Self-awareness, feminist revolution, rebellion against social norms: everything starts from the walls of the house according to many artists who have worked on domesticity from the 70s to today

On March 26, the Domesticanx exhibition at the Museo del Barrio in New York, dedicated to the art of Central and South America, ended.

The exhibition project brought together seven intergenerational artists under the theme of the individual-domestic space relationship inspired by the concept of 'domesticana', theorized by the artist and scholar Amalia Mesa-Bains in the years 90s as opposed to the male-dominated 'rasquachismo'.

Derived from the term 'rasquache, which in Latino and Chicana culture - of Mexican immigrants in the United States - is used to describe an emblematic behavior of a lower class, this concept describes an artistic practice typical of the working class which involves the reuse of old objects to create makeshift artistic artifacts.

When adopted by women, this practice assumes the name of 'domesticana', becoming an identification and emancipatory tool of the female representative space. The domestic one, indeed.

Extending original Chicana and feminist theory through the new intersectional Latina sensibility, curator Susanna V. Temkin paired established female artists such as Nitza Tufiño and Maria Brito with emerging artists of different ages, genders, sexual orientations and backgrounds who proposed their personal interpretations of the private sphere with a view to subverting the ancient legacies imposed by patriarchal and colonial power structures.

Although with an unprecedented format and also giving space to other minorities, Domesticanx has once again brought to the attention of the public a theme as complex as it is fascinating: the thorny dichotomy that has always characterized the domestic environment , for many women, a place of care and protection, but also of constraint and oppression.

Throughout the history of art, and above all with the birth of the most recent feminist movements (such as US radical feminism), many female artists have ventured into the interpretation and representation of the articulated relationship between femininity and the domestic sphere, each according to time sensitivity.

Among these there is certainly Leonora Carrington who in Grandma Moorhead's aromatic kitchen (1975) interpreted domesticity through a representation tender and at the same time courageous of the kitchen, considered for centuries the sexist prerogative of women, but here loaded with magic and enchantment.

Using the surrealist imagery that she sees in magic and mysticism as instruments of self-realization and personal emancipation, Carrington has exalted the Celtic origins of her maternal grandmother and the legendary and matriarchal Sidhe fairy people.

If in Carrington's painting the domestic space is an expression of the most benevolent and caring part of the female universe (although claiming a certain autonomy with respect to the male counterpart), for artists such as Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, pioneer of feminist art, the house has always represented the embodiment of the most deeply rooted gender stereotypes.

In the installation Womanhouse (1972), the final project of their Feminist Art Program at the CaLArts Institute, Chicago and Schapiro invited over twenty female artists to rethink the role of women in the domestic space.

The result was an exaltation and normalization of everyday femininity through the celebration of taboo objects such as sanitary pads and underwear.

In 2018, the pioneering project of the two American artists was also the starting point for the exhibition Women House at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Through the works of thirty-six artists ranging from sculpture to video art, the exhibition provided a picture of the plurality of women's visions of domesticity and the stereotypes still firmly linked to it.

In 1998 it was instead Tracey Emin who staged female intimacy with My Bed, one of the most controversial works of the 90s due to the crudeness with which the artist had represented her chaotic life private in the weeks following the end of his last romantic relationship: an unmade bed surrounded by underwear, alcohol, cigarettes, condoms and birth control pills.

Among those who have made the criticism of the patriarchal concept of domesticity one of their chosen themes, Monica Bonvicini stands out, famous for her works honest and without rhetoric.

In his latest solo exhibition in the spaces of Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Pleasant (2022), the artist presented a series of works on mirror which reported quotes from famous writers from which transpired all the discomfort of living confined within the home. The intent of feminist re-appropriation of space also emerges from her ferocious sculptures made of heavy metal chains and black leather belts: a crude metaphor for the heaviness of home routine.

Finally, among the emerging voices on the contemporary scene there are those who, like the Polish photographer Joanna Piotrowska, explore the domestic sphere through the complexity of family relationships, both tender and suffocating, and those who, on the other hand, repudiate the traditional Western concept of home.

This is the case of Hanna Burkart, a Viennese artist who in 2016 gave up having a fixed abode to concentrate her research on the notion of itinerant home and on the changing interactions between space and human behavior from which photographic works, installations and drawings derive.

Nomadism, normally associated with a precarious and immoral lifestyle, becomes in Burkart's experience a tool for emancipation and reappropriation of one's space within the world. Self-awareness, claiming one's origins, feminist revolution and rebellion against social norms: it all starts from the walls of the house.