Material worlds: Domestic objects and the question of auto/biography in contemporary art

Hitting home: representations of the domestic milieu in feminist art

Keywords: Home, Feminist art, Global Art World, Possessions, Autobiography, Ishiuchi Miyako


At the turn of the twenty-first century, due to the expansion of postcolonial consciousness, artists identified as “non-western” gained a new visibility in the Euro-American art world that was far from unproblematic. Installations and multimedia practices revolving around domestic space and daily objects were internationally celebrated as a novel source for reflections on the notion of home. Based on the assumption that artists’ lived experiences of migration, separation, or loss made their use of the domestic inherently transgressive, these disparate works were framed as autobiographical or self-representational. With this, the institutional landscape seemed to undergo a total transformation in reevaluating the use of personal materials in art practices. Dismissed as confessional or narcissistic when articulated as a key critical strategy by feminist Euro-American artists just a decade earlier, it was precisely this personal and domestic quality that seemed to be seen as valuable and relevant in the context of an art world with newfound pretensions of inclusion and globalisation. Focusing on Ishiuchi Miyako's work Mother’s 2000-2005: Traces of the Future as a case study, I argue that the reasons behind this notable shift were twofold: first, the shift in artistic language, from the political explicitness of earlier feminist artworks to the use of material subtlety and conceptual ambivalence, allowed for these works to travel well from national to international exhibitions; at the same time, the use of personal and domestic objects seemed to justify their framing through biographical narratives that, in turn, served to comfortably categorise them, while also offering grounds for viewer engagement.