Just Keep Smiling!
Flint saloon, Saskatoon, SK
May 17–31, 2017
A simple reading of a smile signifies happiness … but a smile can also be a defence mechanism used to combat uncomfortable situations. Our society begins conditioning girls from a young age to mask the uglier emotions of unhappiness, anger, aggression, and pain with a smile. Women are trained to manage their feelings and project a sweet and gracious image in an attempt to diffuse threats and avoid conflict.
This series of portraits intends to be part critique, part celebration of the “modern woman” as depicted by mid-century advertising.
Following WWII, there was a calculated effort to return women to the home in order to create jobs for veterans. An obvious way to promote domesticity was through the developing field of mass media advertising. These propaganda images, while quite absurd to the contemporary viewer, with “happy housewives” exclaiming gleefully over everything from new bed sheets to canned meat suggested a utopian domesticity, a kind of glamour, and the look of the “perfect wife, mother, and idyllic modern woman.” Consider the underwear model, euphorically exposing her undergarments to express womanhood, demonstrating how easy and freeing it is to wear the garments that constrain her. The pretence is to make the artificial seem natural.
Nearly seventy years on, we are still infatuated with this version of the “modern woman.” Why does this image continue to appeal to us when the facade has been countered by women’s fight for reproductive rights, employment opportunities, domestic property rights, equal pay, and freedom from violence?
In my visual practice it is not my intention to parody, make fun of, or idealize past generations, but rather to appropriate some of the iconography as a means to examine how we construct our cultural values. I hope the viewer will recognize the absurdity of specific stereotypes, cultural trends, and the pressures and contradictions of propaganda. The day will come when our own time period will be the object of reflection. How will future generations interpret us? How would we like to be perceived and remembered?