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Performance: a place of visibility for female artists?

The Body in Performance: The Impossible Quest for Identity

Thérèse St-Gelais


As seen with several artists, the representation of the self that occurs through performance is an embodiment. From an illusory domestication of the body, to a stereotypically feminine response to imposed norms, what is sought after is the affirmation of “real lives”, and whose failure is inevitable if the goal is to move towards a true identity. It is common that the transgression of normative limits is executed in certain feminist actions. Yet, amongst many performers who have shown resistance to the prescribed representations of bodies and women, there are also some whose manifestations present ambivalence and obvious violence. Taking as examples the work of Nadège Grebmeier Forget (Quebecer) and Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe), this essay highlights images of the body and identity that challenge the norms of representation. In the case of both artists, they participate in a feminist resistance and agency that are critical of the construction of the self, knowledge and expertise —between the bodysubject that performs a quest for the self and another that reveals the violence present in the representation of women, buried in the feminist issues of a still lively reality.


Thérèse St-Gelais is a tenured professor of art history at the Université du Québec in Montreal. In 2012, she curated the exhibition Ghada Amer at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal. She has contributed to several catalogues, amongst which is that dedicated to Teresa Margolles (Montréal, Musée d’art contemporain, 2017). She has also contributed to several joint publications, such as Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (Montreal, Kingston, London, Chicago, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017). She is a member of the Institut de recherches et d’études féministes (IREF) and of the Réseau québécois en études féministes (RéQEF).

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