– excerpt from: Dreamworlds 2: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video
Tag Archives: Women’s Studies
Living adjacent to Williamsburg which boasts a growing community of starving artists in $3,000 a month lofts, I’ve come across not only a population of artists, but also their social havens that feature their work and their undulating poems.
The social spots are considered by many to be a brewing pot of progressive thought where the next generation goes to nourish its mind and soul and yet some how the “art work” displayed consisting of red spray-painted bare-breasted torsos and vintage prints of pointy-bra pulp women just don’t seem progressive at all in my eyes. But these poor souls and their interpretation of acceptable art work does not only dwell in casual settings featuring $4 beers, but on top of the most elite mountain of art as well.
Upon my last visit to the MoMA, I passed by one abstract exhibit after another, ascending floor by floor to what I believed would be art bliss. On my journey, I heard rumors of the featured Venezuelan artist that tickled my curiosity. This interest peaked once I reached the top floor where his exhibit was stationed as I passed by a group of white-haired socialites donning Burberry trench coats.
“Mmmm, it is very fascinating.”
“I absolutely adore his work.”
“It’s a thrill to have his work displayed here.”
As I walked through the exhibit, I was met with the awkward greetings of boobs. In fact, there were so many of them that I walked around the exhibit counting on my fingers how many paintings there were with bare breasts for no apparent reason, and had to switch my tally to how many paintings featured women who were actually covered. My tally proved to be disheartening, and the bare breasts won 10-1.
Of course, this argument is met by defense from individuals saying “But, the female body is beautiful.”
Well, this is true. The human body in general is a wonderful thing to celebrate, but there is a sharp distinction between using art to celebrate and empower versus usurping. One must ask what type of role the female is playing in the art piece. For instance, is she taking a part in a significant action? Does she have a character? Does she even have a head? Is she a subject or an object?
In this case, the woman’s breasts splattered across the canvas took away any sort of subjectivity this woman might have and instead objectified the woman for her two circular commodities. In many paintings, the woman was headless, lurking naked in the background. In some pieces, there was a male character, dressed of course, but always accompanied by the two perfect and perky bulls-eyes, which, all ladies know simply don’t exist in reality. Keeping all this in mind, one must ask what kind of position do these paintings place women in? What story is being told and most importantly, whose point of view is this story being told from?
According to the Guerilla girls, only 3% of the artists in the Met. are female, where as 83% of the nudes portraits are of women. This does not mean that there are less female artists in the world it means that male artists are more likely to gain recognition. Not only are these males picked to share their works with the public and gain publicity, they are the ones who get to choose what images will be shared with the public. The nude portraits, therefore, are mostly created by males who, no matter how many times will study a nude model, will never quite understand how the female body works and who many times, have a distorted notion of sexuality.
There are still individuals who simply don’t see the harm in any type of imagery, seeing an invisible line between fantasy and reality that can never be breached. Art, in this case, is the vessel for imagery where the imagination can go off to play with no expense, yet this holds no verity. Every image and every piece of “art” whether its meant for one’s twisted fantasy or not has an impact on what our society deems as normal and acceptable. Not only this, it paves the way for sexism to survive in a helmeted shell as carrying the “art” label usually puts the skeptics glances at ease.
A perfect and fairly extreme example of life imitating “art” comes in the form of a December 1984 issue of Penthouse that featured a photo-essay by photographer Akira Ishagaki. Ishagaki basically played into a necrophilia fantasy entitled Sakura which he explains:
Sakura is the word for the cherry blossom. From my childhood . . . I recall the resemblance between the petals of the cherry blossom and a woman’s body. In the spring of my twelve years, I caressed the petals with my fingers, kissed them gently with my lips.
His words pave way for what one would think to be a flowery and beloved portrayal of women. Instead, his images depict an array of women’s bodies in sexually charged post-mortem positions. The images, all taking after Asian influence, are bleak and reek of death. One picture in particular, had a woman with a Japanese-looking outfit hanging limp from a tree, her arms bound behind her back, her head slumped forward, her leg exposed up to her thigh.
Two months later after the issue hit the shelves, Jean Kar-Har Fewel, an 8-year old Chinese girl, was found raped and murdered hanging from a tree.
