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, 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 suburban food odyssey – encountering women proudly clutching pineapples, draping their arms in prosciutto, or balancing an entire lobster on their laps.
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 eat it too.