Marianne Wex (1937 – 2020)
Born in Hamburg in 1937, Marianne Wex was an artist and photographer who will be remembered for her unique contribution to the field of Women’s and Gender Studies. After studying at the Academies of Art Hamburg and Mexico City – initially with a focus on painting – she worked as an art lecturer for nearly twenty years, exploring her academic research through photography. Her distinctively conceptual work examines ‘kinesics’ (body motion communication), critiquing the connections between gender, body language, and social conventions.
Her most widely recognised installation piece, Let’s Take Back Our Space, divides original and archival images between masculine and feminine paradigms. Through these juxtapositions, Wex reveals how women and men behave differently in space according to patriarchal social structures. The installation comprises over 200 panels featuring images arranged into categories of pose, indicating how the posture of male and female bodies has become increasingly divergent over time. Wex took more than 5,000 photographs as part of the work; first exhibited in 1977, it has achieved international acclaim, and was eventually published as a book in 1979.
Alongside its insight into gender performativity, Wex’s work is notable its intriguing aesthetics. The sequential nature of her photographic arrangements animates the bodies she depicts, preventing her work from perpetuating the constricting influence of gender norms. Her installations have been praised for their vitality; Wex’s figures transcend boundaries both formally, and through playful inversions of the conventions they identify.
Although her work eventually drifted into obscurity, it has attracted renewed attention within modern feminist discourse and is now considered an important precursor to the Pictures Generation movement. Wex’s photography is testament to the enduring power of the visual; her images demonstrate how centuries of social behaviour can be framed and embedded within a single, fleeting position of the body.
By Katherine Riley