Explore how artists use the body as medium and subject for expressing identity, identity politics and new concepts of art

Before the Mast (2013/2014) by Stuart BrisleyModern Art Oxford

Defining the body 

The human body is fundamental to how we understand aspects of identity such as gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity.  Individuals typically adjust and alter their body image to conform with or rebel against social conventions and to express messages to others around them. 

Untitled (Hanging) (1970/1970) by Kiki KogelnikModern Art Oxford

The body in art 

The 1960s witnessed the beginning of a series of dramatic nongovernmental social movements engaged in activism related to the issues of human rights.  These included the civil rights movement which included resistance to colonialism, imperialism, slavery, racism, patriarchy, apartheid and oppression of indigenous peoples; as well as women’s rights in relation to sexuality, reproductive rights, the family and workplace; and gay rights. As the body is a site for expressing identity, many artists began to see the body as a way of commenting on identity politics – gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity - as well as to develop new concepts of art.

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

Ending Imperfect (A Provisional Title) (2011/2011) by Stuart BrisleyModern Art Oxford

The body as art

Many artists forefront the physical body as the site for their work. Since the 1950s, Stuart Brisley has been a pioneer of performance art, using his body in radical and innovative ways. Brisley’s most iconic work traces enduring themes such as the body as a tool for directly addressing individual autonomy and fundamental notions of power, authority, community and freedom.

Ending Imperfect (A Provisional Title) (2011/2011) by Stuart BrisleyModern Art Oxford

Embracing performance as an autonomous foundation for a new rapport between artist and audience, Brisley often exposed his own body to danger, discomfort and durational stress to make highly charged works.

Chair (2011/2011) by Stuart BrisleyModern Art Oxford

Brisley's 2014 exhibition, 'State of Denmark' surveyed the breadth and inventiveness of the artist's work and asserts his influence of one of the most important and enduring voices in international contemporary art.

3D Brain (1959/1960) by Lynn Hershman LeesonModern Art Oxford

The body as a contemporary medium 

Artists today continue to explore a complex range of ideas relating to the body from notions of sexuality and gender, to the impact of artificial intelligence and notions of the post-human.

Roberta Breitmore archive, Lynn Hershman Leeson, 2015/2015, From the collection of: Modern Art Oxford
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Lynn Hershman Leeson's 2015 exhibition at Modern Art Oxford included the Roberta Breitmore Archive. In the late '70s, Hershman Leeson conceived, constructed and lived as the fictional persona and alter-ego Roberta Breitmore. A fully-fledged and complete personality who existed over an extended period of time, Roberta's existence was 'proven' in the world through physical evidence, from a driver's license and credit card, to letters from her psychiatrist. The artist even captured documentation through a private detective she hired to follow Roberta.

A Storyteller's Inadequacy, Eva Kotatkova, 2013/2014, From the collection of: Modern Art Oxford
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Eva Kotatkova uses video, photography, found objects and drawings as records of her own performances, working collaboratively to explore the language of sculpture and to reevaluate so-called normal situations. Her works are proposals for living in an awkward age; blueprints for difficulties that must be overcome in order to explore limits of human relationships and behaviour.

A Storyteller's Inadequacy (2013/2014) by Eva KotatkovaModern Art Oxford

Working with a group of performers at Modern Art Oxford, Kotatkova created a series of tableaux in the galleries; each work presents a performer connected with an object to form a ‘living’ part of a sculpture.

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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