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Picture preview: He Calls Himself Margaret

  • @matildbattersby

“There’s one in the village, he calls himself Margaret” was something the artist Michele Howarth Rashman once overheard being said between two old women in her local post office. The remark has been “rattling around [in her] head ever since” and inspired the unsettling doll-like creations which form the basis of her debut solo exhibition.

The remark, whether merely an observation or a demonstration of bigotry, got the artist "thinking about what we call ourselves, how we see ourselves and how other people perceive us,” Rashman explains. So she made six larger-than-life sculptures of wizened and aging women made from painstakingly layered textiles. The figures wear lacy lingerie and are pouting provocatively. But what they provoke in onlookers is not desire but revulsion and disquiet.

Each doll has been hand-made using a special, and closely guarded, technique Rashman has developed over many years. She calls this dogged working method “defiantly unmanly” in an art world that is “persistently macho”.

She said: “Each piece has an internal life, a back story if you like, that taps into a world of people, usually women, who somehow miss the mark. Bad hair, bad wigs and bad posture. Saggy breasted and sad eyed. These are the romantically deceived and disappointed, the washed up and invisible. And yet somewhere in their making an effort, in those acts of self improvement – the wig, the padded bra, the surgical enhancement, the flower in the hair - there is a poignancy and nobility that I hope touches the viewer.”

‘He Calls Himself Margaret’ is at The Outside World Gallery, London from 17 November to 14 December 2011, www.theoutsideworld.co.uk