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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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