Five Women on the Street (2020) is a limited edition cyanotype on cold-pressed paper by Australian artist Natalya Hughes. Purchase your print via the IMA Gallery Shop here.
"Ernst Kirchner’s painting Five Women on the Street (1913) is the starting point for this work. It is a continuation of my practice that attends to the representation of women in canonical Modernist paintings. Like his street scenes more broadly, Kirchner depicts ‘street walkers’ in order to capture the energy, pace and sensory overload of the new urban environment (before the outbreak of the First World War). While Kirchner argued that the work was the result of a rapid, spontaneous and sensuous impression sketched in ‘ecstasy’, I see in it a projection. For me it visualises a pointed anxiety, where women resemble crows preying as much as they appear as human subjects.
Since lockdown, and all the developments produced by the pandemic, I have become more and more sympathetic to early Modern anxiety. But for me projections like Kirchner’s still seem unfairly directed at women. I suppose this is another unfortunate resonance: as information about domestic violence and the financial precarity of women as a result of the pandemic comes in, I feel sadness and disappointment that women might still be taking the fall for something larger than any particular woman could possibly be responsible for. Here in my work, the anxiety of the street scene is heightened and unbearably dense."
—Natalya Hughes, 2020
Natalya Hughes, Five Women on the Street, 2020, cyanotype, edition of 10.
A dark blue impression, an appropriated image—Five Women on the Street is an apt critique of the representation of women through the eyes of the men since 1913 and well before. This work speaks to how the feminine experience is undervalued in comparison to that of men. A parallel can be drawn between the streetwalkers here in this work, and the front-line women in schools, childcare, hospitals, and the sex industry. This pandemic has exposed the inequalities and vulnerabilities in social, political, and economic systems across the globe. Five Women is a picture of fractured systemic injustice, vexed with dense layers of complexity and control. Fragmented pattern replaces the original chaotic brushstrokes. The original painting comprised of a series of quick gestures stripping bare the daily lives of women. Here, women’s history is reclaimed through layers of thoughtful and patiently applied pattern.
Natalya Hughes has an expansive practice, concerned mostly with decorative and ornamental traditions, and their associations with the feminine, the body and excess. Her practice investigates the relationship between Modernist painters and their anonymous women subjects—onto which the artist indicates a pointed anxiety. Hughes reinterprets the same subjects of the modernist decorative paintings through her flat, neat style of painting.
In 2019, Hughes was a finalist in both the Sulman Prize at Art Gallery of NSW and the National Works on Paper Prize at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, and as well as a finalist in the 2017 Ramsay Art Prize at Art Gallery of South Australia. Her work has been included in institutional exhibitions including at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2019, 2017 and 2012); QUT Art Museum, Brisbane (2016); Artspace, Sydney (2016); Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Gymea (2015); Performance Space, Sydney (2012); Parliament House, Canberra (2014); UQ Art Museum, Brisbane (2010); Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2009); and Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Victoria (2006).
Hughes completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane in 2001, and a PhD in Art Theory at the College of Fine Art (UNSW) in 2009. She currently lives in Brisbane and lectures in Fine Art and Expanded Practice at the Queensland College of Art.