Sophia Hewson | “are you ok bob?”

In her latest video performance work, Sophia Hewson engages with the male gaze at its most confrontational. Exploring the psyche of male domination in rape, Hewson reveals the multifaceted dialogue that emerges from this act, and what it represents for the imbalance of male and female agency in society.


Positioning herself in the role of the victim Hewson stares into the gaze of the camera, which is placed from the perspective of the male rapist.  The fixed shot prevents the viewer from averting their gaze from hers, as a stranger enacts a ‘rape representation’ orchestrated by the artist.

Outlining the intended confrontation, Hewson states, “The raped woman is nearly always depicted with her face downcast and her eyes averted.The most confronting aspect of Untitled (“are you ok bob?”), isn’t watching as a woman is struck or penetrated, it’s seeing her look back out at us from the experience. Caught in her gaze, the viewer is not only forced to bear witness to her subjectivity, but implicated in her desolation.”

Building from this, the title Untitled (“are you ok bob?”) is equally disarming, referring to the first words spoken by the artist after the act, off camera. ‘bob’ was the man’s pseudonym, and the comment was unscripted. The statement highlights the orchestrated nature of the event, with the artist in control.

Through this question Hewson also intentionally highlights throughout history the way in which women are still encouraged to put others’ emotional wellbeing before their own, “Women who prioritise the emotional well-being of others; women who cannot extricate themselves from grief or abuse because they’ve been taught to bury their needs, – these things aren’t just socially encouraged, they’re the residue of female subjugation”.

Negotiating this dialogue is riddled with issues of sexual choice, slut shaming, and the social shame that can follow such a trauma. In this endurance act Hewson challenges the social paradigms that govern the choices and arguments of male and female power, as she succinctly sums up, “In the ideology of the patriarchy we are forced to choose: devastated women or guilty slut / demonic villain or persecuted man. In this work similarly we choose: so perhaps the question is not ‘who is using whom in this situation’, but ‘why are we forced to choose at all?”

Opening this Thursday 19 May, and an artist talk Saturday 28 May, Hewson’s video work promises to be a powerful stimulus to revaluate what is left unquestioned.

Sophia Hewson | are you ok bob
19 May – 2 June
MARS Gallery 
Opening Thursday 19 May, 6-8pm
Artist Talk 28 May, 3pm

Image: Sophia Hewson, Untitled (“are you ok bob?”), video still
Courtesy the artist and MARS Gallery

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