Art is one of our greatest forms of expression; an antidote. Feminist art is difficult to define, because we all feel something different. In fancy terms, the difficulty is due to philosophical contradictions, disparities between generational interests, and the uncertainty of the definition of modern, third-wave feminism. But basically, it’s because no human feels the same as another. But it’s incredible what we can all feel a connection to, no matter our interpretation. Sometimes you’ll look at something and your skin will shift, or your eyes will fill. Often, your brain can’t even tell you why. There is a power there.
I worked weekends for two years at an art gallery in Oudtshoorn – a little town in the Klein Karoo. This gallery was owned by Janet Dixon, an artist, doctor, and mother; an incredibly capable and inspiring woman. I interviewed her recently, to see what makes it all run for her.
Katja: Do you feel that your societal position as a woman in a small town has affected people’s response to you and your work, both as doctor and artist?
Janet: Yes I do think so. As a doctor I was used to running my own practice and taking full 24 hour responsibility for my patients. When I came to Oudtshoorn and still had babies in arms, my colleagues here felt I should rather not do after-hours calls. I was initially taken aback, feeling slightly underestimated. But it was this change in my life which opened the doors for me to become more involved in the art world. The ‘flipside’ is that female artists with other occupations as well are more likely to be seen as hobbyists than a male artist in a similar position.
Yet I don’t want to be male, or be seen as one. I know women have special capabilities and sensitivities and I would prefer to utilize those.
What inspires you to work so hard, in various areas of industry?
I lost track of my personal identity during my early married years, striving too hard to accommodate my young family and the community. A process of separation from my husband and other traumas in my personal life served to push me into rediscovering and connecting with my inner woman, my artist soul. Here I feel complete. I have however an inbred belief in my own competency (my mother’s fault I believe) and an inexorable desire to carry out ideas and make them work. I drifted into organizing my newfound artist community in order to exhibit together. The ArtKaroo gallery grew out of this and continues to both succor me and confound any plans I have to slow down.
You address multiple issues through your work, as well as portraying your view of the unique Klein Karoo. I want to focus on the work where you have desired to depict a feminine power, and what your interests are through this.
How do you view femininity?
I wouldn’t say that I am a feminist. I suspected my mother was one because she taught me to never be dependent on a man. But the day I left for med school she asked me in a worried voice if I was sure… as the career as a doctor would impact on being a mom… Still I did both with 3 kids in 4 years just before I turned 40. Femininity to me is a gift – the ability to be in touch with your intuitive self, to nurture and to “weave”. The female way of doing things is more like a dance than a war. But it is a wisdom and a power.
Focusing on one particular work you really connect with, what were you trying to express through the piece?
“Grounded” is about being centered and connected to the universe – nature visible and invisible, flowing in the waves of intention. The woman is naked, because this is about her essential self, stripped of pretense. Her feet connect to the revolving earth,yet she is at one with the ether surrounding her.
I believe women who are in touch with their deeper selves have an innate power to make things happen, to bring people together and to heal.