Curatorial Projects > Beautiful Ugly Violence (2004)

Beautiful Ugly Violence - A Solo Exhibition by Margaret Harrison

March 3 - May 8, 2004
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

Intersection and Margaret Harrison, considered one of Britain's best-known women artists, have been collaborating on this project for the past three years, compiling an extensive amount of research on the tools, weapons, and ideologies used against women worldwide, as well as establishing relationships with a number of local organizations that work specifically in prevention and intervention techniques dealing with violence directed against women. Catalyzed by the burgeoning feminist consciousness of the 1960s and 70s, Harrison - like many other women artists of her generation - clearly saw that any aesthetic existed as an interaction with a larger social system, leading her to hope for and work toward "a society in which art was not separate, where it could be integrated into the whole fabric." In 1970, she was one of the founders of the first London Women’s Liberation Art Group. She came of age as an artist during the heady years of pop, minimal and conceptual work, and had her first one-person exhibition at Motif Editions in London in 1971. She exhibited a set of drawings that used image-reversal in order to subvert the stereotypical images of men and women used in advertising and soft-core porn. One drawing in particular showed Hugh Heffner of Playboy fame as a Bunny Girl, with a Bunny penis. The exhibition was shut down by the police after a single day because the images were deemed “offensive.”

Harrison creates her work only after doing rigorous research and thorough analysis. The issues that she explores are not merely relevant to sectorial or temporary interests, but rather are universal and timeless. She has produced bodies of work dealing with homeworkers, rape and domestic abuse, war’s impact on women, fame and celebrity status, and beauty as depicted by the cosmetics industry. She places women’s experience in a wider, global context, one increasingly characterized by migrations, displacement, and evictions from the local due to global situations. Whereas some feminist artists still present overt arguments of gender politics, or utilize subjective self-revelatory approaches, Harrison remains personally invisible beneath the transparency of works which, at first sight, appear to have no political content at all. Hers is a low-key approach which exposes exploitation and abuse, whilst merely appearing to present us with unexceptional images of the everyday. Her insistence on aesthetic value is strategically key to the impact of her work. Hers is an art of provocation and displacement, of conceptual and visual systems in which the gears do not quite mesh. In her calm and balanced compositions, Harrison injects a critical perspective that may escape the eye upon first glance. Yet it is in this tension of beauty and criticism, aesthetics and politics, that her work exudes its power and persuasiveness.

This exhibition consists of a new suite of oil and watercolor paintings and mixed media collages that demonstrate the links between the many forms of violence against women that occur across the globe (not just domestic violence, rape, and incest, which are familiar in the U.S., but also dowry burnings, genital mutilation, sex trafficking, murder of infant girls, honor killings, impregnation as an instrument of war, and enslavement of women due to extremist religious beliefs). In an attempt to show the interconnectivity of different cultural, societal, religious, and political institutions that restrict, impair, and deform women and the ways in which they relate to each other (such as illiteracy and poverty), Harrison intends to start a range of dialogues that go beyond the feminist victim debates of the 1980s. She explores the intricate relationships between violence in the domestic realm and in the larger global economic/political realm and portrays the complexity of these factors through Beautiful Ugly Violence.

One in four American women are physically abused sometime during their lives, and worldwide, at least one in three women have been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. Collective avoidance of the prevalence of violence directed towards women is integrated into society and normalized as a way of behavior all over the world. Many successful policy and behavior change movements - gun control, anti-drunk driving, pro-choice, civil rights - made the issue public, developed active advocacy constituencies, instituted deeper prevention efforts, and changed social norms. It is our hope that this exhibition will continue to bring attention to an issue still prevalent, pervasive, and all too common in each corner of our world.

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Text from informational brochure displayed in the gallery:

Domestic Violence is a Serious, Widespread Social Problem in America


Prevalence of Domestic Violence
• Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year to 3.9 million women who are physically abused by their husbands or live-in partners per year.
• Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey.
• Thirty percent of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.
• While women are less likely than men to be victims of violent crimes overall, women are five to eight times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.
• From 1992 to 1996, victimization by an intimate accounted for about 21 percent of the violence experienced by females. It accounted for about two percent of the violent crime sustained by males.
• Women of all races and Hispanic and non-Hispanic women are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate.
• Male violence against women does much more damage than female violence against men; women are much more likely to be injured than men.
• The most rapid growth in domestic relations caseloads is occurring in domestic violence filings. Between 1993 and 1995, 18 of 32 states with three year filing figures reported an increase of 20 percent or more.
• Women are 7 to 14 times more likely than men to report suffering severe physical assaults from an intimate partner.

Domestic Homicides
• In 1996, approximately 1,800 murders were attributed to intimates; nearly three out of four of these had a female victim.
• Among all female murder victims in 1995, 26 percent were known to have been slain by husbands or boyfriends. Only three percent of the male victims were known to have been slain by wives or girlfriends.

Health Issues
• About half of all female victims of intimate violence report an injury of some type, and about 20 percent of them seek medical assistance.
• Thirty-seven percent of women who sought treatment in emergency rooms for violence-related injuries in 1994 were injured by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Domestic Violence and Youth
• Eight percent of high school age girls said “yes” when asked if “a boyfriend or date has ever forced sex against your will.”
• Forty percent of teenage girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
• During the 1996-1997 school year, there were an estimated 4,000 incidents of rape or other types of sexual assault in public schools across the country.

Domestic Violence and Children
• In a national survey of more than 2,000 American families, approximately 50 percent of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.
• Slightly more than half of female victims of intimate violence live in households with children under age 12.

• Three in four women (76 percent) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date committed the assault.
• Nearly one-fifth of women (18 percent) reported experiencing a completed or attempted rape at some time in their lives; one in 33 men (3 percent) reported experiencing a completed or attempted rape at some time in their lives.

• Seventy-eight percent of stalking victims are women. Women are significantly more likely than men (60 percent and 30 percent, respectively) to be stalked by intimate partners.
• Eighty percent of women who are stalked by former husbands are physically assaulted by that partner and 30 percent are sexually assaulted by that partner.