You Can Tell Me by Marla Bendini and Victoria Cantons is one of the most intriguing exhibitions Alien Space Crab has seen all year, and presents a critical conversation about gender and femininity - which is what Singapore really needs right now. The duo exhibition held at Cuturi Gallery showcases deeply personal and evocative works by both painters that daringly pushes the boundaries of gender identity.
The exhibition takes the female gaze and body as an entry point into deeper explorations into the complexities of feminist discourse in the contemporary age. With Cantons and Bendini at the forefront of this discussion, their works expands the conversations to include women from diverse racial, cultural and sexual backgrounds into this discourse. You Can Tell Me beautifully captures these nuances that are often not portrayed elsewhere, and leaves visitors wanting more.
London based artist Victoria Cantons’ is known for her bold use of colours and mesmerizing figurative paintings. As a transgender woman, her experiences and awareness of stigmas and boundaries are well captured in her works as she navigates her way through issues surrounding identity, femininity, the body, and the human condition.
Canton’s work Le Visage de L'amour or The Maze immediately arrests the viewer’s attention, as they seem to intrude on a quiet moment of intimacy between two women captured in the painting. The figures stand in front of a floral painting within the painting, and the maze pattern on the pastel yellow wallpaper alludes to the negotiations happening in the painting and metaphysically. Her background in photography can be seen from the framing and composition in this piece. The hand at the left side of the frame leaving the scene gives the painting a candid and transient quality as if it captured a private moment that passes quickly.
An interesting interaction happens between Canton’s works and that of Singaporean transgender artist Marla Bendini. Born Bendini Junior Ong, her painterly figures capture her transformative life experiences and intimate struggles she has faced in a bid for freedom. The rawness of the emotions and memories are conveyed through her textured brushstrokes and iconic use of a pastel palette. Bendini’s paintings are honest and intense, constantly balancing between intense and soft at the same time.
Bendini’s piece titled Transactional Patterns struck me the most. The work is hard to miss with a darker color palette, and the body rendered in her easily recognizable shade of pink in the foreground wearing stockings embedded with real crystals. The figure sits at the edge of the bed while she puts on her clothes, with her hair still messy and an empty wallet at the side. Viewers are invited to speculate about what happened in the scene, likely coming to the conclusion that this was after a sexual encounter and the woman is preparing to leave. Thoughts about whether she has money to call a taxi and if she should stay the night comes to mind, the painting captures the daily realities with deeper issues entrenched deeper within.
You Can Tell Me was a top-tiered exhibition that was relatable and simply inspiring. The number of quality shows happening at the end of the year has been a real treat. Could this be due to the lack of art fairs during art fair seasons and more time for both art spaces and artists to reflect and reposition themselves during the pandemic? Earlier last month Alien Space Crab reviewed Voyage to the Vulva-Verse by Hatch Art Project, and those who enjoyed that show should check out works by Marla Bendini and Victoria Cantons.