If anyone portrayed the electrifying feminism of 1970s London, it was New Zealand painter and photographer Alexis Hunter (1948 - 2014). In a riveting solo exhibition at Richard Saltoun, Hunter’s works remind us of the power and impact of the Feminist movement and much more.
Alexis Hunter: 10 Seconds at Richard Saltoun, 2024
Natasha Hoare, Senior Curator at Goldsmiths CCA, curated an extensive exhibition of Alexis Hunter’s works, the largest since her acclaimed exhibition Sexual Warfare in 2018. While 10 Seconds focuses mostly on Hunter’s critically acclaimed works produced in the 1970s, the thematic approach was primarily “focused on aligning with Hunter’s vision,” says Richard Saltoun's Sonja Teszler, emphasising the numerous works that have not been shown earlier or have not achieved as much celebrity as her more iconic pieces. Hoare's curation worked to place the works in a new dialogue.
Alexis Hunter, Domestic Warfare, 1979
The exhibition spreads across three rooms at the gallery, each with its unique theme. With the entrance to the gallery, the viewer comes across a series of photographs, mostly Hunter’s self-portraits. It also houses the famous Domestic Warfare series, a series of 20 photographs depicting a collapse of domestic bliss. Greeted with several of Hunter’s self-portraits, the first room contains photographs that examine questions of identity, capturing the essence of her subjects and their individuality. The second room showcases political works, reflecting Hunter’s strong political messages and engagement with social activism. Another key factor was to highlight Hunter’s portrayal of humour, and some of the pieces contain a playful aspect to them. The third and final room displays Hunter’s later works from the 1990s, including role-reversal works that explored how the male body could be seen through the female gaze. Alexis’ photography was a visual language that could be understood by diverse audiences. She actively challenged gender stereotypes and the patriarchal image of culture during a decade of feminism. Her work in this room is thought-provoking and inspiring, showcasing Hunter’s unique perspective on gender and society.
To Silent Women (alone we failed), the poignant sequential photo narrative, is a hallmark of Hunter’s conceptual art, beautifully weaving together themes of feminism, psychoanalysis, and socialism. The series of 24 images depicts a woman’s hands with red nails holding a blade while a glass of wine sits nearby. The woman then cuts the tip of her index finger and writes on a white-tiled surface. Interestingly, the image with the word “alone” omits the woman’s hands. After writing “alone we failed,” she moves the glass closer and smudges the words with it.
Alexis Hunter, To Silent Women (alone we failed), 1981
The exhibition centres around Hunter’s artistic vision and her use of mass media and moving images to create an immersive experience for viewers. Through her art, Hunter invites viewers to question their perceptions of the world and to consider new perspectives. Her work reflected her time, challenging the status quo and advocating for social change. Although Hunter sets “up the narrative sequences to work as advertising does, within a minimum of 10 seconds”, each work demands far more than ten seconds from the viewer. It is fascinating to note that despite - or because because - of Hunter’s use of narrative sequencing, her images still manage to spark profound introspection in the audience today, reflecting on the gender norms and stereotypes that have been and still are prevalent in society today.
Avantika Pathania is a London-based writer and arts journalist.