Continuing her inquiry into adornment and its role in respectability politics, Goodman and her team create several large-scale sculptures fashioned out of acrylic nails, as well as hand-stitched sequin paintings. Repurposing these materials not only “enshrines every day,” but reveals the ways in which they are used as tools of both empowerment and manipulation. The etymological origin of cosmetics, kosmos, means both to adorn and to rule, meaning these decorative elements are also rife with political implications, subject to either admiration or admonishment, depending on who’s wearing them.

What might at first appear as throwaway objects, acrylic nails are instead ever-shifting signifiers in an ongoing history of power and appropriation. Invented by an American dentist in 1954, acrylic nails became one of the tools for the hyper-feminization and the domestication of the white middle-class American housewife in the 1950s-60s. When styles of longer, craftier, and more colorful nails became popular among working-class Black and Latinx women, acrylics were demonized in public discourse, labeled trashy, vulgar, unbecoming. Nowadays, acrylic nails have been reappropriated as status symbols, worn by those rewarded in the highest spheres of celebrity and subsequently imitated by their followers. The repetitive gesture in Goodman’s sculpture–painstakingly pasting each nail until they form a sort of armor, a second skin–speaks to this narrative of re-appropriation. The terms which constitute what subverts and what idealizes femininity seem to be in a constant state of digestion and regurgitation, epitomized in this ouroborosian structure which is both “alluring and repellent, sexual and abject.”

Acrylics have been likened to emblems of honor, leverages of power, even extensions of spirits. Pairing these associations with the image of the serpent, Goodman returns the adornment to its mythic origins. Fragments of Eve and Medusa come to mind, feminine archetypes are pertinent for the ways in which desire and vilification go hand in hand. “I’m interested in the boundaries between the desirable and grotesque,” Goodman says. “What people expect from us is this kind of polished, beautiful surface, and then when you go up close and see how kind of messy and complicated it is, it’s less attractive.”

Goodman’s new series of hand-stitched sequins on canvas sees the artist grappling with discrepancies between how women are seen and how they see themselves. Based on photographs staged at the Rand Club in Johannesburg–an institution historically restricted to an elite class of white men–these images are invested in adornment as currency, or what Goodman calls “materials of aspiration.” Glamour can be an impetus for play, but it can also be a gatekeeping tactic. Who is allowed to dress up, be seen, and be desired has more to do with the whims of those in power behind the camera than those in front of it. Goodman subverts expectations by casting older women as the starlets. How they have chosen to act out stereotypes of the film still says something, I think, about how femininity is internalized and performed rather than an essence enacted. “I’m interested in making work that questions how women view themselves,”

Goodman says, “and whether the views they have of themselves are constructed by someone else rather than themselves.” Costuming becomes canvas as these stagings are reimagined into iridescent tapestries. The refractive nature of the sequin creates an impressionistic effect, almost like a mirage. Goodman describes how a surface of sequins is, in a way, “there and not there.” “The image never holds,” she says, a metaphor for femininity as a “constantly changing idea,” subject to projection, distortion, and dysphoria.
- Text by Keely Shinners
Smac Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

20/06/2020 - 24/07/2020

Frances Goodman Artist Room at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town | SMAC Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

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