Weeping women are angry – ORLAN

Weeping women are angry – ORLAN

15.03.2023 – 18.05.2023

Although ORLAN’s contribution to the history of performance art is essential, it would be wrong to reduce her work to this practice. Moreover, she herself has always stressed that she is not subject to any of them, to any medium. It is clearly the subject that takes precedence in her work, since she questions above all social phenomena; she wonders then how to give the best materiality, the most relevant form to her thought. This can certainly go through performance, but also through photography, video, sculpture, collage or even painting, with also recourse to biotechnologies, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and robotics. The most recent works include notably NFTs and generative digital works. The artist does not forbid herself any medium, any technology.

From her beginnings in 1964, when she was only 16 or 17 years old (and when the age of majority in France was 21 at the time), ORLAN gave birth to herself … « d’elle m’aime ». With startling precocity. While her destiny as a woman condemned the adolescent she was then to use her body and her womb only to give birth, the very young artist rebelled against her condition as a woman and against the revolting fate to which she was thereby destiny. The only birth to which she conceded was that of her own role as an artist and her work to come. The reappropriation of the body thus took shape, first of all through photographic staging. Quickly, she notably resorted to distorting perspective to modify the contours of her appearance, as in her spectacular Nu descendant l’escalier en talons compensés from 1967.

Never could a man have produced such a representation of a woman’s body. Female nude photography was deeply questioned and renewed by the proposal of dissident canons. ORLAN’s body was once again at the heart of his iconic 1977 performance Le baiser de l’artiste presented at the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain in Paris. The artist invited the public to buy a real artist’s kiss, a kiss with the tongue, for the sum of five francs. This brought to light both the commodification of art but also the two gendered stereotypes too often limiting women, those of the saint and the whore. The use of plastic surgery in the early 1990s stems from the same approach to questioning the female body. The transformation-appropriation notably allowed ORLAN to affirm, once again, the ownership of women’s bodies by them, but also to question, this time, the standards of beauty. The artist took the risk of creating monstrosity and undesirability by deliberately having two protuberances grafted on her temples. It would then be up to her to transform them, by her own will, into organs of … seduction.

In the same way, the appearance of editing software has opened the way to the most diverse self-hybridizations. The different series must also be understood as sets of post-operative works, since ORLAN always wanted to start from her new face adorned with the two bumps that she grafted on her temples. She has thus created series of works in which she has mixed her own image with those of works of art borrowed from the Western canon – Botticelli’s Venus – from pre-Columbian, African or, very recently, Mayan cultures. Thus, she invited to reconsider the notions of otherness and interbreeding, as well as the standards of beauty specific to each culture.

It is in the pursuit of this same approach of self-hybridization that the series of Weeping women are are angry currently presented in its entirety at the RocioSantaCruz gallery in Barcelona. A truly museum series, since the whole set has already been exhibited in 2022 at the Picasso Museum in Paris, under the curatorship of Cécile Debray, director of the institution. On the occasion of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Picasso’s death, but also to mark the important role played by ORLAN as a pioneer of photography, this entire series of Weeping women are are angry will also be presented again for the Spanish public in 2023, in Madrid, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, during the PHoto España festival.

Here again, ORLAN develops a work that is both political and resolutely feminist. Picasso’s mistresses have too often been systematically reduced to the role of mere muses, even though some, like Françoise Gilot or Dora Maar, were also true creators. If Picasso glorified the youth and the beauty of all these women, he did not hesitate to also represent their sufferings, at the time of their estrangement and their separation. Models, they found themselves reduced to the state of images, even objects, the real acting subject being the painter who represented them.

Far from being a lawsuit against Picasso who, now deceased, cannot defend himself, it is therefore anger against the ancillary role of women, their erasure – especially for those of them who were or are artists – that expresses masterfully ORLAN throughout this series. Picasso and his work were not chosen by chance. Through the greatest creator of the 20th century, ORLAN more generally invites us to reconsider the place of women in the history of art, both as models and as artists. This sad position only prolongs the revolting fate that is always reserved for women in society. It is therefore the women of our time that ORLAN is addressing by calling on them to come out of the shadows, to emancipate themselves. The designer invites them to anger to become fully subjects and no longer objects, in a resolutely feminist and contemporary message.

On a formal level, where ORLAN had produced, in her previous self-hybridizations, smooth and hyper-realistic images, she has created, for this new series, raw, violent digital collages. She thus associated with Picasso’s portraits elements of her own female face – crooked nose, bulging eyes, upside-down ears, open mouth ready to bite. Until then a victim, the woman then goes on the offensive, anger prompting action. Because the work of ORLAN, since its beginnings and in its entirety, constitutes an invitation to refuse the injustice of the gender condition and to take resolutely in hand its own destiny.

Alain Quemin, Curator of the Exhibition, University Professor and Senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France & the International Association of Art Critics



Saint-Étienne, France, 1947

She lives and works between Los Angeles and Paris. She is one of the most internationally recognised French artists. In her artistic practice she uses scientific and medical techniques such as surgery and biogenetics as her main methodology, from which she creates sculptures, photographs, performances, videos, video games and augmented reality, pursuing the idea and the materiality in all her praxis. From 1964, and at the age of only 17, she stood out in the field of performance, where she uses her own body as raw material and visual support for her work. In this sense, she is a fundamental figure of body art and “carnal art”, as she herself defined it in her 1989 manifesto. Between 1990 and 1993, and following this manifesto, she underwent plastic surgery in which she modified her face in order to criticise the pre-established canons of beauty. Her series of 9 surgery-performances were filmed and broadcast in institutions throughout the world, among which the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. ORLAN constantly and radically changes the data, deregulating conventions and prefabricated thought. She opposes natural, social and political determinism, all forms of domination, male supremacy, religion, cultural segregation, racism… Always mixed with humour, sometimes parodic or even grotesque, her work questions social phenomena and and challenges pre-established codes


Survey Shows (selection)

M HKA Museum, Antwerpen, 2012; Tallinn Art Hall, Estonia, 2008; Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne, France, 2007; CCC Tours, France, 2004; Centre National de la Photographie, Paris, France, 2004; FRAC des Pays de la Loire, France, 2002; Centro de Fotografia, Salamanca, Spain, 2002; Museum Artium, Victoria, Spain, 2002

Group Exhibitions (selection)

Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, KS, USA; LACMA, Los Angeles, CA; MOCA Los Angeles, CA, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA; MoMA PS1, New York, NY, USA; Bass Museum, Miami, FL, USA; Milred Kemper Art Museum, Saint-Louis, MO, USA; Sheldon Museum, Lincoln, NE, USA; The Schmidt Center Gallery Public Space, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA; M HKA Museum, Antwerpen, Netherlands; Art Gallery of Vancouver, Canada; MADRE Museum, Napoli, Italy; Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy; Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy; Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Italy; Palazzo Franchetti, Venice, Italy; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Centre National de la Photographie, Paris, France; Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France; Kunst Museum, Ahlen, Germany; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany; Städtische Galerie, Karlsruhe, Germany; Kunsthalle and MAK, Vienna, Austria; Casino of Luxembourg, Luxembourg; Miro Foundation, Barcelona, Spain; Contemporary Art Museum, Vitoria, Spain; Museum of Photography, Salamanca, Spain; MACBA, Barcelona, Spain, among others.


RocioSantaCruz Gallery would like to thank the artist ORLAN, the curator Alain Quemin and Ceysson Bénétière Gallery in Paris for their collaboration.




Con el apoyo de / Amb el suport de / With the collaboration of


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