Barbara Kruger explores feminist theory through mixed media and graphic art. Her signature style features a black and white imagery as background and bold text laid over red color blocks. Her works often inaugurate ongoing social, political and especially feminist provocations. This particular piece voices many feminist ideals as it disuses issues such as power, patriarchy and stereotypes.
Kruger’s work contemplates issues which reside in the core of the social power relations. The slogan imprinted across the image “Your Body is a Battleground” refers to the struggle of power between the sexes – women fighting for a say in society and men resisting in order to maintain patriarchy dominance. This battle is further explained in feminist writer Natalie Angier’s essay “Biologically Correct”, stating that there is a constant tug of war between men and women “over the same valuable piece of real estate—the female body”1. The separation of the photograph into two halves with inversing colours can be interpreted as the two sides of the battle.
The conception artist challenges cultural assumptions by revealing and critiquing patriarchal ideology taken for granted in art and in society. The woman shown has perfectly symmetrical and delicate facial feature – an icon of feminine beauty. This allusion to the fabrication of femininity. This Untiled (Your Body is a Battle field) is published in the book Love for Sale, in which Kruger explained that she based her work on stereotyping a “domain as that of ‘figures without bodies.” This is to say, in such a stereotypical projection of women, the woman is no longer an individual but rather a production of the society. The text added also functions to criticize the circumstances under which this piece was produced. Kate Linker, the author of Love for Sale, states “Kruger’s mission is to erode the impassivity engendered by the imposition of social norms”2. By dissecting the historical construction of female identity, the stereotype is broken. Kruger wants to make viewers aware of the intensity of the struggle, and the fact that women must always be on guard.
The male gaze and objectification of women is another topic discussed. In Ways of Seeing John Berger states “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”3 In other words, as women are objectified by the male gaze they are no longer in control of themselves, instead their thoughts and behaviours all stem from the judgement of men. Therefore, the battle mentioned also refers to how women must fight to be recognized as people, not objects. Kruger rejects the male gaze by presenting the female figure making confrontational eye contact with the audience. The image is cropped to centralize her gaze. The text adds to this effect as “your” directly addressing the audience.
Overall, Kruger’s work expresses ideas directly related with the feminist theories at the time, and is known to be an active supporter of women’s rights movements. Such believes are efficiently translated through her work.
1 Angier, N. (2003). “Biologically Correct.” Sisterhood is Forever: The Women’s Anthology for a New Millennium. Robin Morgan. New York: Washington Square Press p.10
2 Kruger, B. Linker, Kate, (1990). Love for Sale. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p.28
3 Berger, J. (2003). “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. New York: Routledge. p.38