Drawing on themes of intersectional feminism and mental illness, Caro LaFlamme’s artwork is both personal and political, shattering the patriarchy one painting at a time. This fifth-year University of Manitoba fine arts student began honing her artistry at a very young age.
During the last two years of her degree, she has focused on both painting and photography, often blending the two to create “tension between the plane of the canvas and the printed image.”
For example, LaFlamme will produce a painting of a wall, then place that canvas atop that particular wall and subsequently photograph the two for the series.
The contrast between canvas atop its surfaces within photographs adds interesting dimension to her work. Both Castration Anxiety and Excuse Me (Sorry) feature this approach.
Many of LaFlamme’s paintings exhibit underwhelming subjects, with strong feminist themes throughout.
“Feminism is such a big part of my life that my work is almost always consciously or even subconsciously influenced by it,” LaFlamme says. “The art world, like many other professional areas, remains quite male-dominated, so I find creating feminist art to be a challenge to that gendered imbalance.”
Studying feminist theory through women and gender studies courses at the University of Manitoba (U of M) has helped LaFlamme draw on many aspects of feminism in her work.
“Having that foundation of feminist theory plays a big role in shaping the concepts I communicate through my art and gives me the confidence to tackle tough subjects,” she says.
LaFlamme’s work is both accessible and thought-provoking. Castration Anxiety is a painting and photography series of phalli drawn in public places around the U of M campus. Paintings of the van- dalism were created to scale, placed atop the original surfaces and photographed.
Vandalizing publish spaces with phalli, she says, is a desperate effort to assert and sustain patriarchal dominance under the (weak) guise of humour.
LaFlamme says female genetalia are rarely (if ever) seen drawn in public places to no surprise, “given the collective societal ignorance, discomfort and repulsion towards female genitalia, and in extension, pleasure,” she says.
By exposing these childish drawings and constructing them into a series, she brings awareness to the ridiculous gendered notions of modern day and effectively flips the humour—instead of smirking at a phallus on a wall, we are laughing at the original artist of this phallus and their (perhaps subconscious) fear of emasculation and subsequently, their method used to counter that fear.
Excuse Me (Sorry)
LaFlamme inserts herself into the Excuse Me (Sorry) triptychs as an intended subject. The first triptych contains garments that have been painted to look like the walls of the tunnels that LaFlamme passes through while at school. The second triptych in the series is digitally produced self-portraits of LaFlamme wearing the garments and standing against the wall, blending in effortlessly.
The art world… remains quite male-dominated, so I find creating feminist art to be a challenge to that gendered imbalance.
Her purpose behind this creation was to draw attention to the fact that spaces—both physical and intellectual— are often dominated by men, rendering women invisible (similarly, the concept of “manspreading,” or men taking up more than one subway seat, has become common discourse).
“These canvas garments imitate assigned uniforms through their blunt repetition, engaging with contemporary feminist dialogues which challenge the policing of women/women-identified people’s bodies and clothing and prescribed misogynist notions of ‘self-respect’ and ‘modesty.’”
Fever, Low and Panic
Abstract paintings representing emo- tions and moods were painted on glass, layered over LaFlamme’s face and photographed in the triptych representing her experience with generalized anxiety disorder.
Each photograph is drastically dif- ferent. In Fever, LaFlamme is pictured screaming behind the glass of jagged red and orange brush strokes. Low uses tall brush strokes and moody blue colours on glass layered in front of LaFlamme’s dejected facial expression. Panic is a tornado of colours, spinning and mixing and splattering across the glass.
“Mental illnesses cannot be char- acterized by one unwavering, constant mood or symptom, and people do not need to be in crisis on a regular basis in order to have a mental illness,” says LaFlamme. “My personal experience with generalized anxiety disorder has included spans of extreme irritability, emotional and physical lows, and periods of inces- sant worry.”
LaFlamme’s work draws on many aspects of her personal life experience, including topics highly stigmatized and silenced.
Personal is Political
Producing—and publicly sharing—work that has its roots in sometimes trau- matic personal experiences takes incred- ible strength of character. Fortunately, LaFlamme finds solace in her art.
“It’s a cliché, but creating art can be truly therapeutic, particularly if there are experiences in your past that you want to process on your own terms. I personally find that drawing from my personal experiences gives me a firmer grasp of ownership over them,” she says.
LaFlamme says she uses art to open up about herself in ways she would otherwise find difficult.
“I’ve spoken on my experiences with sexual assault and mental illness through my work, which both remain stigmatized subjects in public discourse,” she says. “Feminist theory is at the crux of my work, and it often overlaps with personal experiences, which results in my most personal and political work.”
Find LaFlamme’s work and upcoming exhibition dates at carolaflamme.tumblr.com.
–Katy MacKinnon is the publisher behind the food blog My Dish is Bomb (mydishisbomb.com).