Written in 1892 for The New England Magazine, the text was hailed as a polemic feminist work that vividly explored female tropes of domestic space, motherhood, hysteria and the ‘strangeness’ of the female body. The work in this exhibition at Cob Gallery celebrates this beautifully wrought and terrifying story, reflecting on interior spaces, the power of imagination, and the role of medicine in pathologizing femininity.
The narrative describes a young female writer’s descent into madness at the hands of her physician husband whose misguided treatment for her ‘mild hysteria’ is to keep her secluded in a country house. Forbidden to work, write or socialise she is wracked with increasing bouts of paranoia as the yellow wallpaper of her room becomes a source of hallucinatory horror. Finally she rips the paper down to release a phantom woman trapped behinds its pattern.
Perkins Gilman wrote the story to challenge the medical discourse of the time after experiencing a near brush with insanity. Suffering from mental health issues she was prescribed the ‘rest cure’ by her doctor only for her condition to rapidly deteriorate. Eventually she abandoned the treatment and was restored to a sound mind. New interpretations of the story by contemporary artists tap into female imaginative and creative power – something explicitly suppressed by the ‘rest cure’ prescribed in female hysteria cases in the nineteenth century.
An etching series, 'Descent' and graphite drawing 'Genesis', was produced for the exhibition, addressing the gradual decline of the protagonist after becoming absorbed into the patterns she saw within her wallpaper.
The Yellow Wallpaper was on show from 22nd June - 21st July 2012 at Cob Gallery London.