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Frances Goodman Interview: Spit or Swallow


“I feel that the idea of femininity is a construct based on capitalistic structures and the consumer industry.” Meet the praised South African artist Frances Goodman, who creates work about women by converting material from the beauty industry into snake-like nail sculptures, eyelash drawings and sequin paintings. “As a woman, do you just swallow everything that’s given to you? Or do you choose to be outspoken and challenge the status quo,” she says.

“I’m interested in making work that questions how women view themselves, and whether the views they have of themselves are constructed by someone else rather than themselves,” says Goodman who wants to start a conversation with all kinds of women. In the video, she presents a selection of her projects, one of these being her artificial fingernail sculptures, which resemble the skins of snakes. Her reasons for doing this, she explains, is to make these throw-away objects precious, and also to create a kind of “armour,” which she feels women put on every day: “The make-up we wear, the clothes we wear, the nail polish we wear, are all these kind of armour and tools we use to fight this battle.” From a distance, Goodman says, the sculptures are “alluring and attractive,” but when you get a closer look, “you recoil from them slightly when you realise what they’re made of.” This, she finds, is a metaphor for femininity: “What people expect from us is this kind of polished, beautiful surface, and then when you go up close and see how kind of messy and complicated it is, it’s less attractive.” Moreover, the snakes reflect how women have been and often still are portrayed: “When women are very outspoken or try to express themselves, they are often ostracised or vilified for having this freedom.”

When Goodman made her series of pictures ‘Tinder Dick Picks’ (2014) in the early days of the dating app Tinder, she was extremely surprised by how many men put out “dick-picks”. She then took those pictures and re-drew them in eyelashes: “It was about taking this image that was forced on me and kind of making it mine. Putting it from the perspective of the female gaze rather than the male gaze, because it was made from the eyelashes from women, but it was also me saying: Well, I haven’t given you permission to give me this image, so I’m not asking your permission to make it my image.” Eyelashes, she continues, is one of the trappings of the beauty industry, but when they fall off, they become “quite gross” and “almost insectile.”

Another piece that Goodman feels exemplifies her practice is ‘Spit/Swallow’ (2013), which depicts a self-portrait of the artist with a fluid-like shape that in turn flashes inside her mouth and out of it: “As a woman, do you just swallow everything that’s given to you? Do you just sit quietly and accept your place? Or do you choose to be vocal and outspoken and challenge the status quo?” Also, she continues, the piece refers to felatio and the sort of doubleness with which that women are continuously confronted.

Frances Goodman (b.1975) is a South African artist. Goodman works with installation, photography, sculpture, and sound installations, which focus primarily on women and contemporary notions of beauty and desire. Her interest lies in female identity and the anxieties that manifest and are cultivated from the bombardment of the media as well as societal expectations and pressures. Goodman has exhibited widely worldwide, and her work forms part of numerous significant public and private collections, including the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) in Cape Town. She is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. For more see: http://www.francesgoodman.com/

Frances Goodman was interviewed by Christian Lund at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark in November 2019.

Camera: Klaus Elmer

Edited by Kasper Bech Dyg

Produced by Christian Lund

Cover photo: ‘Lickety Lick’ (2018) by Frances Goodman

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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