When I was a little girl, I had a collection of ceramic Victorian women in full petticoats and gowns. They were enduringly precious to me, and yet my clumsy fingers always proved disastrous for the delicate dolls. They lost everything from their parasols to their heads, and yet I kept them on my chest of drawers well into adulthood; in fact, they’re still there.
As I learned more about constructed Victorian womanhood, I realized the historical and cultural influences behind my youthful reverence for the ceramic figures. These woman were fashionable, affluent, and impossibly delicate; they seemed to represent a moral purity and innocence thrust upon women in the Victorian era that no real, live woman could ever emulate. They were perfect, and their particular type of perfection was impossibly fragile.
When I stumbled upon the work of the artist Jessica Harrison’s collection of ceramic Victorian women, I was thrilled to see what I interpret as a more fortified and powerful view of 19th century femininity. Harrison’s sculptural work possesses the uncanny ability to blur the lines between body and spirit, to express the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional through form and shape.
Her somewhat terrifying collection frames the delicate female figures in a gritty and darkened context: the women ghoulishly unravel their own intestines, pop their heads out of place, rip their hearts out, and slice themselves open with their own designer fans. The work is disturbing, yes, but it also presents women who display their own bodies in a powerfully frightening way, challenging Victorian ideals of chaste modesty in shocking and original ways. Harrison’s beautiful work presents women in an ominous light that transcends the body-- and restrictive corsets!-- paving the way for bloody and grinningly defiant scenes that are anything but fragile. What do you think of the sculptures? Let us know in your comments!
Thanks to Lost in E Minor
Images via Lost in E Minor
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