Making use of Penny Fielding's new cleared out gallery space is a very insightful, thought-provoking and even challenging series of paintings dealing with the confinement of women within the fashion production line, and in society in a whole.
The canvases are the material of the subject: she captures the stereotype of girls' fashion by painting bright pink material of ballerinas and princesses. But there is dark side to the fashion industry that is really being tackled - the mass production sweat-shops that ensure the powerful fashion of the West is well and cheaply stocked. An industry that exists for, and is funded by women of higher stature. There are soft paintings of east Asian women stitching with heads down and fading within the exploitation of the industry. However, Alke Schmidt broadens the spectrum by reaching into history when these sweatshops existed within the West, there is a gorgeous, ghostly paintings of early 20th centuary English women, sewing away with the canvas being material from the period.
By equating the fashion industry to female labour and oppression, there is a deeper metaphor I think at work in her paintings too. As much as the cheap mass-produced materials that are made in sweatshops are a commodity to the fashion industry, the women themselves are a commodity. This metaphor comes to the forefront in her piece 'The Fairer Sex', a rich oil painting of a dark skinned girl on a brides wanted newspaper page in India. A list of trait or physical attributes with fair skin being the most highlighted, they do read like lists for furniture.
It isn't all doom and gloom of the resigned life of objectified and exploited women, there is a rebellion and challenging of the system at work. Putting two fingers up at the fashion industry and all the way up to social attitudes, even if it is only by throwing a spindle of weave.
The exhibition is no.132 in the guide
Penny Fielding Gallery & Interiors