Wicked Women Exhibition Opening Speech

What an absolute honour to be opening the showcase of Wicked Women and celebrating the talent of one in particular – the extraordinarily talented Rosemary Valadon.

I’ve been asked what makes a woman “wicked” – and it seems that it doesn’t take more than having a strong opinion, a strong personality. It seems that there is also something subversive in a woman who expresses her femininity, her sensuality and her sexuality. So all the women on this wall are wicked women.

Artists are always barometers of society and what Rosemary says about women, their power, their humour and their femininity is part of a very contemporary commentary on where our society is at the moment.

It is not surprising that the exhibition co-insides with discussions about the virulence not just of sexism but also of misogyny, particularly targeting successful, outspoken women.

Not surprisingly, the women that are represented here tonight are all, in their own way, trailblazers.  All making a statement forging a career.  And it’s a reminder that still today, in order for a woman to succeed, she has to go against the stream, work harder, prove herself.

I can speak specifically for my own profession in the law that being a woman is not seen as an advantage – and the culture is one of sexism and in places of misogyny.  It’s a controversial thing to say but although the profession still struggles with the concept of diversity, it struggles most with how to deal with the increasing presence of women. And the female lawyers, barristers and judges I know have to be twice as good as the men, twice as thick-skinned.

But perhaps it is, as one of the most irresistible Wicked Women – Mae West – once said

A dame that knows the ropes isn’t likely to get tied up.

And it’s that sass – that savvy – that sizzle that brings me back to Rosemary and her exhibition here tonight.

And it’s in that same spirit of subversiveness that Rosemary has approached this exhibition. The crime novels that first inspired this collection are cheesy, sexist.  They depict women crafted by men’s fantasies.  Objects of lust.  Subjects of desire.

When Rosemary first approached me to be involved I knew from her previous work that she had an eye that understood the beauty of the feminine – and its power.  I was confident that her reinterpretation of this iconic way of depicting women would be fascinating, flirty and fun.

It is an interesting thing to be a part of an artist’s vision and in a way; being painted makes you a subject. But Rosemary was able to unlock a part of my personality through the sitting. It was a liberating experience – and a fun one. And I am glad it gave me a chance to remind myself of this playful side, this wicked side, this side that just might be tempted to shoot my husband.

This painting became my fantasy. And so Rosemary with so much skill and craft altered the depiction of women as objects of men and once again re-empowered us as women to tell our own stories, to create our own fantasies, to have our own fun.

But beyond the timely commentary is the most important part of this exhibition to me. One of the most special things about being part of this was getting to know Rosemary better.  The humour, fun, determination and beauty that are so evident in her work are qualities that are such an intrinsic part of her character.  The greatest gift from the involvement in this project has been to get to know her and to become friends.

Some men will be threatened by this exhibition. Others will fall in love with it. As Mae West also said:

When women go wrong, men go right after them.

It is most of all a testament to Rosemary as one of our great female artists that she can help us see the world in this unique – but empowering way.

It may be hard to feel the true power of these paintings here tonight when the room is crowded. But hopefully you will find a time to come back over the next six months when it is less crowded. I sat here with Rosemary yesterday and when the room was quiet, the power of the paintings, the strength of the women in this room comes alive.

It is a great honour to open this exhibition – and on behalf of Wicked Women everywhere – thank you for a tribute to our inner goddess.

Prof. Larissa Behrendt
19th October 2012