Once a piece of art meets our society’s artistic standards, that piece, the image it beholds and the story it tells sets up invisible social structures and defines the norm. The norm, in many cases, seems to be that women are itching to be topless, and as Ishagaki portrayed, disposable. The Venezuelan exhibit told me that women are dispensable. All of the portrayed women are alike, have no character and submit to any sexual advances. The most likely cause of the problem is that this is the story that men are telling. These men are setting the roles and putting the pieces into place from their point of view, and it comes to no surprise that there are both men and women out there that believe many of these images are true and normal because they’ve been handed a set script of how they should act at a very young age.
Every aspect of media has a consequence on our society, and the art world is no exception. The usurpation of the female body is all too commonplace, and many pieces of art illustrate this quite well. Just because an individual is an artist, does not make that artist all-knowing or that viewpoint the truth. For the most part, the images we see of women are through the eyes of men, and those works created by women are too far and few between. In this case, art is not imitating life, but changing our lives to imitate a lie.
-written by Elena Gaudino
“You spelled my name wrong”
Those were the opening words shot at me during what I had wrongly assumed would be the best interview of my entire life. I quickly tried to recover, noting that I knew perfectly well how to spell her name and that spell check must have automatically changed it. I apologized a dozen times for such a rookie mistake and crossed my fingers that the rest of the interview would proceed a bit smoother . . .
It only got worse.
As I left the interview almost in tears, I retreated to the floor bathroom post analysis and came across one of the interviewers who had treated me well.
“Baby boomers have this . . . thing . . . against the millennial generation.” She explained during our surprise re-encounter. I thought about those words as I walked out of the building and back onto Broadway where I retreated back into my thoughts.
So because of my date of birth my value is seen as virtually non-existent? Or was it because I did not have a superior amount of credentials? I am, after all, quite fresh out of college sans graduate student status. Regardless, never before had I felt so gutted and worthless. There was no sense of respect whatsoever. I expected this from a large financial firm questioning me for a high-income job or some hoity-toity socialite not pleased with her caviar dish or . . .
“Heyyyy sexy,” a loiter called out to me. I looked to the loiter then back to the grey building that entrapped the recent memories and saw no difference. Except, inside that building was an organization geared towards empowering women. After all, it was a non-profit feminist journalism organization.
Seeking a career in feminism came natural to me. I had always considered myself a feminist even at the age of six when I transformed our class “Bug Book” by placing an “S” in front of every “He,” discouraged by the lack of female characters introduced to me. Of course during the course of my life there have been foggy definitions and misinterpretations, but as I became more aware of the downright landfill placed onto the face of women because of our patriarchal societal structures, lies and the power of the almighty dollar, I not only became passionate to seek more information and disburse it amongst others, but to destroy the perpetrators.
But of course my efforts for this noble fight in college via television, print and radio meant nothing once I graduated. A community of professors, directors and students eager and willing to support one another and help save others had disappeared like water escaping through cupped hands. I thought coming into New York knowing a city so big should have organizations of every interest, I would be sure to find a home and begin a fruitful life changing peoples’ lives as a living, even if only a little. Instead, in this instance, I saw a modern day girls club who turn their noses to those who are not of their stature.
I am ashamed for them. They’ve lost touch with their roots and the reason they exist. Feminism was born to give women a spirit and a soul and take them out of their physical definitions. Feminism knows no boundaries of material possessions and wealth, knows that those dwelling in a lower status were placed there by unfit powers and grabs their hands and pulls them up. Feminism takes in all women, wraps them into a blanket of support and empowerment, feeds them the truth and forgives their mistakes. We have to support one another. If we cannot, then no one will.
I do believe one of the women that I had met that day had lost touch of the meaning of her organization’s existence as well as the ideals upheld in feminism. I also know that there are organizations, and have interned at one, that are warm, welcoming and ultimately dedicated towards a better future for all women. I just find it sad that I, as a woman, who had so much hope and reverence and so quick to give my dedication, was ridiculed and trampled on by an organization whose mission it is to raise up the status of women around the world.
– written by Elena Gaudino