All about Eve

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art object as irritant, interpretation, didactic, iconoclastic approach, installation, pillows,cotton sheets, embroidered text, power, seduction, seven deadly sins, beds, bed, typefaces, provocation, sexuality, human body, physical, body, rest, renewal, bedroom,social and political forces, power, distortions, relationships, everyday lives, news reports, attitudes, influence of culture on artist practice, values, dependency, self-determination, personal level, political plane, needs and desires


Sterbak likes the idea of art object ‘as irritant’ and insists that the meaning of the work is open to interpretation. ‘I believe the  didacticSomething which is intended to instruct. Sometimes, to be morally instructive. "Didaktikos" is a Greek word that means "apt at teaching." It comes from "didaskein," meaning "to teach." Something didactic does just that: teaches or instructs. Didactic conveyed that neutral meaning when it was first borrowed in the 17th century, and still does; a didactic piece of work is one that is meant to be instructive as well as artistic. Genre painting and sculpture — narrative and often allegorical — is apt to be didactic, especially when its aim is to teach a moral lesson. Didactic now often has negative connotations, because something didactic can be over-burdened with instruction to the point of being dull. Or it might be pompously instructive or moralistic. (  has no place in art,’ she has said. (Newlands, 294)  Her  iconoclasticOriginally, one who destroys sacred religious images (or icons). The original iconoclasts destroyed countless works of art — religious images which were the subject of controversy among Christians of the Byzantine Empire, especially in the eighth and ninth centuries, when iconoclasm was at its height. Those who opposed images did not simply destroy them, although many were demolished; they also attempted to have the images barred from display and veneration. During the Protestant Reformation images in churches were again felt to be idolatrous and were once more banned and destroyed. In the nineteenth century "iconoclast" took on the secular sense that it has today: one who breaks traditions, doctrines, convictions, practices, etc. Dada artist Marcel Duchamp (French, 1887-1968) is the modern archetype of the iconoclast. Iconoclasm is the destruction of images. It can also be attacking of established beliefs. Iconoclastically and iconoclasticism are among many other formations made with the root "icono-." Not all opposition to the display of images is iconoclasm. Extreme opposition is often more akin to censorship or expression of strong distaste. (  approach is present in Attitudes, an  installationAn art work specially designed to fit in or to make use of a specific type of space. It usually consists of more than one element and relates to the space in which it is displayed.  she created in 1987.

Attitudes, from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, is an  installationAn art work specially designed to fit in or to make use of a specific type of space. It usually consists of more than one element and relates to the space in which it is displayed.  of embroidered pillows displayed on four grey-sheeted beds. The white cotton pillows are embroidered with text in various typefaces, and intended to provoke discussion about our ideas of power, seduction and sexuality. The text – Greed, Virtue, Sexual Fantasies, Looks, Repudiation, Disease and Ethics – uses language related to the Seven Deadly Sins.

start quoteIt was amusing to watch the complete reversal of the values which were the foundation of my childhood.end quote-- Jana Sterbak (Nemiroff, 1991)

Sterbak’s art is preoccupied with the human body, and her interest is not restricted to the body’s physical aspects. While the pillows and beds displayed in Attitudes at first suggest the idea of the body at rest and renewal, there are also associations with sexuality in the bedroom.

The texts embroidered on the pillows relate to ideas and situations we encounter in our everyday lives and/or hear about in the news. In this way Sterbak invites us to connect her pillows with personal, social and political forces that we are aware of, and to think about how they complicate and distort relationships between people.


additional resources Things to Think About

Austro Hungary 1914

  • Czechoslovakia only existed from 1918 to 1992.  It was assembled from some of the territory that had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1993 the country peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. What does the history of a country like Czechoslovakia tell you about your ideas of national identity and patriotism?  Find out more about the history of Czechoslovakia at:
  • Find examples of products with monograms on them. By using different typefaces for the texts on her pillows in Attitudes do you think Sterbak is criticizing our ideas of consumer status and materialism?
  • There are no people in the Attitudes installation. What is Sterbak suggesting about her texts by not showing figures of men or women in the work?
  • Sterbak said that art should not be didactic, and yet she places text on the pillows she created to encourage us to think about certain topics of her choosing. Is this didactic, or is it not?
  • In the spirit of Dada, make some labels like the little vinyl labels that you see on different kinds of fruit in the supermarket. Make some labels for apples, for example. Put the “Apples”, “Oranges” and “Grapes” labels on bananas, and watch the bananas go bananas from having an identity crisis. For extra fun, sing “dada dada dada” while you complete this task.
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Feminist art movement information

Sterbak uses everyday items such as food, furnishings, and other household items in her art practice. You might describe these items as traditionally being part of “women’s work” experience. Attitudes is an ordinary bed, with ordinary sheets and pillows. But with just a few words, Sterbak is able to create a whole debate about issues surrounding these objects


Make a list of all the topics you can think of that Sterbak touches on with Attitudes. Start a conversation with other people about why this piece can open up debate. Think about:



Create a response to Sterbak’s piece.

  • Choose one of the words embroidered on the pillow.
  • How would you make a visual response to your chosen word? Here is one example of a response:

    • One of the words is “Virtue”.

      • Compare expectations for girls in the past and in modern society within the western world, or consider and compare the expectations for girls and women between the west and other parts of the world. You could research clothing worn by women and girls in the past or those worn in the present. Are they designed to cover or disguise the body? Or you could explore social rules that girls are/were expected to abide by.

      • Sterbak used a pillow to express an idea. What materials would you use? What item would you create to express your ideas? Examples might include clothing or household items such as a quilt.

      • Create your own visual guide or advice for girls and women to follow. Sterbak’s bed linen is beautifully presented. Make your piece aesthetically pleasing by using beautiful fabrics or handwork.
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There are many articles and websites discussing and showcasing Jana Sterbak’s work. Perhaps her most famous artwork was The Flesh Dress which was shown at the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

  • Other examples of Sterbak’s work may be found at Cybermuse.




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Virtual weaving

Create a fabric sample for a blanket to add to Sterbak’s bed.  To do this:

  • Use the Shapes button and the Select Shape button to select threads.
  • Move the threads around in the Activity window to create a fabric effect.
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Note Sterbak’s themes, influences and materials

Jana Sterbak’s work is about the universal human concerns of power, control and sexuality which are often themes dealt with by women artists, especially since the 1970's when  feministFeminism essentially comprises a number of social, cultural and political movements, theories and philosophies concerned with gender inequalities, and equal rights for people of all genders. Especially since the late 1960s, when the feminist art movement can be said to have emerged, women have been particularly interested in what makes them different from males — what makes women artists and their art different from male artists and their art. This has been most prominent in the United States, Britain, and Germany, although there are numerous precursors to the movement, and it has spread to many other cultures since the 1970s. Feminists point out that throughout most of recorded history males have imposed patriarchal (father-centered) social systems (in which they have dominated females). Although it is not the goal of this article to recount the development of feminist theory in full, the history of feminist art cannot be understood apart from it. Feminist theory must take into account the circumstances of most women's lives as mothers, household workers, and caregivers, in addition to the pervasive misconception that women are genetically inferior to men. Feminist art notes that significant in the dominant (meaning especially Western) culture's patriarchal heritage is the preponderance of art made by males, and for male audiences, sometimes transgressing against females. Men have maintained a studio system which has excluded women from training as artists, a gallery system that has kept them from exhibiting and selling their work, as well as from being collected by museums — albeit somewhat less in recent years than before. (  art became a major factor in the  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (  art world.


Preparing for a positive future

In past eras (and in some cultures today) one of the major tasks for a teenage girl was preparing a trousseau. Girls were expected to make clothing and household items for their future lives as wives. After school, they would be doing chores for their parents or sewing (probably by hand), knitting or weaving. They made all kinds of things, like sheets, pillow slips, tablecloths and even dishcloths to be put into a box for future use. Often clothing and other items placed in the  trousseauThe outfit of a bride, including clothes, jewelry, and the like; especially, that which is provided for her by her family. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary) To see a a sample trousseau box, go to Carter Store:  were embroidered or decorated with lace.


Make an item symbolizes your future

Today, young people have a wide range of options to look forward to in their adult lives. Here are some suggestions for celebrating your opportunities:

    Colourful pillow
  • In response to Jana Sterbak’s pillows, create a pillow with “attitude”
  • Think of a positive message to put on your pillow.

Learn some traditional skills that were used for making clothing and other items. Perhaps you can apply them to your pillow. These skills are becoming  trendySomething that is currently in fashion. Often short-lived as a fashion/fad.  as hobbies for boys as well as girls.  Go to this site for simple “learn to knit” instructions:  Learn to knit or crochet.



Try using unusual materials to create a wall hanging. For example, instead of yarn, you can also use dyed, shredded pieces of dance tights or pantyhose, torn strips of fabric, old neckties, toweling, various widths of string, cord, rope or a wide range of papers, including raffia and corrugated rolls.


Bradley, Jessica.  On the Surface of the Self.  Exhibition catalogue.  MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1989.

Matuz, Roger, ed.  Contemporary Canadian Artists.  Scarborough, Ontario:  Gale Canada, 1997.

Nemiroff, Diana.  States of Being.  Exhibition catalogue.  National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 1991.

Newlands, Anne.  Canadian Art from its Beginnings to 2000.  Willowdale, Ontario:  Firefly Books, 2000.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning