Angry at the sexual harassment women experience, Molly Williams began to paint something disturbing but powerful. The resulting painting, Bloody Barbarella, was her way of speaking back and subverting the violence of misogyny.
This is a 40×30 piece I finished in November 2020. With all the misogyny women had dealt with over the years, with the #metoo movement, Trump, and just the shit year that was 2020 (as well as a bad break-up, LOL), I felt angry. I wanted to rebel. I had felt this way for years. Here I was creating portraits of women I admired for their beliefs and courage, yet we still felt “hushed”. The sexual harassment we experienced by men & the burden of shame we carried because women, they say, can’t be sexual. I wanted to paint something gross, disturbing, but powerful. I wanted people to question what the hell is wrong with her? And I did. “Are you ok?” I was asked. “I’m fine,” I replied.
Bloody Barbarella is also a tribute to someone who many consider an icon, a feminist, a legend. Jane Fonda. Those who are aware of her know that the movie Barbarella was, in a way, her breakout role. It’s a cult classic. In the 60’s, this movie (along with similar films like Valley of the Dolls) was a catalyst for sexual freedom of expression for women. Still in a man’s world, of course. I love the movie, the character, and Jane Fonda. She has always stood up for what she believed was right, even if she wasn’t. So, my first idea was just a portrait of her Barbarella character as she is, but the anger set in. I was so upset after feeling used by someone, and years of my resentment towards men just exploded. I reflected on what I could do to express myself with such a sexual icon, but allow her to be disturbing in the same way. So I made her a man-eater with a cock-gun.
As I painted (I was inspired by a promo picture for the film featured above), I started to add drops of blood on her chin. It wasn’t enough. By the end, I covered most of her face and hands to convey that she had just ripped into someone. Like a savage wolf had ripped and ate apart the pain. The bewildered look on her face captured how I felt. I finished it in 5 days. I was obsessive. Then, after I posted it on social media, I was asked again about my mental state. Again, I said I was fine. I love this piece. It doesn’t hurt anymore to think of what I was going through, but I can observe the heartache I felt at the time. It’s a tribute to women who feel anger, betrayal, and empowerment. Art is such a broad, subjective form of expression. I love that we have the opportunity to find a way to say how we feel without words, yet still get our point across. I’d also like to thank my grandmother, Cecelia, for passing down her gift.
About Molly Williams
Molly Williams (she/her) has been a self-taught artist for about 2 years (though she did attend high school for drawing). She lives in Atlanta, GA. Art runs in her family as her grandmother was an artist. She fell into painting when asked to do a commission for a dear friend & it sparked her passion! She loves interpreting beautiful women and showcasing them in a fun, sometimes campy, way. She’s broadening her palette by playing with texture and abstraction, and loves to add gold in most of her pieces. Art is such an escape for her when she feels the need to express herself & get lost in her mind. The world disappears & she feels at peace with just a brush and canvas.
This piece was commissioned as part of Frankie Dytor’s series, BAROQUE
The ‘baroque’ is an intemperate aesthetic. Once a period term to describe the visual arts produced in the seventeenth century, its use and significance has exploded over the last fifty years. No longer restricted to the fine arts, the baroque has fallen into pop culture and become an icon.
Inspired by the work of Shola von Reinhold, this series takes ephemera and excess as its starting point for a new exploration of the b a r o q u e. It wants to look back at the past and queerly experiment with it, to rip it up and reclaim a new space for the future – or, in von Reinhold’s words, ‘to crave a paradise knit out of visions of the past’. The b a r o q u e is present in moments of sheer maximalism, in ornament, frill and artifice. It celebrates the seemingly bizarre and the unintelligible, the redundant and fantastical. Disorienting and overwhelming, it offers a decadent way of experiencing present and past worlds.
In von Reinhold’s debut novel, the forgotten black modernist poet Hermia Druitt is rediscovered one day in the archives. As Mathilda goes on a hunt to find out more about this elusive figure, a kaleidoscope of aesthetic joy ensues. Mathilda, we are told, is one of the Arcadian types: those with an “inclination towards historicised fragments”, but not one infected with the more insidious forms of history-worship. Instead, as she explains, “I would not get thrown off track: I could rove over the past and seek out that lost detail to contribute to the great constitution: exhume a dead beautiful feeling, discover a wisp of radical attitude pickled since antiquity, revive revolutionary but lustrous sensibilities long perished”. This series likewise wants to use the past in new and unexpected ways, that trans the archive and queer the record.
Join us to celebrate the dazzle of the b a r o q u e!
Submissions for this editorial are now closed. Read the series so far here.