An adolescent girl in a woman’s body, Artemisia Gentileschi (embodied by Sophie Steer), narrates her rape while she is naked, while she is putting her clothes back on, piece by piece, everything that has been taken from her, reassembling herself, covering herself up, picking up after an absolute and exploited vulnerability, the devouring of the female body.
Agostino Tassi (portrayed by Harriet Webb), is the rapist gaze hovering over Artemisia’s shoulder, running his fingers through her clothing, the pants she wears, trying to infiltrate her art, extinguish it, use it as a way in, her sex, her talent, he projects his own sexuality upon her and gives himself entitlement over her body, grants himself access to her inner world, rapes her.
Agostino is a little fragile deviant boy in an overwhelming and ferocious body opposed to a petite yet feisty, fierce, exposed, consumed and collected Artemisia. He is a good talker when he is lying and when women are silent, obedient and intimidated, namely Tuzia (played by Kathryn Bond), but as soon as they start to burst, to revolt and to shed their skins as good little girls and grow into the full-fleshed bodies of autonomous and eloquent women, he becomes so small, monosyllabic, rolling his eyes and desperately tries to take back all the space that he occupied beforehand with aggressiveness, violence, fearmongering and imposition.
The male gaze stands condemned and de-romanticised in Artemisia’s paintings, it’s the ugly truth: unwelcome, toxic, projecting, fantasising, delusional, out of touch with reality, with consent and with female agency and perspectives. The three actresses constantly shift from one skin, from one sex to the other, walking in contradictory shoes, exposing old dysfunctional dynamics with bravado, climbing inside and then jumping outside of frames, mindsets and imaginary worlds, ridiculing men who sexualise the naked female body in itself, projecting their fantasies and insults upon the female form and perceive it as a pornographic trope per se that is theirs to own, absorb and violate.
This piece took guts to make, it progresses from a state of all around victimisation to a genuine authority, fully formed womanhood, expressed creativity and trauma metamorphosed into art, rotten energy turned into impenetrable energy. The ever-stable criminal cotton-wool-covered man, gluttonous, entitled and self-aggrandising is contrasted with a destabilised woman who actually goes through the desecration of her body, defamation, re-victimisation, torture, gaslighting, and manages to hold on to life and reach a catharsis by reclaiming her body, her hands, her persona, art form and autonomy.
It is a play about all the roles and personae embodied by women mostly in reaction to wrongly lauded men and their actions, narratives, impressions, behaviours, projected images, fantasy worlds, microscopic female caricatures, and how to shatter the predetermined and alien cast, how to break free, shed the defined pseudo-female skins, blast the male-dominated frames and visions, and gloriously shout out one’s true and all-encompassing identity.
16-25 August Underbelly Bristo Square (Cowbarn)
“Susanna e i vecchioni” by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656)