Work and Progress

This Woman’s Work by Julie Delporte

It was a beautiful Sunday and I traveled to town to raid the annual gargantuan Christian Aid book sale in one of Edinburgh’s magnificent churches. But turns out that churches are doing other things on a Sunday and they had turned the money changers and change-from-a-fiver givers from the temple. So instead to Stockbridge for the unbearably crowded food market. Stockbridge is the chi-chi part of town, cool independent stores, artisan snail vendors, that kind of thing. But one place always worth a visit is Golden Hare books. They have an excellently curated (very Stockbridge word) selection of graphic novels and invariably lead me to part with some cash. And so it was that I obtained a copy of This Woman’s Work by Julie Delporte.

This book looks at women’s lives and especially those of woman artists. Julie examines her own experiences as a woman – relationships, pressures, expectations to become a mother and dark family secrets. Whilst visiting Finland to research the life of Moomins creator Tove Jansson learns of her struggles and her determination to live life on her own terms as far as possible. The legendary Finn becomes a role model for Julie.

I wanted so badly not to be a girl. I wanted to be a wolf or a dolphin

This Woman’s Work

Julie looks at the fear, danger and limitation that is part of the experience of women – who often can’t go where they want, when they want and many of whom have experienced some kind of abuse. She writes of one boyfriend “When I met J, he told me about a time when he was hiking in the Pyrenees and ditched his tent on the trail. I felt so jealous when I heard that story.” As a man I don’t experience this in the same way. I don’t think twice about getting the night bus, I don’t grip my keys in my hand like a dagger when I walk down a dark street at night.

When Julie experiences women in art it is the unclothed models portrayed in the galleries, often in biblical scenes. The male gaze. So in researching Tove Jansson she is also unearthing a rich tradition of women artists…still facing prejudice and dismissal today. As she notes, beside the faces of Jansson and Marjane Satrapiat the Angoulême Comics Festival this year, not a single woman was nominated for the lifetime achievement award

Julie draws inspiration from the writings of women artists, which she calls feminaries. There is even a fantastic and invaluable bibliography included. She examines the urge to be alone, to be in wild places and feel free.

The art style of the book is an almost naïve colour pencil style. But Julie’s ability as an artist is never in doubt. The fragility of the images is often at odds with the text and brings useful focus to the idea of the tender female who in reality has to fight at every point.

Julie is a French artist based in Montreal and Québécois publishers Drawn and Quarterly have produced their usual high standard of publication. This Women’s Work (respect to the Kate Bush reference) is a beautifully illustrated work that is personal but also takes on issues of feminism and gender in a candid and fearless style. Enjoy it on sunny Sunday or a cloud-busting Tuesday.

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