HER underwear with shark’s teeth caused an international stir in the 1980s, and now Perth artist Tania Ferrier is back with a fresh look at that decade and how far or little women have come in the intervening years.
Her new exhibition Pop Porn features nine Angry Underwear sets, bras and underwear with shark’s teeth and eyes, created after Ferrier witnessed the assault of ‘Angel’, a Latino stripper that she got to know while working at the Wild Fyre men’s club in New York in the 1980s.
A clever and provocative way of calling out sexual violence in the workplace, the Angry Underwear project was emotional for Ferrier – she had experienced sexual assault in childhood.
Although the club where Angel worked banned the underwear, they were sold at a ‘risqué’ new-wave fashion outlet and worn by Madonna and super model Naomi Campbell, making Angry Underwear global news.
But the shark undies didn’t receive a warm welcome when exhibited in Perth in 1989, when the then-shadow minister for arts Phillip Pendal deemed the exhibition obscene and an inappropriate use of government funding.
“In 1989 my Angry Underwear was celebrated as feminist artwork in New York and the same year the same artwork was deemed obscene here,” Ferrier says.
“In 2021 a mannequin displaying my shark bra and shark pants was removed from a group exhibition here, so I don’t know how much has changed in certain sectors of Perth.”
For Pop Porn, Ferrier has also created a new print and video series Pop Porn Calendar – disassembling 1980’s Playboy centrefolds to highlight the objectification of women’s bodies in mainstream porn.
• Pop Porn: Tania Ferrier exhibition.
The artwork comes in the wake of the recent documentary Secrets of Playboy, which exposed the dark and depraved treatment of women living at the Playboy Mansion, the home of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
“I watched the series, Secrets of Playboy, towards the very end of creating the Pop Porn prints and videos,” Ferrier says.
“I do think that anyone who watches that series, and still has a few Playboy magazines in their house, might feel differently about Hugh Hefner and the Playboy mansion.
“He obviously became a ‘sick-in-the-head’ man over the course of his celebrity and … his band of merry followers were just as sick.
“I have never thought of Playboy as a ‘classy’ acceptable pornographic magazine. I knew it was a softer version than Ribald or Hustler but for me all those magazines were symptomatic of patriarchal gender separation tactics.
“Like the Men’s Only Bars at Golf and Yacht Clubs, the Weld Club and Private Boys Schools, Playboy was just another ‘us’ and ‘them’. Men felt safer, more powerful and more privileged when they had spaces just to themselves – unscrutinised by women. Oh well.”
Ferrier is a semi-wanderlust – she worked as an artist in New York from 1988-92, then returned to Perth, before moving to Melbourne in 2012 and finally returning home again in 2019.
“I went back to New York in 2011 for the first time in twenty years and so much has changed,” she says.
“I fell in love with the city again and went nearly every year, but the pandemic put a stop to that. I try to think about travelling somewhere else, but dream of New York still.”
More than 30 years on from her original Angry Underwear, and post-#MeToo, are women in a better, safer place or could the misogynist male be gearing up for a comeback?
“I don’t concern myself much with what men are up to post #MeToo, only that women now feel empowered to speak out against abuse,” Ferrier says.
Pop Porn: Tania Ferrier is at the Fremantle Arts Centre on Finnerty Street until October 23.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK