In Ashleigh Stegert's latest work, she explores the repression of women in modern society through the adaptation of traditional ceremonial veils. We had a chat to Ashleigh about her collection of feminist works and how the systematic repression of women still exists.
Hi Ashleigh. How are you doing?
Not badly, thank you. I’ve had an excellent day. I’m about to drink chai. It’s looking pretty good.
So, how did you get started with your medium?
I think I’ve always been very creative; I was exploring visual arts all the way through high school. It’s what I’ve studied at university too, and expressing ideas about the world through the platform that art offers has always seemed the most natural way to go.
Talk us through your latest series, a collection of feminist works you’ve recently finished.
I had a series of three veils, and each one depicts a different way that women are oppressed. Each veil represents the different ceremonial and ritual ways that women are trapped. It’s never an explicit sermon, up front, ‘women are wrong,’ but it’s placed in these hidden, deeply entrenched mindsets of society.
And it’s amazing to think that it still exists in our democratic, free-thinking, Western world today.
Completely. One piece I worked on really deals with the mind, the tumours growing out of the head, with the idea that women are appreciated for their aesthetic. So there is a real use of the flowy and flouncy. I’ve also used a lot of pleating, bits of flowers, red string and things that tie back to tradition and ritual.
The plastic bag stands for women being suffocated. As a child my mother used to tell me to keep the bag away from my face, “Ashleigh you’ll die!” I got in there and I just ironed and pleated the plastic bags, I’m not very good at sewing! The plastic takes well to the heat of an iron and it achieved the affect I was after.
And the plastic bag really de-identifies the subject, doesn’t it?
Yes, that’s totally it. They lose a sense of personality and identity beneath it all.
Where did you take inspiration from for this series?
From weddings and from other creatives. There was this particular artist who did a lot of work with the stuffing pantyhose to create a visual spectacle, and her work is very in your face. ‘This is a gigantic penis made out of stuff!’ And you’re like ‘woah!’ But at the same time, it’s quite cliché, but it serves its purpose.
One of my art works was about voice, and about women losing their voices. I placed tumours all up around her neck, strangling her. It worked out very well because the model, my sister Chiara, had also been taught to keep plastic bags away from her face as a child. While we were shooting it she was really freaking out and her face went very red beneath the plastic bag. It actually gave a nice affect to the image work.
There is a real juxtaposition of cleanliness and confusion in your pieces. How did you establish this?
I’ve used body bag kind of images, and red thread throughout my pieces, like jellyfish. The tumours are big growths, cancerous items that if not dealt with, will grow and overwhelm the system. I was thinking about the idea of neuroplasticity. I want to get to the age of 25 and I want to deal with any deeply rooted mindsets that are harder to unearth when I get older.
So I’ve been thinking about how these issues, when we don’t deal with them head on, become insidious. Growing like cancer.
I wanted to use white because obviously that relates back to ideas of the bridal aspect, and for purity. These women are supposed to be so virginal, but what about men? Is there a level standard for both?