Take a look at the work of selected contemporary artists from Modern Art Oxford's exhibition history who explore the relationship between gender and society

Roberta Breitmore archive (2015/2015) by Lynn Hershman LeesonModern Art Oxford

What is gender?

Many confuse sex and gender and use the term interchangeably. Biological sex and gender are different. Gender is not inherently nor solely connected to a person's physical anatomy. Biological gender includes physical attributes used to assign sex - to identify a person as male or female. 

Fly Me to the Moon, Kiki Kogelnik, 1963/1963, From the collection of: Modern Art Oxford
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Gender however is far more complicated. It is the complex interrelationship between an individual’s sex, one’s internal sense of male, female, both or neither as well as one’s outwards presentations and behaviours.

Lorna (the first interactive video art disc) (1983/1984) by Lynn Hershman LeesonModern Art Oxford

Re-defining gender

The 1960s witnessed the beginning of a series of dramatic social movements engaged in activism about human rights issues. This was also an era of feminism and gay rights, and as a result of these movements, philosophers, social scientists and historians have theorised that gender - the roles, characteristics and activities that distinguish men from women - are not innate but socially constructed.

Have you seen the horizon lately? Exhibition guide (1997/1998) by Yoko OnoModern Art Oxford

Artists such as Yoko Ono have used their experience as women to make work that critiques patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes and behaviours in mainstream society.

Have You Seen The Horizon Lately? (1997/1998) by Yoko OnoModern Art Oxford

Ono played a key role in the shaping of the New York, London and Tokyo avant-garde during the 1960s and continues to make powerful and provocative work in a diverse range of media.

Contemporary Art of Today: Gender (2017) by Modern Art OxfordModern Art Oxford

Lorna (the first interactive video art disc) (1983/1984) by Lynn Hershman LeesonModern Art Oxford

Gender and society

Many artists have used their work to examine, question, and criticise the relationships between gender and society. As the feminist movement gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, artists began to challenge traditional roles of women, addressing topics such as women in domestic and public spheres, and conventional standards of beauty.

Breathing Machine IV (1968/1968) by Lynn Hershman LeesonModern Art Oxford

Lynn Hershman Leeson has received international acclaim for work that explores privacy in an era of surveillance, the relationship between real and virtual worlds and the mutability of personal identity in an increasingly mediated society.

Forming a Sculpture Drama-Commercials (1974/1974) by Lynn Hershman LeesonModern Art Oxford

See Lynn Hershman Leeson's exhibition, 'Origins of the Species (Part 2)' taking shape at Modern Art Oxford in 2015.

Roberta Breitmore archive, Lynn Hershman Leeson, 2015/2015, From the collection of: Modern Art Oxford
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Leeson’s exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2015 critiqued the constructed nature of gender in relation the invasive technologies and media of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Untitled (Talk is cheap) (1985/1985) by Barbara KrugerModern Art Oxford

Gender and the Media

Artists today continue to explore the increasingly complex territory of gender in the 21st century, examining the role that the media plays in the construction of gender. 

Untitled (Titled) (2014/2014) by Barbara KrugerModern Art Oxford

Barbara Kruger’s instantly recognisable work combines bold lettering, colours and dramatic presentations of text and image which investigate the manipulative logic at play in advertising and mainstream media.

Twelve (2004/2004) by Barbara KrugerModern Art Oxford

Watch Barbara Kruger in conversation with Iwona Blazwick, at Modern Art Oxford in November 2014.

Freedom and Change (1984/1984) by Lubaina HimidModern Art Oxford

New Representations of Gender

Contemporary artists have also used their work as a means to interrogate depictions of gender in Art History, and to propose new narratives. 

Fishing, Lubaina Himid, 1987/1987, From the collection of: Modern Art Oxford
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Lubaina Himid was one of the pioneers of the British Black Arts Movement. Himid first came to prominence in the 1980s when she began organising exhibitions of work by her peers, whom she felt were under-represented in the contemporary art scene. Himid’s work challenges the stereotypical depictions of black figures in art history, foregrounding the contribution of the African diaspora to Western culture.

Credits: Story

Modern Art Oxford is an arts charity founded in 1965. It is a space for everyone to enjoy and experience contemporary art, for free. Every exhibition and event at Modern Art Oxford is supported financially by friends of the gallery and members of the public who help to safeguard our future by making regular donations. Without the support of these generous and committed individuals, we would be unable to produce these inspirational exhibitions, events and activities.

Modern Art Oxford is supported by Arts Council England and Oxford City Council.

The content provided in this series of exhibits and films is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. The exhibits and films are not designed to be used as complete analysis on these subjects. Images sourced for the exhibits and films are copyright to their respectful owners. Full credit information is listed in the details section linked to each image. Unless otherwise noted, the content provided is © Modern Art Oxford. All rights reserved. The content may not be copied in part or full without permission. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. Modern Art Oxford would be grateful to hear from any interested parties

Modern Art Oxford is a charity registered in the UK: 313035

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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