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Reading Freire in London: Jo Spence's Photographs between Popular and Avant-Garde

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Remodeling Photo History (1979-1982), a series of staged photographs by British photographer Jo Spence, is a unique contribution to feminist aesthetic and political debates about female sexuality and representation. This essay situates Spence's work in relation to two opposing artistic attitudes towards the representation of the female body; one characterized as “popular,” and the other “avant-garde.” For the former I draw upon Lynda Benglis's controversial presentation of herself as a pornographic model and the latter is exemplified by Mary Kelly's iconoclastic refusal to represent the female body. In contrast to these two feminist strategies, I argue that Spence's work overcomes the apparently irreconcilable opposition between “popular” and “avant-garde,” and she does this by drawing upon an unexpected source. Spence adapts the radical pedagogy of Brazilian writer Paulo Freire and theater director Augusto Boal to revive an older political understanding of “the popular” in order to reinvent a feminist avant-garde.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2010

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