Untitled (Your body is a battleground)
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989
The thing about audio guides is I feel inclined to tell the viewer how to, steer clear of being told how to view an artwork (Laughs) by somebody like me.
Who is the you who’s being addressed? “Your body”. Whose body? To whom is the artist speaking? Is it you? What is the battleground? What is being fought over and why? Is it the body of a woman…?
[AUDIO FROM 1989 March on Washington
Pro-choice advocates came out in force in Washington because of mounting concern that the Supreme Court may soon reverse the right to abortion.]
In 1989, a new wave of anti-abortion laws swept the country. That year, Barbara Kruger made Your Body is a Battleground for the historic pro-choice march in Washington D.C.
Barbara Kruger’s was one of those seminal works in this propagandistic kind of, visual style. I got very interested in the reality that artwork can have, not just the political intent but that it can actually move a crowd, you know? ... spur people into action.
The woman’s bisected face references the stark divide over women’s reproductive freedom.
She looks like a beauty from the 50s, but her face is distorted by tabloid style text, the eerie reverse image, and the disembodied head. Though she may address us with a universal “YOUR” similar to Uncle Sam’s recruiting message, this image warns us of the potential for threat rather than heroism.
An artwork confronts a viewer and a viewer is forced, asked, maybe kicked, (Laughs)... into action. This work is a reminder, to me, of that very clear reality that you can’t take your life for granted.
Barbara Kruger addresses media and politics in their native tongue: tabloid, sensational, authoritative, and direct. Kruger’s words and images merge the commercial and art worlds; their critical resonance eviscerates cultural hierarchies — everyone and everything is for sale. The year 1989 was marked by numerous demonstrations protesting a new wave of antiabortion laws chipping away at the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Untitled (Your body is a battleground) was produced by Kruger for the Women’s March on Washington in support of reproductive freedom. The woman’s face, disembodied, split in positive and negative exposures, and obscured by text, marks a stark divide. This image is simultaneously art and protest. Though its origin is tied to a specific moment, the power of the work lies in the timelessness of its declaration.
The large, bold artworks of Barbara Kruger assimilate words and images from the deluge of contemporary mass media. Employing media effects and strategies, Kruger creates her own sexual, social, and political messages, challenging the stereotypical ways mass media influences society’s notions about gender roles, social relationships, and political issues.
Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989, exemplifies Kruger’s interest in addressing and interpreting heated political issues of the moment. Using a silkscreened frontal photograph of a model’s face, the artist gives the image additional meaning by dividing the large canvas it occupies into sections; from left to right, the bisected image reverses from positive to negative, and from top to bottom, the face is divided by the emblazoned slogan “Your body is a battleground.” Kruger critiques the objectified standard of symmetry that is applied to feminine beauty and perpetuated by media and advertising. The composition originally included more text and was designed as a poster for the massive pro-choice rally that took place on April 9, 1989, in Washington, D.C.
Untitled (If you’re so successful, why do you feel like a fake?), 1987, is a direct interrogation of the motivations of contemporary society—career building, money, and the appearance of success and good living. Kruger’s assertive display demands an answer from viewers. Unlike in advertising, which may ask a question to compel a purchase, Kruger’s work uses the same techniques to compel ethical change and reflection.