Summer Spotlight: Deconstructing Gender through Printmaking

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© Elsa Naude
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Elsa Naude.

We sat down with Fine Arts faculty Elsa Naude to discuss her upcoming summer course, "Deconstructing Gender through Printmaking":

Gender studies and printmaking is an unusual combination. What is the relationship between the two subjects? What motivated you to explore them together?

I have to confess, the very first reason – and an obvious one – is that both are very present in my life! 
Printmaking became a passion through my art studies, my interest never decreased since then. And I started integrating gender matters in my work about six years ago. It happened very naturally, intertwined with my activism as a feminist and queer artist.
There is this quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie* that captivated me a few years ago: “The problem with gender, is that it prescribes how we should be, rather than recognizing how we are.” For me, this really connects to the revealing moment of printmaking. These two states—how we should be versus how we are—are a perfect echo to the accidental essence of printmaking (especially with the monotype techniques we’ll be studying together). You start with a precise image in mind of what you’re trying to achieve, but when revealing your print, it looks nothing like you imagined. Along the process, you have to let go of the plan and accept the surprises, allow them to enrich and feed your graphic language and imagination. This process of acceptance and reconciliation between expectation and reality certainly resonates with this quote brilliantly summing up gender oppression.
As an artist my main struggle is to let go of the impossible expectation of perfection I place upon myself. As a woman, my main struggle is to unlearn the roles I’ve been taught to absorb because of my gender.

*Watch the full Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk here.

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What can we learn about gender norms by looking at them through an artistic lens?

An art lens contains a potential for change, and change will be necessary as long as people will suffer from the gender norms in place and their consequences. An art lens also brings imagination and creativity, which are two essential tools to invent new solutions. In my personal experience, when searching for what I most want to express as an artist, I always have to reach in my own story to expect reaching others through my work. So in this sense, art seems to be a very relevant gateway to question and deconstruct gender roles and assumptions we usually don’t perceive.

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And what can we learn about art by looking through a gendered lens?

You mean through a gender-deconstruction lens? For me, a gendered lens is hard to describe as I wear those glasses pretty much every day at this point. By observing how different someone is treated based on their gender, we slowly enlarge our capacity to empathize. This lens gives us new questions, it helps us to see illusions. It engages us in a process of deconstruction, to find answers about oneself and to make sense of the world. The same is true about racism, ableism, fat/homo/transphobia to name but a few.

The gendered lens becomes very powerful when pointed at art history and the way it is taught in various cultures. Which artists are known worldwide? Which have been forgotten and why? When analyzing the context of creation—and then diffusion—of an artist’s works, we rapidly see the reasons for such an uneven treatment. And once again, it brings a new set of questions regarding the denomination of art movements and periods, the way we talk about art, the way we show it, the way we own it.
As for using this lens when one is making art themselves, it is a guide towards some crucial questions: Who is making this art? From which context and identity are they expressing themselves? In reaction to which situation? Who are they hoping will pay attention to it?

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Tell us about your recent work. What inspires and motivates you that you hope to share with your students?


I’ve been trying to find ways to transcribe visually ideas and feelings I’m unable to put into words, needless to say I’ll be working on this for a while! 
It’s very connected with the absence of words in our society around some taboos. How can we describe to ourselves and others something that no one taught us the language for? I’m curious to see if an image could fill that gap.
My motivation and determination as an artist both come from a certain candor. I strongly believe that art can change the world, and in this sense I always consider my activism and artistic practice tied together. If I can share a little bit of that candor and faith, and if I’m lucky enough to feel inspired in return, then I’ll consider this course successful!

What do you hope to learn from your students?

Sometimes as a teacher I get the sensation that I’m teaching necessary tricks and methods to my students that I struggle myself to apply in my practice. I’m hoping that by listening to myself often enough I’ll end up following my own advice.
But beyond that teacher-student dynamic, I’m really curious to be surprised by the humans willing to experiment in our gender-print lab. I also hope we all manage to see and question our bias regarding gender norms.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

I am always very excited and grateful for the opportunity to meet new people and artists and simply be together, experiment together. I’m really looking forward to hearing their stories and thoughts, sharing our ideals and hopes.
My goal is to create a space for dialogue and trust for all of us, and once achieved this is what I’m most eager to experience.

Any other personal projects in the works that you'd like to share?

I’m currently imagining new items, zines and prints for the upcoming Zine Fair (April 25th) organized during the Queer Week festival in Paris. Join us if you’re around!

Click below for a behind-the-scenes look at Elsa at work in the PCA printmaking studio!

Print by Elsa Naude, Video by Meredith Chadwick (BFA Communication Design '22)

Intrigued?