“What to Do?”, a woodcut by Bahamian master printmaker Maxwell
Taylor, is this month’s Art Work of the Month.
In “What to Do?” the artist speaks about the role of the
matriarch in the Bahamian family construct. It delves into identity issues and
obligations of women in our contemporary society.
Across cultures, the matriarch has always been considered the
strength/anchor of the household. While it can be argued that the patriarchal
figure is more significant to the stronghold of the family construct, the
duties of women within the domestic space take precedence over the presence of
the male. It is expected that women play the dominant role in childrearing,
care-giving, maintenance and upkeep of the household, as well as being the true
helpmate/equal of her partner. Although Western society is dominated by the
patriarchal, with the traditional family model still having the man as the
figurehead, the woman is oftentimes the most influential figure in the family
Even with the protestation for women’s rights and equality, the
rights of women are still unequal to those of men, even though they may carry a
greater responsibility, being a significant presence in both the workplace as
well as the home.
Western societies have been dominated by patriarchal influence,
which has dictated the role of women since ancient times. Despite this, one can
argue that the role of women has improved drastically as their significance has
become much more important. Nowadays, it is considered socially acceptable for
women to be breadwinners, especially following World War II, and pursue their
independence. This was a notion that was ridiculed and generally perceived as
unattainable. Debatably, there are still some women who disagree with women
working outside of the home, claiming that it brings harm to the traditional
family structure; this often ties into arguments on societal gender roles.
The question then evolves into what we consider to be masculine
and feminine. Norms and standards are determined by what society deems to be
acceptable of each gender, thereby creating identities that are often socially
constructed outside of biological makeup. Men are considered aggressive and
dominant, while women are considered to be nurturing and submissive. It is
argued that, by adhering to and buying into societal norms, men and women
prevent the cultivation of naturally occurring gender roles and norms.
Within this construct, the evolution of sexism becomes
problematic and the role of women is devalued; society determines that certain
qualities a woman might possess are unfeminine and thus unbecoming, thereby
presenting a nonconformist persona that is met violently with those who follow
strict societal standards and norms. However, the roles of both men and women
are evolving in today’s society having become more egalitarian and less
restricted with fewer gender-specific expectations.
Taylor’s piece speaks to a number of dualities with women and
their responsibilities. “What to Do?” subscribes to the duality of women being
both vulnerable and strong, rich in spirit and poor in economic standing.
Arguably, one can interpret this piece as a woman carrying a burden.
This woodcut stands strong with intricate and purposefully cut
lines defining the depth of its intended meaning. The message that exudes from
this piece speaks to the struggle and astounding strength that this woman has
displayed in her life – of being disadvantaged but having to display great
strength. The roundness of her belly invites viewers who are expecting or those
women who have experienced pregnancies to relate to the endless questions,
doubts and fears that arise in relation to motherhood and the child’s future. The
reality of this piece is prevalent and mirrored in the Bahamian society, as
there are far too many who are unsure of where to turn to for provisions for
their children, let alone themselves.