“My world, for all its aggressiveness, is brimming with unconditional zest for life. My motif is clear: nudity and femininity represent the utopia of a bio-botanical freedom — a freedom that is immune to frustration and gradual repression, a freedom that tolerates only the limits it sets for itself.”
In the late 60s and early 70s, the Belgian artist Evelyne Axell (1935-1972), one of the protagonists of Pop Art, worked under the name Axell in order to obscure her gender. She developed a subversive pictorial language that oscillates between female actionism and seduction and unfolds a protofeminist force. Strong women, such as the first female astronaut Walentina Tereschkowa or the US activist Angela Davis, dominate the artist's imagery. Axell engages with both contemporary stereotypes of femininity and centuries-old role ascriptions, thereby intervening in the construction of persistent gender models: reflecting on art history — such as the iconography of Venus, depictions of Leda with the Swan, or distinguished portraits such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa — she subverts historically sedimented, male perceptions of femininity and renegotiates the socially constructed image of women as either 'angel in the house' or femme-fatale.
For Axell, art evolved into a weapon of provocative self-empowerment, which she yielded against the objectification of women in post-war society. Her protofeminist imagery, which draws on Pop's depiction of reality as heavily mediatized and therefore ultimately constructed, seeks representation of women's perspectives and female desire. Until actual gender equality is achieved, Axell's sensual impetus will remain culturally and politically relevant.