Blog

Art of the Skull: Feminine Myths

By: Elin Matilda, Category: At The Museum, Date: 20 Jan 2015

A blog series with stories from the artists, designers & illustrators involved in the contemporary pop up gallery in the Aztecs exhibition.

Art of the Skull: Feminine Myths #1

Art of the Skull: Feminine Myths #1
Photographer:  © Elin Matilda

Background and process

I was incredibly excited (although nervous) to receive an invitation to be a part of the Aztec pop-up exhibition. It’s always great to have your work shown in a context, and I love that the Australian Museum made such a fabulous effort to support local creatives. It is both an encouraging and humbling experience to be exhibited next to some truly amazing designers and artists.

Based in Sydney since 5-6 years back, I’m a 27 years old illustrator slash graphic designer, currently freelancing and working on various side projects whenever I can find the time. I normally stick to drawing, paper collage and Photoshop, so adding embroidery to illustrations that I submitted to the gallery was a bit of a daring last-minute decision. I had no idea if it was going to work and I was almost surprised when it did — especially since it was a mad rush to the deadline!

Somehow I forgot about this, but I used to do a lot of hand-stitching when I was younger. It was a bit of an obsession and I used to get so much enjoyment out of it — but at the same time it was kinda dorky and not exactly a cool hobby to have, which may have been a reason I stopped doing it as a teenager. Anyhow, this project got me really excited about embroidery again and I can’t wait to keep exploring the medium. The fact that is a traditionally female and also quite meditative craft brings another level of interest to me, and I’m curious about how that can used as a context to create somewhat contradictory, political images.

Which brings me to the thinking process behind the series. At first, I was struggling with ideas. The skull as a symbol has been rather over-used, to the point where I was struggling to extract meaning from it and bring it into the context of my own work. I also did not feel that I have a strong enough personal relationship with Mexican culture to confidently go down that route, even though the aesthetic amazes me.

In the end, I simply landed in a subject matter that is recurring in my practice. I often come back to drawing women and body images. I guess this is an attempt to express my thoughts and feelings around how cultural norms and ideals can interfere with one’s personal freedom and identity development, especially from a gender perspective. The series, which I have chosen to call ‘Feminine Myths’, is an ironic representation of the idealistic and hyper-sexualised body images that bombards us by almost every kind of media and especially advertising.

They are about the countless expectations that entail every aspect of the Western female existence, dictating contradictory rules about our behaviour, appearance and sexuality, which inevitably adds up to an impossible balancing act that I think every woman has encountered at some stage in her life. It made me think of circus artists engaged in bizarre acrobatic poses: reflecting a need for constant performance in search for perfection and acceptance.

The skulls in this context are menacing reminders of the inescapable losing position that is entwined with such a performance. An unfair game where the harder you play, the more you lose. Perhaps the skulls are there as warning signs?

Inspiration

Last year I came across a poem by an awesome Swedish writer called Nanna Johansson. As I was working on this project, her words popped back into my head. It’s quite long, so I have made an attempt to extract the main points below. I also fear that my English translation might have lessened the impact of her words (very sorry, Nanna!), but I because I love it I’m going to include it. So here it is…

Treat yourself to a bath. Bleach your anus with lemon juice. Shave your legs inside and out. Mash an avocado and compare yourself with it. Remember that guys like natural-looking girls. Apply make-up until the make-up is not longer visible. If you have cellulites, stop that. Treat yourself to a salad without croutons. Have a naturally high metabolism. Look good in hats. Be white. If your high-heeled shoes give you blisters, change feet. Obtain a solid confidence. To avoid wrinkles: stop laughing. Sleep for fifteen hours — if you wake up earlier, you are ugly. File your nails until you reach the knuckles. Bleach your anus with chlorine. Treat yourself to a spinning class where you almost vomit. Ask your boyfriend to write a list of everything he wants to change with your appearance. Do not forget the labia when applying cosmetics. Remember that guys like girls with no bowel movements. Remember that guys like girls who are computer generated. Apply make-up until you are no longer visible.

(‘Beauty Tips for the Summer’ by Nanna Johansson)

Upcoming projects

At the moment I’m quite busy with commercial freelance work, among other things I’m designing information graphics and reports for a non-for-profit research company. It’s quite different from doing illustration work, but I do also enjoy the analytical side of working with complex information and large amounts of text, especially when the content is interesting. I like to think it feeds valuable things into the other side of my work as well. I'm also in the process of printing some illustrated silk scarves -- that's very exciting!!!

I’d love to make space to exhibit more of my personal work next year though, perhaps by putting together a group show with like-minded artists. I think I always prefer to collaborate with others, rather than work in a bubble. I enjoy conversation, and I think the work always comes out more interesting if I’m responding to some kind challenge or framework.

Elin’s work can be seen at http://www.elinmatilda.com/
and on instagram @_elinmatilda