Women in Isolation: Semiramis at The Tetley

Semiramis, an exhibition by Tai Shani, explores human concepts of patriarchy and how the female sex can exist in isolation throughout nature. It is currently running at The Tetley art gallery, a 5 minute walk from Leeds train station. Walking over the Leeds Bridge, it is noticeable how different this part of the city is. With its art-deco architecture, The Tetley feels like it should be in a Wes Anderson film.

Semiramis spills through The Tetley so that the art incorporates into the building. Pillars reminiscent of classical architecture melt outside doorways and cylindrical structures hang off walls, sliced in two. It is easy to draw the comparisons between these structures and the phallic imagery found throughout art and literature. However, I think Shani wants us to question this phallocentrism, as she draws us to ecosystems and cultures where women exist in isolation.

Through performance art, poetic monologues, sculpture and photography, Shani blurs narratives between women and asexual creatures existing in an all-female world where patriarchy doesn’t exist. The different forms of art compare our human perception of the world – based on our reality of there being two sexes – to the parthenogenesis or ‘virgin birth’ that some species of animal are capable of. If a whiptail lizard can reproduce without the need of a male, can humans? Especially with the technology of our modern society.

Throughout the exhibition, phallic images are dismembered and distorted, synonymous with the poetic monologues that reject men. They demonstrate a world without patriarchy. Yet, there is something animalistic about the representation of women throughout the exhibition. Camera angles highlight the grotesque and the lighting distorts and saturates the colour of skin, making women appear less human. Walking into dark rooms with muffled, guttural sounds, unaware of what you will find, the exhibition further immerses you into this uneasy environment. Semiramis definitely connects to a visceral, wild, bestial part of our humanity.

Ultimately, it is impossible to separate the animal and the human, the male and the female, the poetry and the art. Throughout the exhibition, especially the sculptures, men and women are intrinsically tied together. We can not envisage a reality without one another.

The exhibition closes on Sunday 14th October.

Amy Harrison

Images Courtesy of the Tetley