Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is most widely known for her Nanas. Those large, boisterously bright sculptures of voluptuous women, a colourful feminist manifesto, can be found all around the world. However, it was the Shooting Paintings that paved her way to fame in the early 1960s. And they continue to have an effect on contemporary art. You want an example? Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is one.
Niki de Saint Phalle’s father raped her when she was eleven. At the age of twenty-three, she had a nervous breakdown. She had been painting before, but it was only now that art revealed itself, as for so many others, to be an actual therapy. The horror of the abuse found its final and most spectacular outburst in her Shooting Paintings.
By shooting pieces of art, she turned the tables to be the violator herself. She made the paternalistic world she had depicted bleed. And along the way, through destruction, she created something radically new.
We all know the story of Kill Bill. “The Bride”, as she is called for most parts of the two movies and thus reduced to her mere social role, seeks revenge. Bill, her former lover, shot her down while she carried his baby. Years later, she wakes up from the coma, realising she was regularly raped by a hospital worker when she was unconscious.
Beatrix Kiddo, her last name indicates the disdain of a world ruled by men, sets out to avenge a lost child. She does so by shedding blood. Interestingly, her personal vendetta starts in a highly bourgeois neighbourhood, the cradle of paternalism. In the middle of the fight, a child enters. It is called Nikki.
Bill, for his part, dies from an exploding heart. Tarantino leaves the final bloodbath to our imagination.
The many parallels, the gunshot, the rape, the lost child(hood), may be a matter of pure coincidence. But the predominant theme of a woman exorcising the demons that haunt her by taking bloody revenge on the paternalistic world for the abuse it is guilty of is not. And the artistic virtuosity of those works is neither. Quentin Tarantino and Niki de Saint Phalle are quite simply two outstanding artists of the 20th and 21st century.
Check out the exhibition about Niki de Saint Phalle at the ARKEN Museum for Moderne Kunst close to Copenhagen from 13 February to 12 June 2016. And if you’re interested in her sculptures, have a look at these volumes here: