I have been in Southern Spain a month now. Village life has a rhythm. The elements demand respect. Modernity is kept in a certain context; power blips are a-not-too-frequent fact. Signals bow to the weather. And things carry on in spite of; Fiestas a grand show of that fact. With spontaneity, a colourful flounce and stamp, to sing and dance with gusto songs new and old.

And after seeing the timely and vivid depiction of Juliao Sarmento’s women at CAC Malaga recently. I was made doubly aware that gender signs and signals have also appeared to shift but not entirely change; and that entrenched attitudes are still there, sometimes shaped in different forms, but still recognisable under the spotlight of black and white and grey.

Here are some of Juliao Sarmento’s Paintings and sculptures from 2000 to 2010;

Juliao Sarmento's women

Guibert 2007

Velvet head-bag facing mirror on table

Juliao Sarmento's women grey dots; at odds with each other

The Passage Through Which One Becomes Another 2002

With two forms tied together

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Being Looked at By Another and Femininity as Multipurpose Signifier; 2002

Women entwined in graphic acts with men in the Porn Star series. In the distance older and younger placed side by side, hand on shoulder.

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Women’s Physical Contact 2002

Juliao Sarmento's women; arkward stances and diologues

Slowly Dying 2005

Awkward stances and dialogues

Juliao Sarmento's women; heads obliterated

Forget Me (with bucket) 2006

Heads obliterated

Juliao Sarmento born Portugal 1948

I have been here before both physically and in an ephemeral sense with the concepts. Its not an age thing particularly, nor, dare I say feminist, nor culture specific, nor indeed a rural/city thing. Although in feminist art references to the body or female form has never been far away.

In the context of my own experience even in the late Seventies this wasn’t a brill time for being on the receiving end of lads *chancing their arm* or *trying their luck*, but that was still back in the day when any attention was meant to be seen as a *compliment* and young girls did group together, sometimes with the odd flutter of lashes, coy or otherwise, waiting for a catch. To be a wall flower at a dance was so not good seen as the pre-empt to becoming an old maid, unmarried, and *invisible* to any sort of male attention.

Surprisingly after the sexual liberation of the Sixties this ritual was still actively encouraged, that’s what girls did and that’s how boys responded. Of course the fundamentals of things don’t change either….we certainly wouldn’t get very far without any of us, gender aside, making a move !…..

…….So I was/wasn’t entirely surprised to encounter this scenario at the weekend;

And ok, it was Carnival and I was there! ; filming with my phone camera as a way of documenting my time and the rhythm here.

Carnival

Carnival night in the village square, by the church

Spotting a familiar face from a few days ago, having had a pleasant chat previously, I smiled, and then returned to filming.

And no surprises here because of this, he came up to me for a chat. He had also seen one of my drawings I’d made whilst here, so with an exchange of more pleasantries, holas, smiles and carnival nods later, I explained “yo trabajo” pointing to the camera *I’m working*, with, I hasten to add another smile. He stepped back arms raised saying, with a smile “ok ! do your thing”.

carnival band starts off the night

Video still; as carnival band starts off the night

having a go at breakdance n' streetmoves to the rap-band

Video still; watching a young break-dancer do some street moves to the rap band

So far so normal-ish….apart from the animated response to the fact I’d mentioned I was working… I carried on. A while later, still filming either with the camera down by my waist, looking at the general goings on that  I was filming or about to film. He came back (and I’m not apologising for my jadedness here, it had to be a he). I knew, I could feel his shadow breathing over my shoulder. And I don’t see why I have to add this detail really but in the interest of non-ambiguity; I’d had no eye contact to suggest anything had changed, nor indeed that I wasn’t working or had finished. Notice I am not assuming that this is about any…. errm… trying of luck or advances; but the fact I said I was working.

Maybe it would have been more obvious if I’d got the expensive *I am serious* camera equipment strapped around my neck making that grand statement for me.

Anyway, his opening line this time was “I was looking at you and you just looked so sad”.

I had a few thoughts run through my head at that point and had to resist a Janice-of-Benidorm style retort of *Like Oh Yeah! well I certainly am now !*…. or *That’s so intuitive of you!…. and of course you’re going to be the one to make me happy right?*….. *And by the way, which bit of I’m working don’t you get?*.

Having had my fair share of the clichéd time honoured phrase *cheer up duck it might never happen* bantered from around builders sites and the like directed at my female friends and me from early teens (funny that, never male friends). The naïve youngster in me grew up and realised that the only possible required response to this kind of statement would be to either smile (as though having a certain implement shoved permanently in a gender specific place, with a grin to match). Or…… to resist the inflection.

I said instead, not wanting to encourage any more misinterpreted smiles “Sad?….And?  …..So?”. He literally took two steps back, going “Woah !! I’m only saying…..no offence !”. I went on to explain (making an effort to smile) “you know I’m an artist ?”. He replied emphatically “Oh Yes”.

Going beyond the call of duty, I thought, I explained “I’m absorbing things, the atmosphere”.

This is when he backed off, saying “Oh ! I totally misread ! ..no offence !“.

Me, now thinking; And prey?, what was there to misread in the first place?, concluded you either smile and it is an invite, or you don’t and its seen an anger management affront.

It is honestly the first time I have said “I’m an artist” and felt like it was an aggressive act.

Now, I am assuming this in a slightly indulgent way but, he probably made a reassuring (and wrong) assumption about my gender preferences and, in so, righting the oh-so-wrong misread signs I was supposedly sending out.

Along of course with looking-so-sad, which, in the absence of tears, is probably more to do with being absorbed in thought and a general expression, than my actual physical and emotional state; thought being something he obviously didn’t engage with before opening his mouth.

If I’d been a better actor I could have spontaneously burst into tears! that probably would have got an entertaining reaction.

But then I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised (and no I’m not jealous here, just exasperated)…. With the rise of tv-video-rash of objectified female forms and attitudes of *damsels* in distress; think  Avril Lavergne’s false-hard-girrrrrrl and Alexis Jordan fluttering her baby-girl falsies like there literally wasn’t a tomorrow nor indeed had ever been a yesterday!.

Feminism, the female form, attitudes to it and because of it, Genderism, call it what you like; Art, emotion and its relevance to today? Indeed !

I will be doing a full-on-photo-spread of Juliao Sarmento in a couple…. : )

In the mean time I will take a stroll down to the cafe and see if my *amigo* of a few days really is the one whose not offended !

back in a couple………