in Czech history in general. I would like to find a way to embody and represent the power relations through the paintings themselves.
The mutuality mentioned above was most emphasized in my project based on storytelling from graduates of the Faculty of Fine arts in Brno (The room for both of us). I gathered a series of interviews to understand how is the art education gendered but also to listen to life stories of my fellow colleagues. It was based on physical appointments and inter-generational mutuality. In general, I am interested in finding genealogies and building a collective memory by listening and storytelling.
A similar participatory approach to the exhibition-making will be one of the outcome of my doctoral research. I would like to create it together with some of the graduates from the Academy who I only “know” from the archive. I believe the next step is a physical meeting and the effort to understand each other’s perspective, despite a potential generational or ideological incomprehension.
Martina Drozd Smutná (born 1989) is a PhD student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.
Smutná's artistic work is connected with her interest and activities in the feminist-thinking field. Her main topics are the women’s work and the way it is displayed in western society. The paintings emphasize her own position in context of the art production. Believing in the notion "personal is political" Smutná puts it in the wider social context. She was a finalist in the EXIT Award (2015), the Critics' Award (2014), she participated in residence program at the “Izolyatsia” Cultural Center in Kiev and at the Czech Center in Bucharest. She conducted part of her PhD research at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna where she developed her doctoral subject that focused on the origin and consequences of using the gender-different indication, such as "female painting". She considers her artistic work as a language in which she talks about intimate, personal subjects but also general social issues. She currently exhibited at Kunsthalle TRAFO in Szczecin, EXILE gallery in Vienna or at the Baltic Triennial 14. Her works are often presented within east-european context.