In Possession of Weapons: Guns and Violences in the Work of Contemporary Women Artists

Buckley, Bernadette. 2024. In Possession of Weapons: Guns and Violences in the Work of Contemporary Women Artists. New Formations: A Journal of Culture, Theory, Politics(110), ISSN 0950-2378 [Article] (Forthcoming)

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Abstract or Description

How does one position oneself in a world that threatens constantly to destroy one’s ability to live peaceably? To explore this and related issues, the current essay focuses on works by women artists in which guns are pivotal or prominently featured. Yet it is not so much the guns themselves that are of interest here, but the way that in the hands of women artists, they allow us to perceive the frequently unacknowledged multiplicity, obscurity and aleatory workings of violence. Why, when one is in a position to pull the trigger, one would not do so? In tackling these questions, the essay considers how the artists Milica Tomić, Olivia Plender, Maria Kulikovska and Rita Duffy use guns to raise questions about the radically conflicting modalities of violence that are routinely folded into a single term. In such art, the gun – that which so often is used to situate women as passive possessions in need of defence – is now paradoxically positioned. Itself less the focus of analysis, these artists’ guns re, on the one hand, symbolic of the delegation to some and not to others of the right to self-preservation. On the other, they are the very means by which political, sexual and bodily integrity and agency can be restored; the means by which art can strike out at violence with violences of their own.

Drawing in particular on Elsa Dorlin’s work, as well as on classical philosophies of violence, the essay thus considers the question of violent self-defence as an aesthetic, political and somatic counteroffensive. It shows how in the hands of women artists, art emerges not as a routine, representational response to (gun) violence, but as that which has the capacity to generate, to act within and upon a variety of violence(s) in ways that reveal and transform their conditions.

Item Type:



guns in art; women artists; feminist theories of violence; modalities and styles of violence; critiques of violence; practices of self-defence; martial ethics

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12 January 2024Accepted

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Date Deposited:

22 Jan 2024 13:18

Last Modified:

23 Jan 2024 05:48

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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