Carol Drake’s angry review of Mouse Katz’s exhibition

Carol Drake’s angry review of Mouse Katz’s exhibition (Issue 20) ‘In Search of the Femorphic Woman’ suffered from a problem clearly identified by its author–that of the need to consider the power of the viewer’s gaze and preconceptions. However hard we may work to overturn them we all have preconceptions and here I would include the reviewer herself.

While her article was highly readable–the arguments put forward being all of one kind and well constructed–its very simplicity, however, precluded a sense of balance, leaving the author in danger of attempting to replace one set of assumptions with another. Perhaps this is true of most criticism? The exhibition was entitled ‘In Search of the Femorphic Woman’. The reviewer seemed more concerned to present her own emotions and findings than to consider seriously the artist’s search, a pity as I believe Mouse Katz’s work deserves serious consideration.

I am a committed feminist. I am angry that you printed a blatant attack on a sister Mouse Katz. Especially as she has contributed so much to feminism in art in the UK. Does Carole Drake’s awareness extend to the ‘Pandora’s Box’ exhibition? I spoke to Katz for a long time while the show was in Edinburgh (1985). The show, her organisation of it, and her own art work have been a source of inspiration to many of us. The Art Space Gallery was too small for her work, but genius shone through. I had a lot to think about when I left. I went back twice before it finished and would like to see the work again. This is not my usual reaction to art exhibitions. Carole Drake had better see to her own feminism before throwing stones at Katz!

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As a Black feminist and model, I object to Carol Drake’s review of Mouse Katz’s work. I choose to model rather than clean white women’s houses or work in the white man’s office. I am proud of my colour, my body and my African heritage, which includes textiles and turbans. I have modelled for Mouse and I own two of her drawings of me. I gave one to my mother for Christmas. I don’t think her titles, drawings or attitudes are racist in any way. I don’t want some art reviewer to tell me what I should wear or how I should sit or where I should work. Carole Drake’s review is paternalistic and offensive.

I was introduced to your Journal last week. The first article I read was the review of Mouse Katz’s show at Art Space Gallery. Frankly, I was stunned. My reaction was, if this is feminism, I don’t want any part of it. I want to explain why.

I saw the Mouse Katz show. I also saw the Sue Atkinson show at Air Gallery. Although the same woman reviewed both shows, there was a huge discrepancy in her attitude to these two artists, who both work in textiles. I have been using textiles for many years and consider myself somewhat knowledgeable. I, and most of my friends, found Sue Atkinson’s work crude and amateur. The craftsmanship was insulting to women seriously working in the textile format. Poor workmanship is not politically advantageous to feminism. Contrary to the reviewer, we could see no meaning in this work. To paraphrase the reviewer’s words to Mouse Katz and apply them more aptly to Sue Atkinson: does she think she can hang badly seen and executed landscapes on a wall, give them political titles, and expect us to see some meaning in them? Her work looks very much like it is made by a woman jumping on the textile bandwagon, without taking the time or trouble to learn anything about it. This does nothing to increase acceptance and respect for textiles as an art form. Sue Atkinson’s work was easy to dismiss, and forget. I would not have bothered to write were it not for the reviewer’s hostility (obvious) to Mouse Katz.

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On the other hand, we were knocked out by Mouse Katz’s work at the Art Space gallery. The workmanship, which the reviewer mentioned in passing, was excellent. I would strongly recommend anyone in textiles to see her work. Her imagery was very moving. Contrary to the reviewer’s point of view, I find Katz’s work inspiring to my understanding of feminism. Her work gives many women, including myself, a way in to feminism that the reviewer, and W.A.S.L. in printing this review, seem totally ignorant of. Not all of us see man as the ultimate and hated enemy. Some of us are even married, relatively happily. I like beautiful objects and fabrics, and my interests are wider than the political. The reviewer threw mud on everything I hold dear in her review of Katz’s work. I found the review patronising, and I think it was inspired by jealousy, and ignorance on the part of the reviewer.

I was struck, in particular, by the sculpture in the Art Space show, Madonna of Flames, that the reviewer found so repulsive, and offensive.

I hope we will soon see Katz’s work at a larger and more prestigious gallery such as the ICA or the Whitechapel. The work deserves public acclaim, not the abuse of feminist critics. I am surprised that W.A.S.L. would consider printing a review like this and I hope you will give equal space to the response. I will be looking at the next issue to see if I still want to call myself a feminist.

Is it elitist or ‘feminist taboo’ to make work about our spiritual lives as women? We all have one, in addition to the social and economic power structures which mould us. For me, the ‘important’ work in Mouse Katz’s solo show were the painted fabric sculptures. Although the 2 groups, The Orphic Rights, and the four ‘seasons’, Spring Heiress, Madonna of Flames, Falling to Earth and Winter Pearls, did not have enough room in the gallery to enable us to see and think around them adequately, despite their bold presence and extremely high standard of craftwomanship.

Carole Drake’s slaughtering ‘review’ did not take the time to say why she found The Orphic Rights, ‘strong’. For a start, they are around 7 feet tall! And can she say that 4 feet (plus a stand,) is really, ‘toy-sized’, especially when you are obliged to kneel in order to read the statements at the base of each sculpture of the ‘seasons’. There was little flattery or adornment in The Orphic Rights–three women locked in witnessing: seeing ‘the horror’, hearing ‘the horror’, and despite brutalisation, speaking out. If Mouse Katz was on ‘her pedestal’ here it was to get a clearer view.

Making images of our bodies is a big problem for ‘conscious’ women artists– but we have to face it and do it, censor it often too; but ‘passive’, reflective or even conventionally ‘attractive’ images of women by women should not always remain locked away with the skeletons in our cupboards. Perhaps those of us raised in a post Church of England dominated country find iconic female images, colourfully and elaborately embellished to be repulsive. This would be true to our cultural heritage. However Carole Drake should be aware of the narrowness in opinions of taste and also be informed of the cultural background of the artist when attempting an interpretation of the work. I did not feel that Katz’s ‘seasons’ were images of ‘woman’ specifically, but rather images of ‘states of consciousness’ and changes of sexuality. We are subject to change as the larger natural world is: women and men have to live through change and accept it without trying to escape it in fear of death. The idea that men are in control of nature is a sad joke, a short-term balls-up in the lifetime of the planet.

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I am interested to read more debate about the issue of Women/Nature/Art, hopefully through W.A.S.L. Journal. The physical world is very important to my own mental and spiritual life, and I would like to re-form the context of these issues into relevant work for our times. How? is the absorbing question.

One thought on “Carol Drake’s angry review of Mouse Katz’s exhibition

  1. When was Mouse Katz’s show Exhibited? She is a wonderful artist and her work deserves to be shown in the bigger and more prestigious galleries. She has done more than most for the promotion of women’s art in this country…I should know…her support changed my life as an artist. I owe her a great debt.

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