by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.
(T.A.G. [The Artists Gallery], Santa Monica) Tanya Ragir's recent work is a frontal assault on the sexism that pervades our society. Her ceramic sculptures objectify the female body in much the same way that "girly" magazines do, but with a much different goal. No longer does the body become "parts," reducing a woman to the sum of her whole; instead we are focusing on the experience of being a woman. Now we can look at the isolated forms that together bond to form Woman.
One of the most intriguing works is Calendar Girls. Here the artist constructs 28 different views of the female anatomy and then hangs the finished fired ceramic works on nails on the wall much like a "guy" would hang a pin-up. The three-dimensional quality of the work makes an eerie presentation of floating, shimmering body parts. There is an underlying tone of violence that hovers over the work, subtlety; as if we violated her body by tearing it to pieces.
However, here Ragir's work takes on a twist. Instead of being the property of the "male gaze," that long held privilege that gave men the exclusive right to view the female body nude, she takes it back by making it a woman's work. She has taken 28 views of the body, making this Calendar reference the cycle of a woman's body. Now we are to contemplate the relationship of each of these forms to the act of being a woman. This is an uplifting and enriching experience, as opposed to a degrading and humiliating one.
With Body Armor and Seductive Armor, the artist joins the front and back of a female torso with black string reminiscent of "sexy lingerie" that men like to dress-up women in. She further adds to the irony by pressing lace into the clay, giving the body a spider-like quality. Just like lingerie the female form peeks through, but now it just looks silly.
Lisa", fired ceramic sculpture,
21 x 13 x 9", 2000.
"Calendar Girls," fired ceramic, 2000.
"Seductive Armor," fired ceramic, 2000.
"Eve", fired ceramic, 2000.
|Ragir calls our attention to Eve, the prototypical woman of myth, by covering her body in a "sexy" gauze-like material reminiscent of the skin of a reptile. Of course this refers to the serpent, who in Medieval and Renaissance art was almost always shown as a woman. The incident, referred to as the "Fall of Man, turned woman into a dangerous creature, not to be trusted. Historically this icon served the political end of depriving women of the same rights as men. Eve is a powerful, disturbing work whose message echoes back across time and into the future.
Ragir usually works in bronze, which is cast from clay. Here she allows the clay figures to step forward on their own. Even the genesis of this particular set of works is interesting. They are the result of her using molds that she sculpted for mannequins and pressing clay and other materials in the molds to create unique works. Out of a commissioned endeavor comes a personal work with layers of meaning.
Ragirs work is more than her message. One of the most pleasurable aspects of the work is its tactile quality --the pure joy of the texture of the clay. This conveys the external beauty of the human form as it is viewed from various perspectives, and the internal or psychic quality that attends the experience of womanhood. It constitues an invitation to move beyond and through the sensuality of the flesh.