Hannah Wilke (born Arlene Hannah Butter, March 7, 1940 - January 28, 1993) was an American painter, sculptor, and photographer.
Hannah Wilke was born in 1940 in New York City into a Jewish family.
Wilke first gained renown with her "vulval" terra-cotta sculptures in the 1960s. Her sculptures are often mentioned as some of the first explicit vaginal imagery arising from the women's liberation movement.
In 1974, Wilke began work on her photographic body art piece S.O.S - Starification Object Series in which she merged her minimalist sculpture and her own body by creating tiny vulval sculptures out of chewing gum and sticking them to herself. She then photographed herself in various pin-up poses, providing a juxtaposition of glamour and something resembling tribal scarification. These poses exaggerate and satirize American cultural values of feminine beauty and fashion. She also performed this piece publicly, having audience members chew the gum for her before she sculpted them and placed them on her body. Wilke also used colored chewing gum as a medium for individual sculptures, using multiple pieces of gum to create a complex layering representing the vulva.
The title of So Help Me Hannah (1978) plays off of the Jewish mother stereotype and of Wilke's relationship with her mother.
Death and Intra-Venus
She died in 1993 from lymphoma. Her last work, Intra-Venus (1994), is a posthumously published photographic record of her physical transformation and deterioration resulting from her chemotherapy between December 17, 1991 and August 19, 1992. The photographs, which were taken by her husband Donald Goddard, confront the viewer with personal images of Wilke progressing from midlife happiness to bald, damaged, and resigned. Intra-Venus mirrors her photo series Portrait of the Artist with Her Mother, Selma Butter', which portrayed her mother's struggles with her cancer and "having literally incorporated her mother, illness and all." This was published partially in response to Wilke's feelings that clinical procedures hide patients as if dying was a "personal shame".
Pose and Narcissism
In her work, Hannah Wilke often features herself as a posing glamour model. This has been interpreted as an artistic deconstruction of cultural modes of female vanity, narcissism and beauty. For her photo shoots, Wilke preferred male camera operators as they tended to focus more on her body rather than her face, feet, or hands.
During her lifetime,American museums were hesitant to feature much of Wilke's work, possibly due its confrontational use of female sexuality and the fact that her work does not fit into a distinct genre or style. Her work is now included in permanent collections in The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Los Angeles County Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and in European museums such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris.