Highlights from Athens: “Why Are You Angry?”

Documenta14, EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens

  • In a series of articles we present our findings and impressions of the exhibition Documenta14 in Athens. Today we discuss a troublesome video by Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer.

    These women are seemingly living their everyday life, taking a dance class, sitting on the porch, business as usual. At the same time, all of their poses are very similar to Paul Gauguin’s paintings.

    What’s the deal with Gauguin?

    He was a stockbroker in Paris with a ton of kids, a wife and mistresses. Later he moved to Tahiti to live with greater “creative freedom”. Which meant having sex with 13 year olds and infecting half the island with syphilis. I’m exaggerating a little bit. But, in between all of that, he painted magnificent pictures of women too. And those are beautiful. The landscape, the colors, it’s all very nice.

    Do you think that’s what the taunting tile is referring to?

    Well, I enjoyed the video, and how it featured a girls only family. But it’s interesting that it’s made by two English women. Because, are they doing the same exoticization of Tahiti as Gauguin? On the other hand, the models are looking straight into the camera with this accepting look. Like they’re aware of the “gaze”, and so they gaze back. The women retain a sense of dignity, as if in control. However, I think there’s trouble here for sure.

    There must have been one earlier Tahitian artist who addressed Gaugin, I thought. So I googled and actually YES THERE IS! In 1998, Sima Urale made Velvet Dreams, a film noir mockumentary about some old guy obsessed with velvet paintings of exoticized nude women.

    The trailer is worth a look, I love his coquettish voice going “I’d never looked twice at any painting before,” the jazzy music and those soft, suggestive fonts.

    Velvet Dreams, 1998 by Sima Urale, videostill

    Documenta Highligts, part 2