Depictions of Women’s Pain in Art


Nicola Canavan’s one of these creative people I met sometime ago and I’ve subsequently followed her work with interest. Her work is arguably only suitable for adults (I wouldn’t have shown certain pieces to my students when I was an art teacher in a comprehensive)… I put that proviso here so if your easily offended you don’t follow the links, simple.  Disclaimer over (!)

A recent piece of Nicola’s work provoked an interesting discussion about intent and integrity in performance art. The discussion ended with Nicola asking me to write a short piece about her artwork.

If you’re interested in art it can change your perception of what is happening to you and your body, of pain, vulnerability and beauty.

Nicola’s art may shock but if you get past your initial reaction (relating to societal notions of ‘normality’ and ‘acceptance’) I find really powerful expressions of what it can be like to be in love and feel things deeply.

Emotions are hard things to convey in an image (I believe less so in a performance) but Nicola’s artworks give us, the viewers, an acute strength of feeling.

Elizabeth Kane

'Bittersweet' 2010, Photographer Fiona Nicholl. Copyright Nicola Canavan
'Bittersweet' 2010, Photographer Fiona Nicholl. Copyright Nicola Canavan

Currently I’ve got a print for sale called ‘Shot in the Back’ thinking about Nicola’s performance a connection formed in my mind. This piece was created by collaging a photograph of a Greek sculptures head onto a body drawn in white pencil on black paper.

"Shot in the Back" Elizabeth Kane (2010) (c)
"Shot in the Back" Elizabeth Kane (2010) (c)

There are things I would change if I was to do more artworks like the one above but there has been some interest in the piece at Tynemouth Market. This piece was inspired by holiday photographs of an old school friend. I think I felt real empathy for the subject, as I did with Nicola in her performance ‘Bittersweet’… is empathy the right word I’ve never experienced this kind of  physical pain but the experience of emotional pain.

The Broken Column, 1944  Oil on canvas 400 x 305 mm Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico) © Banco de México and INBAL Mexico, 2004
The Broken Column, 1944 Oil on canvas 400 x 305 mm Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico) © Banco de México and INBAL Mexico, 2004

I have always loved Frida Kahlo’s paintings for this reason. More contemporary cultural references to the theme of women, beauty love and pain that have been pervading my existence include the brilliant Florence and the Machines ‘Lungs’ album;  the visually stunning, but not necessarily a satisfying film, ‘Antichrist’ by Lars von Trier (both of his lead female character and in the characters visual research for her PhD); Finally The Walker Art Gallery currently has a show called “The Rise of Women Artists” and there are some magnificent pieces in their Flickr set, my favourite is shown below.

Works by some of history’s most celebrated women artists are featured in this compelling exhibition charting the progress made by artists from the 16th century up to the present day.  An exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, running until 14 March 2010.
Works by some of history’s most celebrated women artists are featured in this compelling exhibition charting the progress made by artists from the 16th century up to the present day. An exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, running until 14 March 2010.
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5 thoughts on “Depictions of Women’s Pain in Art

  1. karin says:

    Hi Elizabeth, I just wanted to thank you for your kind comments on my work (over on my blog, Gospel of Karin). I really appreciate your thoughtfulness, and I’m very flattered!

  2. Gabi says:

    Hello, I would like to know the name of the artists that made the ceramic skulls on display, I tried to look it up at the Walker Art Gallery website but I had no luck.
    Thank you!

    1. elizabethkane says:

      I too couldn’t find out who was the artist or I would have credited them.
      I hope you found out. Sorry for the delay in replying I missed this comment.

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