Tough Pleasures

These images are part of a project that commenced in 2003 and culminated in a monograph publication to be released in spring 2023. The book outlined below features an essay by Susan Bright and will launch with an exhibition of large scale photographs from the book which are submitted here.

The text below outlines the project:

Tough Pleasures by Toni Wilkinson

Food is a language unto itself. It is an expression of love, an arbiter of culture and status, a symbol of impermanence and, of course, one of life’s greatest pleasures. But its relationship with female identity is often fraught. If women aren’t held captive in the kitchen, they’re being guilted for eating too much, or too little, their body parts sexualised, commodified and packaged up, poised for consumption.

In Tough Pleasures, distinguished Australian photographer Toni Wilkinson presents a series of domestic portraits which reinterpret the conflicted dynamics of femininity and food, playfully exploring provocative motifs of forbidden fruit, sexuality, religion and the absurd. Drawing on Wilkinson’s masterly skill in portraiture, Tough Pleasures takes audiences on a roving food odyssey of suburban kitchens and loungerooms – encountering women proudly clutching pineapples, draping their arms in prosciutto, furtively eating bananas, or balancing an entire lobster on their laps.

Eschewing tropes of the housewife or the passive sex object, Wilkinson depicts her subjects as active protagonists, as the heroine triumphantly exhibiting her culinary loot, while leaving enough space for the viewer to imagine what might transpire beyond the frame. Some portraits rebel against unrealistic beauty and dieting standards, while others signal the shifting expectations around domestic labour, or the use of food in maintaining cultural heritage. It is this extraordinary diversity of imagery, and the powerful stories they conjure, that makes Wilkinson’s work so compelling.

Wilkinson’s rich visual language is carefully unravelled and explored in an essay by Susan Bright, an Australian/British curator. With incredible sensitivity, Bright unearths the deeper cultural meanings and narrative connections behind the imagery, from phallic undertones to embracing “too muchness” as a feminist stance. As she puts it, “pictures of food are never just about food”.

A moving feast of womanhood, food and identity, Tough Pleasures is at once current and timeless, intimate and freeing, leaping elegantly from pathos to humour, and proving that women can have their cake and it eat too.

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