Mary Kelly

'Extase' (1986) 6 prints

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‘Extase’, by the American feminist artist, Mary Kelly, was the first work to be acquired by New Hall Art Collection and the impetus for its creation. Kelly, a pioneering feminist artist, often draws inspiration from her own life, for example her experiences of motherhood. Her installation, Post-Partum Document, displayed at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art in the mid-70s, elicited shocked headlines such as: ‘On display at the ICA … dirty nappies!’

In 1985-86, Kelly was Artist-in-Residence at Kettle’s Yard, and living at Murray Edwards College (then New Hall). She was working on a large-scale installation called Interim, which included the series ‘Extase’, named after one of the five attitudes that the nineteenth-century psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot had attributed to hysterical women.

‘Extase’ is made up of six prints - three depict messily folded blouses and the other three have handwritten first-person narratives which explore what it means to be a woman. Kelly believes that any artistic representation of women inevitably panders to the male gaze. Therefore her texts and images of female clothing stand in for depictions of the female form, instead reflecting female consciousness.