by Sara Khan
Last year we saw women from around the world coming together to respond to decades of sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault. From the Women’s March, #MeToo campaign, and Weinstein effect in 2017 to the Time’s Up movement at the Golden Globes. 2018 shows no signs of stopping and will be the year of women.
As we mark a 100 years’ anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the UK, we will be celebrating progressive female artists and makers pushing boundaries within their work to create dialogue.
Each week we will profile an artist as a run up to International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018. This week’s artist is Silvia Levenson who will be exhibiting with North Lands Creatives at Collect: The International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects on 22 – 25 February.
Originally from Buenos Aires in Argentina, Silvia grew up part of a generation that experienced the ‘Dirty War’ that took place from 1976 to 1983 where an estimated 30,000 citizens were either killed or seized by the authorities and never heard from again. Silvia was 19 years old in 1976 when the military gained power with a coup d’état and fought to create a more just society.
Silvia’s work often reflects on her experiences in Argentina with an interest in interpersonal relationships and the relationships between family and society as a whole. Using glass as her medium, Silvia is not interested in creating beautiful objects but aims to reveal what is normally hidden, raise issues of the past that affect Argentina today, challenge the viewer, and preserve memories for future generations.
We met with Silvia to discuss her passions, work, and feminism.
What led you to become an artist and maker?
I cannot define exactly how I became an artist, however, it is the only way I can fit in this world. Through my art, I’m able to reduce the distance between myself and my surroundings.
What are the main themes in your work and why are these important to you?
Within my work I like to explore the gap between what I observe and what reality is. All my work is about how I perceive and experience what I define as reality.
My experience during the Dirty War in Argentina shaped my vision of life. I was part of a generation that fought to change a society that seemed terribly unjust. I now realise that even in the worst scenarios of everyday life, I can always feel the comfort of somebody smiling at me. Nothing is as terrible and traumatic as the experiences related to the missing people in Argentina. I consider the‘Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo’ as an example. They are at present looking for the grandchildren that were born in captivity and were given up illegally for adoption. Despite what has been said, they are by no means looking for vengeance, only for truth and justice - determined women displaying smiling faces.
For me, this example illustrates the concept of ‘absence’ - the missing people in Argentina, and the lack of justice and empathy together with the non-appearance of the dead bodies.
Do you feel the issues you raise in your work are relevant today?
Yes I believe these issues are relevant today. What is happening now in society regarding migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers touches me deeply. Mass migration and acculturation through separation, discrimination, and marginalisation should not be disregarded. Moreover, the role of women in society. For example, women in today’s society are still regarded as inferior in both power and status. Unfortunately, this view still holds true in several countries. I do not think art is able to change society, but it may transmit an aesthetic experience that provoke different views of reality.
Can you tell us a bit about your work 13 LB of Love?
Women experience violence in many ways. Whatever form it takes, the worst abusive behaviour appears to be in a domestic setting such as a marriage or cohabitation. My big hand-grenade speaks for feelings that cannot always be expressed. 13 LB of Love represents the weight of the glass of the hand-grenade and it has been made using a very slow lost wax technique.
What are you hoping to evoke in the viewer through your work?
My purpose is to firstly draw the public’s attention through the glass and colours, and then once the attention is captured, I hope to evoke the hidden meaning of the piece. In other words, only through a second glance can my work be understood and make sense to people. I would like people to use my artwork as a starting point to relate to and expand their ideas, feelings and perspectives.
How much does gender influence your work?
Art is not neutral, materials are not neutral, and artists are not neutral. I cannot pretend I am not a woman myself. I identify myself as little girl, as a young woman, and as an adult. My vision of reality could be influenced by my gender, as men and women perceive situations in different ways.
Do you think now is an important time for women in the arts?
I think the art world has significantly changed in the last few decades and I hope it will change more in the future. However, the art world is not a island. It's part of our unequal society where the majority of presidents in the world are men and where for example, in the civilazed Italy, every three days a women is killed as victim of feminicide.