2 Artworks by Barbara Kruger

Question: Explain how ideas and meanings that consider gender are encoded in the symbols and material properties of 2 artworks by Barbara Kruger.


Barbara Kruger is a post-modern artist well known for her use of silkscreen prints when creating her pieces of art. Usually, Barbara had a trend of placing a direct as well as brief caption across any form of picture or photograph she developed (The Art Story Foundation 2017, p.1). The artwork by Barbara presented different ideas and meanings and especially those associated with gender. Her art majorly in the 1980s have a historical encapsulation of the Reaganomics period. This paper will be explaining ways in which ideas and meanings that consider gender are encoded in the symbol and material properties of 2 artworks by Barbara Kruger.

The Selected 2 Artworks

For the purpose of discussing the main subject in this assignment, the two artworks by Barbara chose to demonstrate the ideas and meaning of that consider gender and how they are encoded in the symbols and material properties include the “You are not Yourself” and “Your Body is a Battle Ground” pieces of art.

“You are not Yourself” is Barbara’s 1984 piece of art. The words placed on a shattered mirror depict an image of woman examining herself on that particular mirror. It visually and explicitly presents a woman as a social construct that is not important. The artwork “Your body is a Battleground” was created in 1989 and Barbara Kruger wanted to address the native tongue of the female gender as sensational, direct, tabloid and authoritative (The Broad 2017, p.1).
Ideas and Meanings that consider gender

When describing the artwork by Barbara Kruger, one can say it is representing extract expressionism. Barbara created the above pieces of art by taking images from the mass media and pasting words over them (The Art Story Foundation 2017, p.1). The extracts are bold and large texts in the form of slogans. The idea and meaning of Barbara were to use short words that when a person reads, one would think of the ironies contained in the conventional wisdom in them. For example, “You are not Yourself” are short words that Barbara used in creating the piece of the image that draws the audience to understanding the woman/female gender.

The face of the woman in the mirror superimposes the idea of destabilizing the female gender.
The idea and meaning of the “Your body is a Battleground” was to use a combination of words and images to create two worlds for a woman both commercial as well as art worlds. The image depicts a critical reasoning of culture across hierarchies whereby every person and everything is for selling. Historically, in 1989, it was a year characterized by many demonstrations showing a new signal of antiabortion laws. Therefore, Barbara Kruger is known to have created the photograph “Your body is a battleground” for the purpose of supporting the reproductive freedom of women at that time (The Broad 2017, p.1).

Symbols and Material

“You are not Yourself”

In the “You are not Yourself” picture, Barbara used the mirror as a symbol and material to pass her message about the woman depicted in the image to the audience. The idea behind using a shattered mirror as material and placing the “You are not yourself” words was to interpret the myth of a woman as a system that is separate from man but also of herself.
The use of graphic methods that are bold is a symbol of jarring the woman in the mirror and the viewer as well. Here, Barbara intended to deliver a wake-up call from the information that is submitted by the society. By using the word “not” place in small size, Barbara used it as a symbol of revealing the social attempts of influencing women to believe that “You are Yourself.” It is to say that women as individuals here are depicted as having a responsibility of their positions in life. The words “You are Not Yourself” are an illustration of the “Woman” as consisting of broken parts, different roles as well as expectations that the society forces on her.
In reality, the symbol and material of a mirror should be revealing the real as well as complete representation of oneself. However, the mirror used by Barbara in her photograph is a fragmented one and distorts the woman’s image. The woman is seen picking up a single shard and examining it which reveals the inability of recognizing her reflection. The parts of the mirror could not fit together as a whole, meaning that a woman has no possibility of becoming what the society anticipates of her. Here, one can say that a woman’s construct is a form of identity that serves the purpose of alienating an individual from the inner powers and capabilities of the self. Barbara wanted to show that it is the society that creates the identity of a woman. Hence, developing a prison of glass from which she has no possibility of escaping.

“Your Body is a Battleground”

The symbols and materials used to create photograph include an image of a woman and the words “Your body is a battleground.” From the picture, one can see that Barbara presented the face of the woman as disembodied and split. The splitting of the face is showing both positive as well as negative exposures. The test is obscured as an indication of a division. One can evaluate the photograph as an art that reveals a protest. Even though the origin of the picture “Your body is a battleground” depicts a particular moment, it has the power of showing that the work was a declaration of timelessness. Barbara’s aim of using the image and words still applies in today’s society. Caldwell (2016, p.1) and Mitchell and Kruger (1991, p.434) support that the reasoning used by Barbara in creating the “Your Body is Battleground” piece of art still applied in today’s society and this is evident in the U.S.
The two artworks by Barbara Kruger discussed in this paper are “You are not Yourself” and “Your Body is a Battleground.” The discussion confirms that the ideas and meanings that consider gender are encoded in the symbols and material properties of the artworks based on how Barbara designed them. Barbara Kruger used short words and placed them on top of images of women. The female gender has a direct depiction in the two photographs. The artist depicted the idea and meaning of the symbols and material properties by using them based on particular periods when specific happenings were taking place in history. It is to say that the pictures have a historical meaning to the audience. The symbols of words and materials of glass and images encode gender in the two artworks of Barbara Kruger.


The Art Story Foundation. (2017). American Designer, Graphic Artist, and Photographer. Modern Art Insight. Available from <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kruger-barbara.htm>
The Broad. (2017). Barbara Kruger: Untitled (Your body is a battleground) 1989. Available from < http://www.thebroad.org/art/barbara-kruger/untitled-your-body-battleground>
Caldwell, E. (2016). The History of “Your body is a Battleground.” Justor Daily. Available from < https://daily.jstor.org/the-history-your-body-is-a-battleground/>
Mitchell, W. and Kruger, B. (1991). An Interview with Barbara Kruger. Critical Inquiry, 17(2), pp. 434-448