How to make art as a woman?
This Woman’s Work, Julie Delporte’s deeply personal graphic diary, is rooted in this question. Translated from French by Aleshia Jensen and Helge Dascher, the book borrows its English name from a Kate Bush song about a fraught childbirth. In her book, Delporte muses on ideas of physical and emotional labour, as related to both modern womanhood and her creative process as an artist.
This Woman’s Work is a work of revisiting and reassessing, as it chronicles the countless small sacrifices that are often overlooked or concealed. While building a narrative that is necessarily non-linear, Delporte explores visceral feelings related to mourning, trauma and the weight of carrying family stories, which she affirms is really "the story of all women." When she comments "I feel like my insides are being torn out" in curlicued script the reader feels that pain, upon sight of the trivial yet devastating situation she has depicted with just a few strokes of red.
Though her subject matter deals largely with complicated questions of love and desire, there is a palpable joy in Delporte’s expressive linework, which takes on a meditative quality as she reflects on both her personal relationships and her relationship to her art.
In defiance to her father’s comment that anything poorly done "must be a woman’s handiwork," Delporte’s loose, impressionistic style is rife with pastel coloured pencil marks and the cut-and-paste paper scrap outlines typically found in a homemade ‘zine. Residual scotch tape marks do the work of a panelled grid to draw the eye from one thought to another on the page, while resisting the linearity of a traditionally organized comic.
Though Delporte’s pages range from a few strategically placed images to lush, full landscapes, her execution is far from haphazard. Instead, the book’s free-flowing form exposes the ways in which so many structures — specifically those that deal with text and images — subtly uphold culturally ingrained gender inequality. Born in St. Malo, France, Delporte notes: "the grammar I was taught still hurts, adding an explanatory note that "in French, the masculine takes precedence." In bold text, the very next page reads "I wanted that power too," echoing the book’s original French title, Moi aussi je voulais l’emporter, which translates loosely to English as "I wanted to carry it too."
She revisits gendered power structures with respect to visual art, voicing her frustration at the absence of any women’s names among those of the painters in a museum, despite women’s "bodies, their faces, naked or draped" being omnipresent, acting as objects of consumption instead of as autonomous beings capable of producing their own stories.
Alongside her own struggles, and the fear that "women will never have enough time to make art," Delporte grants visibility to her contemporaries and influences, affirming the importance of numerous women painters, filmmakers and cartoonists by reproducing their names and their work in her own text.
Of particular inspiration is Finnish writer and cartoonist Tove Jansson, whose unconventional life causes Delporte to realize "what it means to have a role model." She later makes a pilgrimage to Helsinki to see where Jansson lived, worked and created art well into her 60s, having never married or had children, and having lived with both men and women partners.
For Jansson — and, by extension, for Delporte — the question of how to make art as a woman is essentially the same as how to exist as one. The candid text and striking images of This Woman’s Work capture these negotiations of selfhood and creativity, as Delporte reflects on that which is left unspoken and unfinished, or waiting to be unburied.