Lou Steer is an Inner West multidisciplinary artist working in the art forms of painting, sculpture, performance and digital. She believes there is no such thing as confessional art because art is always at the intersection between the personal and the political. For Lou, this means her artworks express feminist and environmental themes. Since 2010, Lou has held four solo exhibitions and has exhibited and performed widely in national and local group shows. She was a founding director and curator at ESP Gallery from 2009 – 2015 and was instrumental in creating the EDGE Festival funded by Inner West Council in 2019.
We know the male gaze – the gaze that objectifies women as beautiful images for the pleasure of the male viewer. Under the male gaze, women are seen as seductive, inviting but passive; the woman in the image is waiting to be activated by the man who gazes at her.
The female gaze is less seen in art. In this exhibition, the women gaze fearlessly from the page at the viewer. The observed become the observers. Their expressions are calm and neutral, their eyes bright and inquisitive.
This exhibition will be on display during the Sydney LGBTIQ Mardi Gras (17 February – 7 March) and International Women’s Day (8 March). These two events informed the presentation of this exhibition. The paintings form a rainbow spectrum from the backgrounds, painted and overprinted to resemble Victorian wallpaper. The women’s faces show diverse women – in age, appearance and ethnicity. They represent the women who live in Australia right now.
These are memory portraits – they are not painted from life or from photographs, but from my imagination. They represent diversity in appearance, in age and in ethnicity. All are imperfect, and their flaws are visible.
Women are so pressured to be beautiful and flawless, and to fit very narrow stereotypes, but all women are beautiful and do not need physical perfection to prove it. The women in these portraits are free to be themselves and need no validation from the male gaze.
The first letter of the name of each portrait spells out the message STOP ADANI URGENCY. This is the most pressing environmental issue in Australia today. It’s not about tourism on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s about protecting our world from destruction. The female gaze in this context challenges the viewer to think what they can do. What are we waiting for?