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Nina Friars and Netra Hankins produce an art journal that deconstructs the artificially constructed.
A GUIDE TO READING THIS JOURNAL
We implore our readers not to go through the world complacently. We encourage our readers to not mindlessly consume, but instead, to actively question and critically re-evaluate what is deemed objective. Society has developed in a way that particular understandings of the world which inform our reality have been naturalised past the point of questioning. However, such understandings are merely social constructions rather than empirical truths. The purpose of this journal is to dismantle an array of social constructs to expose them for what they really are as opposed to what they have been conditioned to us as.
Ultimately, we urge you to create your own thoughts and captain your own narrative.
DISCLAIMER: While we are exposing what is socially constructed, we are not denying that such constructs have social meaning and/or real life implications.
THE DREAM – PABLO PICASSO
As human beings, we have come to realise the value of learning and education. Our modern world seeks knowledge and inextricably ties such knowledge with power. Within the realm of academia (albeit a privileged sphere as not everyone has access to education), educational institutions give validity to particular, structured ways of learning as well as closely monitor and control the academic journals, articles and textbooks students are to digest. Further, students are limited in terms of the academic language they are to use and the sources they can cite.
Academia values ‘correctness’, grammar, punctuation and discredits work that fails to be produced in accordance with its rigid structures.
While we understand that such structure may be necessary in certain contexts, it is nonetheless important to recognise the way in which academia undermines ‘unworthy’ use of language and sources of knowledge, and how doing so delegitimises avenues of learning that are still useful to its students, e.g., tv shows, movies and real life experiences.
Academic language in and of itself excludes those who may speak in a different vernacular (such as African-American Vernacular English) on the basis that they do not express themselves in the preferred tongue of colonisers – ‘Queen’s English’. But why should ‘colloquial’ language have less weight and value when constructing an academic argument? Why is ‘sophisticated’ language a more legitimate and reputable means of getting a point across?
This journal works to undermine the cookie cutter way of learning that we are familiarised with. Each topic covered in this journal is accompanied by a piece of art that adds interpretive value to the provided text. It is ultimately up to you to discover the meaning within the art in how it best fits your own understanding of our proposed views. This is a journey; one that pushes you to unapologetically fight the norm of learning in strictly organised formats. This is valuable. This is your story just as much as it is ours.
FROM THE EXHIBITION: DIRTY KNEES – KATIE SO
Race is not a natural phenomenon, essence, or fixed identity. Rather, it has been created within social spheres; an invention not of nature but of our social institutions and practices. More importantly, race has been socially constructed by individuals in positions of power who have interpreted physical difference as possessing inherent meaning.
Our modern concept of race emerged, in part, due to the general growth of scientific enquiry and using science to explain the unknown. An aspect of this enlightenment project was preoccupied with attempting to categorise and organise human groups; race did not exist until the necessity for classification prevailed. However, during this development, those who engaged in research to codify race were themselves stained with racial bias and prejudice – their research born from confirmation bias to discern a hierarchical system of race that is a product of social thought.
The search for an explanation pedestalizing certain races over others was not founded upon data or empirical evidence, but informed by the worldview that minorities rightfully rested at the bottom of the political hierarchy.
Naturalising social differences by establishing faux biological and fundamental disparities between races provides a platform to discriminate and justify oppressive treatment of minorities. The biological became the cause and explanation for the social.
Ultimately, race is an unstable formation and system of categorisation that is constantly challenged but still has serious consequences on those who are radicalised. Race exists as a concrete lived reality for many and impacts lives on a multitude of levels. In exploring biracial Identities which fail to fit within exclusive categories of race (black/white binary), we can recognise how such identities affirm race as a social construction as well as work to destabilise racial binaries. The way society understands race, in terms of black and white and with reference to different types of human bodies, simply does not work for mixed-race individuals as they exist in the grey area; the in-between. Racial categorisation maintains power and meaning solely via perceivable difference and for biracial bodies, this difference is difficult to discern. Thus, race as a social construct is undermined through its inability to account for mixed race identities that cannot be so easily or objectively categorised.
WATSON – KIM LEUTWYLER
Gender differences have been predominantly seen as a biological, fundamental, enduring and innate part of us that is incapable of change. From this stems the gender binary; a mainstream concept that is enforced in society. However, this binary does not hold.
It would be an overwhelming simplification to claim that the world falls neatly into two categories in terms of sex. While there are dominant patterns, there ultimately exists a plethora of individuals who fail to comfortably fit into the binary of male or female (whether this is because of chromosomal differences or being intersex). Gender is not biological but a social construction formed through socialisation in line with gender norms. There is no gender untouched by the social. No fixed truth of what gender is or should be. Gender is performative. We are not a gendered subject before enacting the norms of gender. In other words, gender is something one does rather than something one is.
We are socialised through naming practices, forms of dress, types of toys we are given as well as the encouragement of certain behaviours. In this sense, one is not born a woman but rather one becomes a woman through a process whereby they acquire feminine traits and learn feminine behaviour for example.
