Barbara Kruger explores
feminist theory through mixed media and graphic art. Her signature style features
a black and white imagery as background and bold text laid over red color
blocks. Her works often inaugurate ongoing social, political and especially
feminist provocations. This particular piece voices many feminist ideals as it
disuses issues such as power, patriarchy and stereotypes.
Kruger’s work contemplates
issues which reside in the core of the social power relations. The slogan
imprinted across the image “Your Body is a Battleground” refers to the struggle
of power between the sexes – women fighting for a say in society and men
resisting in order to maintain patriarchy dominance. This battle is further
explained in feminist writer Natalie Angier’s essay “Biologically Correct”, stating that there is a constant tug of war
between men and women “over the
same valuable piece of real estate—the female body”1. The
separation of the photograph into two halves with inversing colours can be interpreted
as the two sides of the battle.
The conception artist challenges
cultural assumptions by revealing
and critiquing patriarchal ideology taken for granted in art and in society.
The woman shown has perfectly symmetrical and delicate facial feature – an icon
of feminine beauty. This allusion to the fabrication of femininity. This
Untiled (Your Body is a Battle field) is published in the book Love for Sale,
in which Kruger explained that she based her work on stereotyping a “domain as that of ‘figures without
bodies.” This is to say, in such a stereotypical projection of women, the woman
is no longer an individual but rather a production of the society. The text
added also functions to criticize the circumstances under which this piece was
produced. Kate Linker, the author of Love
for Sale, states “Kruger’s mission is to erode the impassivity engendered
by the imposition of social norms”2. By
dissecting the historical construction of female identity, the stereotype is
broken. Kruger wants to make viewers aware of the intensity of the struggle,
and the fact that women must always be on guard.
The male gaze and objectification of women is another topic discussed.
In Ways of Seeing John Berger states “Men look at women. Women watch
themselves being looked at”3 In
other words, as women are objectified by the male gaze they are no longer in
control of themselves, instead their thoughts and behaviours all stem from the
judgement of men. Therefore, the battle mentioned also refers to how women must
fight to be recognized as people, not objects. Kruger rejects the male gaze by
presenting the female figure making confrontational eye contact with the
audience. The image is cropped to centralize her gaze. The text adds to this
effect as “your” directly addressing the audience.
Overall, Kruger’s work
expresses ideas directly related with the feminist theories at the time, and is
known to be an active supporter of women’s rights movements. Such believes are
efficiently translated through her work.
Angier, N. (2003). “Biologically Correct.” Sisterhood is Forever: The Women’s Anthology
for a New Millennium. Robin Morgan. New York: Washington Square Press p.10
Kruger, B. Linker, Kate, (1990). Love for Sale. New York: Harry N.
Abrams, Inc. p.28
Berger, J. (2003). “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader.
Ed. Amelia Jones. New York: Routledge. p.38