‘Genders: Shaping and Breaking the Binary’ review

Art
3 out of 5 stars
Adam Faramawy
'Skin Flick' (2019), Still © the artist

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Gender is big news. And, like everything that’s ‘big news’, it solicits big reactions. This exhibition at the Science Gallery aims to go beyond the most strident, shouty responses to the topic, showing instead that the very concept of gender is as messy and ungraspable as toothpaste blobbed into the sink.

As with all of the gallery’s exhibitions, this one combines research from King’s College and the work of contemporary artists. Some – such as Sarah Jury, Behrooz ‘Bez’ Shahriari and Rachel Sale’s extended game about the legal frameworks for sex and gender – directly respond to the university’s scholarship. Others – like Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s lushly baroque self-portraits from 1987-89 – exist independently.

The ones with an obvious connection to studies at King’s give the exhibition a clear focus and, ultimately, are why the exhibition is in the institution’s gallery. However, the more ambiguous, freely meandering works are much more artistically interesting.

There are three artworks – Mary Maggic’s ‘Milik Bersama Rekombinan’, Sadé Mica’s ‘Uproot, New Roots’ and Adham Faramawy’s ‘Skin Flick (Invasive Species)’ – that, in different ways, upset our understanding of nature as some sort of fixed truth. Conversations around gender often make the simplistic distinction of natural, biological states versus socially constructed, nurtured states. But in these works ‘nature’, as represented by plant life and the green, growing world, is as much in flux as human understanding of the world is.

It’s also stuck in a feedback loop with the people who traipse through it. Mica’s films reference white, manly Romantic traditions, asking who gets to ‘belong’ in the bucolic English countryside. Faramawy’s video installation is set up next to a live buddleia, a prolific plant that’s both invasive weed and key attractor of in-decline butterflies. And Maggic’s wiggling blue river and latex wall sculptures covered in trash target the hormones and waste polluting an Indonesian river. It’s uncategorisable and free-flowing art. Fluid, in other words.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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