It’s interesting that Ukeles started her investigations with the more personal and domestic aspects of traditional women’s work  (housework ) and then broadened this out to the work place and then the sanitation department which has traditionally been male-dominated.  Women clean the houses and offices; men clean the streets.

I thought of the exhibit at MOMA – Counter design and the modern kitchen — the exhibit begins with the “modern kitchen” -efficient, practical and egalitarian –  most famously in the  1920’s Frankfurt kitchen –designed by a woman.

These time and labor-saving kitchens were meant to free women from the drudgery of housework and were affordable for everyone. The US  ‘dream kitchen’ of the post-war years kept women where corporate America wanted them – in the home and buying things  — the new kitchen appliances and designs were marketed as freeing the US housewife for more leisure time, but not necessarily for the purpose of more freedom or productivity outside the home.   I think this helped turn us into such a wasteful culture — our obsession with the ‘new’, keeping up with the neighbors, and the idea that bigger is better.

(Check out also Martha Rosler performance video piece – ‘Semiotics of the Kitchen’).

Ukeles ‘Touch Sanitation’ – shaking hands  acknowledges the person behind the work being done.  It was interesting to think about this project and our western beliefs and fears about dirt/garbage/hygiene in relation to the Hindu caste system and the discrimination and persecution of the Dalits.  While obviously very different circumstances, here in the US there are still assumptions made about the people who take care of the trash and the remnants of goods ( thinking of slaughter houses, poultry factories..)   I am interested in the oral history component as too often the people behind these jobs remain faceless and voiceless.


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