A ROOSTER AND A COUPLE – HARUNOBU SUZUKI
Love is a product of social conditions; a social construction established by men for the benefit of men and to the detriment of women. This takes its roots within the embedded structure of household wives during an era where women were not allowed work. Women were chained to the confines of loving within the home – sharing this love with only their children and husbands. Meanwhile, men were granted the freedom to explore alternative endeavours; whether this be their careers, hobbies or educational pursuits. Love was subsequently a mechanism etched into the world for women to try and escape the harshness of their limited reality. A reality that is sexist. A reality that supports the patriarchal power imbalance.
Love, for women, requires everything within them – the total devotion of soul and body. Women are abstractly taught to abandon themselves in the process of love. This is not the case for men, who recognised that by exploiting women’s utter devotion to love thereby created space for men to accept love in the form of reprieve and rest. The entire abdication of self in the process of love is the result of a male dominated construction that serves to repress women for the comfort of man.
PROTECTION – ELIZABETH MENGES
Marriage is a social construct which has been utilised as a mechanism for economic efficiency and productivity in a capitalist society. While the connotations of marriage have developed over time, it is undeniable that the aspects of love and unity have clouded the practical, legal and financial implications of marriage that embed it inextricably within society. As a result of this, it is imperative that the concepts of marriage and love are not conflated as synonymous with each other.
In conjunction with the concept of marriage is the contemporary concept of a family. A family that lives in isolation from their community is predominantly a colonialist model of society. It was once (and remains this way in many cultures) commonplace for families to share the responsibility of raising children among all the adults in a community. This came from a place of communal love and an understanding that survival relies on the passing down of knowledge and experience.
Through exposing children to more adult figures who care for them, they are ultimately exposed to a wider breadth of learning and sources of information, thus increasing their chances of thriving in their surroundings. This was beneficial for everyone. However, the rise of capitalism realised that productivity arises not from community but from greed and self-serving agendas. The development of the standard four person family (a father, mother and two children) which was responsible for only their own survival supplemented this selfish mindset. A mindset that propagates working harder, longer, and more tediously to supply a good lifestyle for those you care about. In order for this system to sustain itself, marriage was a necessary mechanism to codify the responsibilities that heterosexual couples owe only to each other and to their children.
This model actively rejects the existence of homosexual couples which is aided by the social stigmatisation and oppression brewed from its depths. Couples who cannot produce biological children are of little value in a capitalist model that derives its success from monetary productivity. Couples who cannot produce biological children break the chain of breeding workers who will acquiescently abide by capitalist norms and way of life. Thus, the rejection and oppression of homosexuality in part stems from it’s lack of long term utility in a society that values only economic efficiency; which is further manifested in the active hesitation to recognise homosexual rights, specifically the right to marriage.
DEVILISH CHARM – POLLY NOR
Discourses around fatness are not only shaped by biomedicine, but also by society’s value judgments. Such discourse establishes fat bodies as synonymous with an unhealthy body, however, there is no objective measurement to determine that fatness necessarily equates to a greater risk of ill health or disease. Society effectively renders fatness as deviant and unhealthy whereas thinness is privileged and the epitome of health. This is simply untrue as it is perfectly possible for an individual to have a fat body (as deemed by society) but be fitter and healthier than someone with a thin body. Further, it is possible for a thin body to be unhealthy. Thus, ideas of fatness are not only shaped by biomedical discourse but are heavily informed by the glorification of thinness in society and the stigmatisation of fatness. Ultimately, fatness and its link to health can be interpreted as a social, morally regulated phenomenon and not just an objectively unhealthy physical state.
The Dream – While today, Picasso is hailed as a genius, when the public first began encountering his artwork in the early 1900s, they often didn’t know what to make of it. Several art critics of the era wrote scathing reviews of Picasso’s artistic talents, labelling his art as “degenerate”.
Dirty Knees – “Dirty Knees” is a visual arts exhibition exploring mixed-race identities. The title of the show is a reference to the old playground rhyme (“Chinese/ Japanese/ Dirty knees/ Look at these!”) and deals with the complexities of internalised racism as well as the difficulty of establishing an identity that is overlooked by linear definitions of race and heritage. Katie So draws from the concept of duality in her work to help her better understand what it means to be of mixed race .
Watson – Leutwyler challenges traditional depictions of gender and gender norms by re-defining gender identity through depictions of the body. Leutwyler questions traditionally feminine and masculine ideals to blur boundaries.
A Rooster and a Couple – In 1767, Harunobu Suzuki, a Japanese designer of woodblock print art, created this print titled Niwatori to Danjo (鶏と男女) which translates to ‘a rooster and a couple.’ It depicts a male and female couple who are looking forward to spending a long, fun night with each other. And to ensure they’re not woken up early they’ve brought out a pot of sake and are trying to get the rooster so drunk that it doesn’t crow in the morning.
Protection – Menges’ series of paintings explores the tension between two people bound together by marriage.
Devilish Charm – Polly Nor draws “women and their demons”. Her art mainly focuses on the themes of female identity and self esteem in the 21st century.
This piece was awarded the Editor’s Choice Award in the St Andrew’s College Collaborative Writing Competition 2021.