La Blanchisseuse is a video examining the tendency that still exists for women to take a greater responsibility than men for domestic work and nurturing.

The images—of a woman ironing first a woman’s top, then a man’s shirt and finally children’s clothing—pay homage in their composition to paintings of laundresses (often titled “La Blanchisseuse”) by such artists as Edgar Degas, Honoré Daumier, Edouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edward Stott and others.

Many of the paintings of laundresses by these artists create an ambiguously gentle impression; some even create an unambiguously gentle impression, portraying the task of laundry as sensual, feminine, and producing contentment. The video La Blanchisseuse examines the link between the images with which we have grown up and the expectations we place upon ourselves.

Texts scroll across the images intermittently, firstly describing elements of some paintings of laundresses—in terms of their appeal as paintings as well as their philosophic suggestions. Literary texts follow—variously alluding to the strong “pull” for a woman to provide nurturing care to others and to the sense of betrayal and rejection that can be the reward for providing such care.

A music soundtrack supports a sense of meditation on the inherent ambiguities. The viewer is thus afforded an opportunity to develop new and creative readings of images of women at work and to consider the emotional/aesthetic underpinnings of women’s complicity in creating the confinement of their situations.

11:00 minutes © 1993
black&white/sound/Beta SP (NTSC) video

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“[...a visual space] whose boundaries are marked less by the subject matter covered than by the personal vision of the artist.”

- Cheryl Chisholm
Curator, Arts Festival of Atlanta

Texts from:
Intrusion (Denise Levertov)
Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (Adrienne Rich)
To The Lighthouse (Virginia Woolfe)

Script, direction, image-processing, editing, cast: Rohesia Hamilton Metcalfe
Composer: Anthony Moore
Musicians: Gary Adler (viola); Aaron Heick (oboe); Roger Scholl (clarinet); Fred Snitzer (cello)
Sound Engineer: Jonathan Duckett

La Blanchisseuse was produced through Artist-in-Residency programs at
The Experimental Television Center Ltd. and Harvestworks/Studio PASS.

Selected Screenings:
Art In General—Celebrating 25 Years of the Experimental Television Center, Ltd. NYC
Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University—Signal to Code
Locarno VideoArt Festival, Switzerland
Dallas Video Festival, TX
American Film Institute Video Festival, LA
Arts Festival of Atlanta, GA
Black Maria Film & Video Festival, NY/NJ
Rockefeller Center Video Wall, New York
DGA, American Cinematheque, Hollywood
WNYC-TV The Independents Series, NYC
WTN/Lifestyle Television, Canada

Director’s Choice Award, Black Maria Film and Video Festival