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Hildur Ása Henrýsdóttir: Marga hildi háð
19 February, 2022–3 March, 2022
Hildur Ása Henrýsdóttir
Curated by Linda Toivio
Gallery Port, Reykjavik / 19 February – 3 March 2022
The solo exhibition of Berlin-based artist Hildur Henrýsdóttir reveals an embarrassing one-sided love story. Looking for validation in all the wrong places -one-night encounters, disastrous dates and doomed romances- it opens up a painfully relatable path to self-loathing, anxiety and the need for acceptance. The title Marga hildi háð, loosely translated as “she fought many battles”, borrows the artist’s first name Hildur, meaning battle in Icelandic. In our contemporary society, these battles are metaphorical and refer to her inner turmoil. Consisting of paintings and sculptures, the autobiographical works are delicate and raw, often triggering feelings of shame and regret. Despite fearing rejection more than anything, Hildur throws herself time after time into an obsessive quest for love, exposing a shared human vulnerability: “I refresh my Instagram to see if you’ve watched my story. I kind of feel like you’re close to me when you do. If you don’t, I feel like you have somehow abandoned me.”
Through an unapologetic representation of the female body, her works bear similarities with the nude paintings of Jenny Saville, who often uses herself as the model in her portraits. Besides sharing an autobiographical character, both artists provide an almost grotesque yet truthful depiction of the female reality. Saville’s obese nudes and the awkward poses painted by Hildur are akin to an act of rebellion: oh, the audacity of a woman showing her unpleasant and ugly side. What is defied here, is an entire institution of looking at the female body through the lens of patriarchy, where the male gaze dictates what type of bodies have the right to exist and be seen.
Despite the persisting nudity throughout the exhibition, the body is depicted as a non-sexual entity, instead allowing the nakedness to stand as a metaphor for vulnerability and self-exposure. Hildur’s entire body of work is a study of the self, a brutal journey towards self-awareness through shameful moments and thoughts, while seeking attention and yearning for personal growth. Nonetheless, she does not wallow in self-pity, nor is she expecting this from the audience. A certain discomfort or unease -both her own and the viewer’s- is always present, as she leaves no flaw unexplored.
The women in Hildur’s aquarelles are lost, unstable and on occasion gruesome, some of them seemingly disintegrating after extensive periods of melancholia. With a vacant stare, they sometimes accusingly peer out at the viewer. The black creatures or arthropods regularly appear throughout her works, raising primal sensations of disgust and displeasure, as they symbolise the artist’s self-perception or what is unwanted and should be discarded. A distorted view of reality and the body image is apparent in several works, while the candy colours only add to the overall creepiness. Manifesting no concern for unflattering angles or voyeurism, a naked body is reclined in an oil painting, its long neck bending in disbelief, perhaps for the first time seeing the truth. In another piece, a radioactive female beastie is escaping the frame, too ashamed to stay, but incapable of averting its multiple eyes from the spectator.
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“Which one are you talking about?”
“The one I’ve had a crush on for two years and who doesn’t love me back.”
The narrative of Marga hildi háð reaches beyond the story of a sad heartbroken girl, as it touches upon themes fluctuating from nonsensical anecdotes about the contemporary dating culture, to dysfunctional relationships and mental health. Sincere and self-ironic, it is a personal account of feeling out of place, never being enough and still finding the courage to press forward amongst a generation of serial-daters, all well aware that the next encounter is just a few swipes away. Despite battling feelings of inadequacy shared by many, Hildur becomes the master of over-sharing, ignoring expectations regarding one’s physical appearance and socially approved behaviour. On the surface, it might appear that the search for validation from another is the ultimate goal, when in truth, she can only find it within herself.