Gal pals and leading ladies in street art, Miss Van and Olek, have taken charge of Stolen Space gallery this May. Their personalities interact across two rooms that are connected by the pervading theme of masks. This is an exhibition that takes the viewers eyes on an adventure of female discovery. Room one reveals Miss Van’s new collection of charming paintings, ‘Glamorous Darkness.’ Whilst In room two, Miss Olek covered wall-to-wall with a knitted installation serving as a textured backdrop to her fresh photographic work: ‘Let’s not get caught, let’s keep going.’
Together they deliver an exhibition that is unapologetically female: communicating raw sexuality and emotions, interweaved with a mysticism that breathes life and hope into the environment.
French born artist, Miss Van, is renowned as a pioneering female graffiti artist. In ‘Glamorous Darkness,’ her iconic female characters or poupées (dolls) have evolved since their sassy spray can depictions on urban walls. In the gallery setting they appear sultry and sensual, creating a viewing experience that is provocatively intimate. Soft pencil markings reveal how the poupées started to take form, before pastel hues suffused them with a fleshy and enchanting allure.
There is a quaint theatre-like element present as the poupées don tights, tutus, and loosely laced corsets revealing their voluptuous breasts. Miss Van’s poupées are highly stylised creatures with big or long hair conveying youthfulness, beauty, femininity and sexiness. Hair is either piled on top of their heads like a figurative crown, worn with embellishments and feathers — or it is strewn across the vagina like fur, as if to protect or conceal.
The whimsical animal masks they wear are intriguing, concealing their faces, except for their downturned pouty lips and soft jawlines. Some wear cat, bird, bunny or other type of mask which appears to bestow each poupée with the supernatural characteristic of that animal. Others huddle together shrouded in secrecy, exuding their mysticism, and then becoming a myth in the memory of the viewer.
‘Let’s Not Get Caught, Let’s Keep Going’
The visual sensation created by Olek is just as hard to ignore, and even harder to contain. The gallery curator told me, “She crotchets fast, really fast.” The knitted installation or “Knitffiti” — as dubbed by Olek, was created in New York before being transported to London and fitted onto the walls of Stolen Space. Later, Olek arrived to crotchet butterflies, hearts, and skull appliqués onto the covering. The curator explained that Olek wanted to knit over every inch of the gallery including the windows, but her ‘knit bomb’ was defused before it got out of control.
This story reaffirmed the character of Miss Olek that I had read about. An advocate of women’s rights, sexual equality, and freedom of expression. Her knit bombs take the domestic act of knitting onto the streets and are known to provoke, irritate, inspire and brighten up urban spaces. The act of knitting is seen as traditional and feminine, but for Olek, it is intended as both an aesthetic statement and an act of reclaiming femininity — in the same way graffiti artists claim territory through “tagging.”
The concept behind her photography, ‘Let’s Not Get Caught, let’s Keep Going’ was inspired by the film Thelma and Louise (1991). I get the feeling that Olek is the Thelma to Miss Van’s Louise, simply because Miss Van’s poupées have matured in their primitiveness, whilst Olek’s kniffiti appears more overtly rebellious.
Either way, Olek shows full support to her friend by using real models and knitted recreations of the masks to convey a photographic rendition of ‘Glamorous Darkness’. A particular eye catching photo evokes Miss Olek’s attitude. A model wearing only a knitted bunny mask gives the viewer “the finger” — complete with crotchet manicured nail. It’s a figurative “fuck you,” to patriarchal traditions that perpetuate an inauthentic women’s culture, or whom relegate authentic womanhood to designated spaces.
Miss Van and Olek’s friendship and artistic liberation challenge what is in many ways still a male-centric art form. They demonstrate that women can push boundaries and remain true to their art, whilst achieving notoriety. Overall, this is a well balanced exhibition presenting fascinating female characters who appear mysterious, yet full of potent energy.