Originally by Milagros Blanco; Translation by Mercedes Pajuelo
With emotions running high, Polly Nor, a contemporary, London-based and 31-year-old illustrator is capturing women and their demons in a dark, satirical and sexual way.
Polly Nor displays the modern woman together with her demons
Through her work, Nor depicts women in day-to-day situations: hanging out with friends, at home or at work. The illustrator explains that the devil, demons and womanhood have been closely associated for many years, but Polly Nor is displaying the modern woman together with her demons. These demons are rhetorical and refer to men themselves, explaining that they sometimes can seem destructive or threatening, and, at others, comforting and protective.
Polly Nor uses an artistic technique that’s close to “feísmo”, the aesthetic of “ugliness”, and to the distinctive features of cartoons. In that way, she pictures the sexist and “machista” behaviour that women are subjected to every day, especially of those that are in toxic, consuming relationships.
Through her illustrations, Polly Nor explains the importance of having a helping hand and someone to talk to when going through heartbreak.
Even though she draws in a clean and honest way, Polly Nor dirties her illustrations with miscellaneous props, such as papers scattered all over the floor, used condoms in the rubbish or dirty laundry on the bed.
The artist names each illustration after sentences or phrases mostly used by men when they’re apologising or don’t want to seem guilty, such as “she’s just a friend”, “I changed for you” or “give me another chance, I’ve changed”, among others.
At the same time, Nor’s art embraces womanhood and the anxieties that come with it. She uses mirrors as objects depicting a tragicomic approach with oneself, where everything a woman sees is messy and catastrophic.
Most of her pieces are about the female character’s relationship with herself. It captures, then, how we can be happy and content with our lives and just as suddenly, feel lonely and depressed.
Her illustrations portray a person’s feelings and anxieties about technology, the pressures to look a certain way and our quest for personal identity and validation.
Polly Nor simply draws the ordinary, everyday woman. The woman who accurately represents the entire female population.
She illustrates the female body in a modern way, taking several artists into account, such as Frida Kahlo, Celeste Mountjoy and Nina Chanel Abney.
The artist, along with many others, is destroying feminine stereotypes and turning her artwork into objects that call for social debate.
Women’s vs. Feminist Art
Women’s art has always held a special place in the arts, but only because of its passive nature. It’s always been a contemplative and stimulating element for men. However, since the 70s, the feminine approach started taking up a conscious stance, as well as a prominent role regarding diverse artistic work. In that way, they were able to succeed in playing an active role.
“When women use their own bodies in their artwork, they’re using themselves. A significant psychological factor then turns these bodies or faces from an object to a subject” – Lucy, R. Lippard.
Female aesthetics connotes an art that portrays women as something natural, fundamental, not as a body formed and deformed by cultural representations.
On the one hand, women’s or female art would, then, depict a universal femininity that highlights the values and meanings specifically attributed to women by men.
On the other, feminist art illustrates women as oppressive subjects suffering from patriarchal oppression, and raises awareness about it.
This art form seeks to right those long-standing, stereotyped, and male-dominated images. That’s why this type of art is constantly driven by the criticism of the dominant sexual ideology, and portrays women fulfilling their rights and duties.
One thing is certain: many illustrations captured women as isolated or as outcasts. Thankfully, this changed due to new ideas about women’s education, and these new feminist artistic works start to empower women and cast aside those illustrations where they were mocked and humiliated.
Thanks to those advances, interpreting female characters as free in everyday situations is easy. Feminist art defies the dominant norm and provides an outstanding place for those women seeking to portray their bodies and their female characters as owners of their own thoughts, gender and sexuality.
Feminist art in Latin America
Arte feminista: Lo personal, cada día más politico (Feminist Art: The personal, every day more political), is the second online exhibition organized by the art galleries association Art Focus Latinoamérica.
The home, the body, language, the visibility of women, and the use of textiles as a support are the recurring themes of every artist’s work.
In this exhibition, art serves as a space for reflection from a feminist lens. Cerrucha, in her curatorial text, states that this feminist art appears as a catalyst for action, as a political posture and as a proponent for other ways of representation.
Some works of Arte Feminista: Lo personal, cada día más encourage us to reflect on the historical violence against women’s bodies, which continues to worsen after confinement and the Covid-19 pandemic. It also highlights the importance of the private, domestic space and reformulates the ways women have of inhabiting this place.
Ana De Obregoso (Peru) designed a piece named Chalecos de poder (Power vests), which addresses women’s marches and underlines the long-standing violence against them. Through her work, the artist invites us to reflect upon women’s strength and resilience.
Annette Turrillo (French-Venezuelan) showcases a series of textiles inspired by women’s empowerment after World War II. In her designs, she highlights the processes, elements and symbolism associated with women and womanhood, such as water, copper and the moon.
Celina Portella (Brazil) is another guest artist. She works with visual arts and dance. Foto Novela de Opresión (Oppression in pictures) captures a female character being progressively cornered by a dark, black entity until she’s completely hidden. Through this work, the author wants to call attention to how women’s bodies suffer from oppression and invisibility by dark external forces.
Motherhood and women’s agency over their bodies is the subject of Judith Romero Orizaba’s work (Veracruz). She dives into matters related to the bodies, identities and political decisions taken on by women against social dictates.
Artist Nicole Mazza (Argentina-United States) states that she uses a weaving technique in her pieces in which she depicts self-portraits along with religious references and erotic images. She portrays them in uncomfortable positions, where their limbs are interlocked, wrapped around, reaching for and wanting each other.
Mazza’s artwork depicts cannibalism. It illustrates how society consumes bodies, seeking balance between the delicate and the grotesque as a way of representing the cracks and tears in the social tissue.
Art and the feminist movement have gone hand in hand since the beginning. The power those artworks have to challenge the public has a greater and collective objective: to question and thus help in the transformation of our context so that women and girls can enjoy a life without violence.
Feminist art is a political act.
“Over the last decade, women have created the most defiant artwork. From a psychological point of view, their work is much more extreme than men’s work” – Barbara Kruger.