MFA SUMMER CRITS HIGHLIGHTS: SHARON VANSTARKENBURG

First Year MFA Candidates have completed the first year of their studies, culminating in summer critiques. Sharon Van Starkenburg has produced a prolific body of work during her studies.

Statement:
My current work addresses tropes of Western girlhood and womanhood; I am problematizing normative femininity, body policing, and the acculturation into desiring and being desirable. Anchored in narrative, I am interested in psychological states that are presented in an allegorical way through paint. I am co-opting the female body back into the discussion of art with frank representations of bodies and postures that speak to the performance of body, of gender, and of femininity. In my figures there is a coupling of apprehension/ambivalence with adroitness/mastery, which is unsettling as the works provoke and question, rather than offer conclusions. The figures generally seem composed for viewing, sometimes self-consciously, keenly aware that they are posing and performing. Frequently their bodies are strange and unruly, perhaps to compensate for the tasks they must perform. In this way the psychological becomes manifest in the representation of something physical: the body can produce doves or diamonds, a hand can become grossly enlarged to contain duties, or a head can become almost disconnected. Gaze relations are also addressed and referenced in the work, either with direct eye contact from a figure or an emphasis on sight.

I am interested in the accoutrements of the liminal spaces and times in the life of a woman; the transitions/rites of passage and the markers of those, and the signifiers of the new status. Examples are tiaras, pearls, ceremonies related to bodies, changing physiognomy, and costumes/uniforms. My work is blasphemous as I take symbols of proper, normative femininity and make them transgressive within contexts in which the female protagonists resist and reinvent their meanings.  I am making use of uniforms that recall clubs or associations in which girls and women work together, apparently to better themselves, but often insidiously in support of the status quo. In particular, I am referencing the religious Puritanical group for girls I belonged to as a child in a fundamentalist Christian church, the Calvinettes. I am connecting my youth with contemporary girlhood and making narrative associations with a sympathetic sister-gaze. As well, I exploit religious symbols and make sacrilegious conflations between miracles and magic in an attempt to make sense of the input from various bodies of authority alongside specifically female embodiment and experience. It is important for me that the work conveys autonomy, but that this self-determination is precarious.