Feminist Satire. No Safe Spaces
Who does Claudia Clare think she is? A ceramicist entering her sixth decade, she really ought to have learned to shut up by now.
She has no business sharing her critique of the sex industry, for she is not a ‘sex worker’ herself. Neither is she a Muslim, and yet she persists in criticising Islamism without even having the decency to be brown. Worse still, as a lesbian she refuses to embrace her transgender sisters and laughs at their ‘lady penises’.
Claudia Clare about Islamism
Clare’s work is about humanity, and so to her no topic is what an observant Muslim might refer to as ‘haram’ (i.e. forbidden).
Postcard from the Caliphate is a darkly comic riff on the Islamic State (IS). The work was inspired by a report about a British jihadi who wrote a travel guide for potential tourists to the warzone.
The carousel is a tribute to Mark Gertler’s dizzying Merry Go Round, painted in 1916 as a response to World War I. Clare takes this modernist masterpiece and twists it into contemporary satire.
The intensely detailed but visceral compositions that characterise Clare’s work are not simply copied onto pots: she works directly on the surface, using the organic imperfections as a three-dimensional canvas. This offers a sense of immediacy and, as with Postcard from the Caliphate, almost dizzying movements.
As much as Clare satirises the brutality of patriarchal power, she documents feminist resistance. Woman Life Freedom is inspired by the ongoing revolution in Iran, led by girls and young women. Clare lovingly documents a woman cutting off her locks, women dancing around a pile of burning hijabs and schoolgirls in their classroom with ‘woman life freedom’ written on the whiteboard while they assemble in front of it, hair flowing free, doing the victory salute.
But it is bittersweet, this celebration of rebellion is also a memorial for those who have been killed by the regime. Carefully inscribed on the inside is a portrait of Mahsa Amini whose name sparked the initial call to action; Nika Shakarami, the first teenage girl to be killed as part of this uprising; and ‘the Girl of Enghelab Street’, a nameless woman who was ‘disappeared.’
Claudia Clare about prostitution
Today, the sex trade has been rebranded. Prostitution, once understood as the sexual abuse of the vulnerable, is now known in progressive dinner party circles as ‘sex work’ and celebrated as a triumph of women’s bodily emancipation. Pimps are ‘managers’ and trafficked women are simply ‘migrant sex workers.’ The risk of an untimely death is no longer to be blamed on violent men, but rather it is a consequence of ‘stigma.’
This sickening inversion of the truth has been adopted by human rights organisations including Amnesty International, as well as ‘progressive’ NGOs like UN Aids. Clare’s insightful artistic commentary scrapes away such sanitising lies, revealing both the stories of the sex industry’s victims, and crucially those of the men and lobbyists who keep the international industry running.
Street Exit is one of a collection made in partnership with Women at the Well, a service that helps women leave prostitution. It illustrates the true story of a young woman who was pimped by a man she thought of as a ‘boyfriend’. The pot follows her journey as she begins to consider how she might build a life outside the sex industry.
Other pots narrate the political fight to decriminalise prostitution’s victims, while pushing to bring perpetrators to justice. I’m Not The Criminal features a sgraffito portrait of Fiona Broadfoot, a campaigner who was groomed into the industry as a child. After years on the streets, she exited following the murder of her cousin. Broadfoot has fought to scrub police records for women convicted of soliciting. On the outside of the pot, Clare returns to the carousel image, with a cavalcade of monstrous, naked men who profit from the abuse of women and girls.
Claudia Clare about transgenderism
With an election looming next year, every British politician can expect to be asked the question “what is a woman?” The answer, an adult human female, is deemed offensive to the powerful minority who believe that an internal sense of gender identity ought to take precedence over the reality of biological sex. According to this truth-twisting logic, some men have vulvas and some women have penises.
For the past decade, lobby groups have quietly enshrined this bizarre belief system into the policies of companies and public bodies throughout the UK, effectively allowing males into female spaces on the basis of their professed identity. Over the same timeframe, the numbers of middle-aged men identifying as transwomen have swollen. Tellingly, this coincides with the boom in free online pornography.
The result is that lesbian groups have been overrun by heterosexual men who identify as ‘transbians’, women prisoners have been locked-up with male rapists who claim to be transwomen, and female victims of male violence can no longer find sanctuary in women-only spaces. Compliance has been maintained by smearing critics as unsophisticated and arguing that debate itself is harmful. Arts institutions and public galleries have become mouthpieces for this pernicious propaganda. But public opinion is finally shifting, and protecting women’s rights has become a leading political and judicial issue. The UK is now at the crest of a new, global wave of women’s activism which is amassing in response to the dangers of transgenderism.
A long-standing feminist, Clare is an artist on the inside of the resurgent women’s movement. This has seen her return to the agit-prop style of pots she first made during the 1980s.
Notably, The Butch Pot presents joyful portraits of butch lesbians, who today are diminishing in number. Many young women who might have once been out and proud are today sold the lie that their same-sex attraction and rejection of feminine norms means they are in some existential sense ‘men’. This has led to some binding their breasts and taking synthetic testosterone to mimic a male appearance. A homage to proud lesbians, The Butch Pot seeks to counter both this destructive trend and its foundational myth.
The belief systems Clare tackles are those that deny women full humanity: whether ‘disappeared’ under veils or put into the earth by Islamic fascists, sold as objects for profit or colonised by men’s fetishes, these are the injustices against which Clare rails. But she does not simply narrate woeful tales of oppression; Clare celebrates joyful resilience. Ruthless yet compassionate, her vital work is part of the feminist resistance. And in this, Clare’s pots are not just satirical, they are seditious.
author: Josephine Bartosch