What I First Saw When I Saw Zoe’s Paintings

When Ellery told me about the work of Zoë Mozert, my engagement with the images, was less of a sense of: why would a woman become engaged with making images that feature herself in scantily clad ways, because this is something I have done. Rather, I’ve been fascinated by the showwomanship and publicity myth-making of her own story of being an artist-pin-up. The longevity of her career. But also something in the images—something of the composition that conveys Zoë is seeing from within the frame. Compare Zoë’s work to that of her pin-up peers—is there a qualitative difference? If so, what is it? Try to put that into words… As soon as I attempt to say what that difference is, I come across an image by a male pin-up artist that complicates the statement I’m trying to make. So, what is the role of gender in the production of gendered images? What art techniques are deployed in turning oneself from a real embodied woman into a fantasy figure?

Let me back up. I said something important at the start. I’m an artist and I’ve made a body of work in which I recreated small pin-ups, cigarette cards. The originals were photographs which I also reproduced as photographs. I used film and a darkroom to mirror the original processes and as a time-travel device. I used old-fashioned lights to get the look right. I got quite obsessed about getting certain aspects of the image just right. But other aspects I let go. I was not concerned about looking good, but rather re-embodying another woman. Nor did I mind that my costumes were rather DIY and ad hoc compared to the originals.

Wish You Were Here? Catherine Hamilton, Alison J Carr

The issue of audience is key. I made my images with a feminist contemporary art viewer in mind. Thus, my gesture can be read as an intervention or subversion of the original context. The original cigarette cards were added to cigarette packs to strength the pack, but also were an inducement to keep the smoker buying. While cigarette cards ranged in what they had on them—sports teams stars and transport were other subjects—they did often include scantily clad women. Across the different kinds of image, there’s a presumption of a male consumer.

Zoë entered the art market place at a time when women did not routinely have art careers, let alone support herself from her creative output alone. Zoe capitalised on her good appearance in order to leverage that into a sustained career. This seems to foreshadow contemporary practices that the writer, Catherine Hakim, has called ‘Erotic Capital’. To turn one’s personal, sexual charisma into a way to make money. As Hakim notes, the idea of captialising on one’s feminine charms is at odds with conventional feminist discussion.

Zoë Mozert is compelling for a range of reasons that I have touched on here, and that we at ZMAS hope to unpack here.

— Alison J Carr


Catherine Hakim, Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital , 2011, Allen Lane

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