Metamorphosis of the Feminine – The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter and Paula Rego

Image by Paul Rego

Image by Paul Rego

Drawing on the violence of her Portugese background and it’s folklore Rego’s world conjures up allegorical tales of the physical and psychological violation and repression of feminine experience through often surreal, psychologically, metaphorically and symbolically charged imagery. In these claustrophobic settings and often domestic interiors these female figures, cut off and contained by the frame of the image, often dominate the scene.

Rego’s Women have powerfully robust physiques and the characters in her paintings, drawings and prints are often portrayed in uncompromising and contorted positions including bending, kneeling, lying, squatting, cavorting, undressing. The abject appears in the form of urinating and defecating. Like Smith the female and the bestial are often interchangeable. There is something of the carnivalesque and the grotesque about Rego’s characters, the dancers that appear regularly in her work draw as much on James Ensor as they might on Degas. Rego has also made controversial work about female genital mutilation and abortion.

This image specifically reminded me of the final act in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter as the female protagonist kneels to receive her pre-ordained fate, her decapitation pre-figured symbolically and metaphorically by the wedding gift [ultimately a symbol of posession]; a red ruby choker “like the memory of a wound”. As a viewer in front of Rego’s work, I am confronted with my voyeurism. The women are incredibly available and yet the sense is one has encountered something exceptionally private and witnessed the trauma, aftermath or prelude to a catastrophic yet unavailable event, a psychic wound. In this sense we are also voyeurs in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. We witness the fragmentation of identity, isolation, the loss of virginity and innocence and the continual transgression of boundaries, all in a language of seduction and a caress that elicits a shudder.

© Text written by Denise Startin.

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