Samantha Conlon’s The Sick Role, 2018, is part documentation and part ritualistic photography accompanied with text composing a contemporary portrait of the mundane reality of mental illness. From a new body of work developed in Kuvataideakatemie, Helsinki, The Sick Role interrogates the experience of physical and mental illness in female bodies and the institutionalized gender politics at play within the care systems from which females seek healing. The development of systems of Western Science and Medicine displaced the age-old lineages of female practitioners. Midwives with generations of healing knowledge connected to the kingdom of plants and collective spiritual life were ousted from clinics, if not brutally violated in earlier eras involving mass genocide of women healers. Women in general were made victim of segregation, and limited access to higher education marginalized their work, making it unlawful to practice holistic healing modalities that carry important insight into women’s complex systems.
The divorcing of women’s embodied knowledge from healthcare has deeply affected the way in which women’s bodies are viewed, cared for, and unfortunately, now often seldom individuated in a system with profit as a motivating factor above health. Serious illnesses that disproportionately affect female bodies have inefficient methods of prevention and cure compounded by epidemic levels of Breast Cancer, Female Anxiety/Depression, C-section, Eating Disorders and infections of the womb. Birth control still has side effects that disturb women’s hormonal patterns, day-to-day emotional lives and relationships – wreaking quiet havoc on their mental and physical wellbeing.
Women and girls are currently fighting for autonomy over their own bodies when it comes to reproductive health. The Sick Role is an art piece that presents alternative health solutions and preventative care measures. It necessitates the fair dissemination of vital women’s health information that has been obscured by the lack of female authority in healthcare, politics, religion and society at large. Tapping into witchcraft and holistic modalities of healing passed down through generations of women, this project aims to seek alternatives to capitalist systems and to pose questions like: Can sickness be an anti-capitalist gesture? In these times of constant attention and movement, is taking to bed a radical act? Can documentation of illness be a therapy in itself? What hope do queer/female people have in medical systems, if any? How can we use our own systems to distribute ideas of care / cure / prevention?
About Samantha Conlon
Samantha Conlon is an interdisciplinary artist born 1990 in Ireland making work concerned with class and gender struggles. Conlon is founder and curator of Bunny Collective, a feminist collective of 18 women artists living in Ireland, Britain and the United States who work mostly on the Internet. Samantha founded the collective in 2013 when she was in Art school in Cork, Ireland. The Bunny Collective’s videos, installations, photography and collages explore the Internet and female identity and agency on the web (which they consider a generative space for not only showing but making Art); including grappling with the demonstrated rise of depression in women associated with social-media use and how the corporate engines capitalizing upon feminist media users (and makers) also presents one of the most potentially harmful and exploitative virtual armatures advanced capitalism has dealt generations of young women to date. Bunny Collective has been named by New York Times and Dazed Magazine as a feminist group at the forefront of all-female web collectives. The name is ironic. “It was a cute name, and we knew we were going to subvert that,” Ms. Conlon told the New York Times. At the heart of Bunny’s mission are the emancipation of girlhood from its association with weakness, and the reclaiming of femininity as a strength.
During the Spring of 2016, a handful of Bunny Collective members met each other for the first time during the Pankhust in the Park Residency with Alexandra Arts. The engagement with Pankhurst in the Park was a crossroads for the collective – coming together as a cohort of 10, the Bunny Collective’s courageous feminist aims and ideals blossomed into real-life praxis as never before. Sharing their feminist art tactics with the community of Manchester, particularly younger generations of female creatives, the Bunny Collective breathed new life into the concepts that had gestated in the transpersonal matrix of cyberspace. Bunny Collective’s engagement included a one-day exhibition of sculptural installations in the wooded area of Alexandra Park and workshops with teenage girls from the local non-profit Hideaway Youth on photography and producing DIY web zines.
This article was commissioned by Alexandra Arts for the special print edition of Art 511 Mag celebrating International Women’s Day and the centenary for UK women’s suffrage [funded by ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND] during the Pankhurst in the Park 2018 season.
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