Reclaiming the Feminine Image
The male gaze is a hot topic of discussion in the art world. Countless of critiques have been made to assess the lack of female artists prevalent in the artistic limelight. Rather, females have been historically deemed worthy to play the part of the artistic subject. In other words, historically, women weren’t encouraged to study art, rather they were studied through art.
First, I would like to note that art becomes reflective of the popular cultures and social beliefs present during the life-span of the respective artist. In other terms, artists typically comment on topics that are current in social conversations. Historically, it was common for academic, male artists to train by painting still-lives… or more specifically nude portraits of women. At the time, women were usually subject of prostitution or considered to be sexual objects. Thus, women were posed beneath the male artist, while exuding a submissive atmosphere.
As exemplified in Pablo Picasso’s artwork, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), 5 women are depicted as objects to be viewed by the male eye. Ultimately, the females are posed as if they are waiting for their next client. Through this observation, it becomes evident that Picasso is reflecting the accepted social reality of females as sexual objects. Yet, he depicts them as less than human. The depiction provides a cubist commentary through defined, hard shapes, rough brushstrokes and dehumanized features. The female becomes more objectified than the unidentifiable bowl of fruit positioned before the models.
The themes of sexualized objectification are still present in our current society, although the impact may be visible through different circumstances. Women are no longer stereotyped heavily through prostitution, yet the feminine image is still comparable to submissive, docile characters.
I want to close the gap between the years of female depictions as sexualized subjects and depict a modern rendition of one of the most iconic paintings created by the male gaze. This time, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon will be depicted by modern day women, captured by the female eye to reclaim body and identity. The models stand empowered by re-humanizing their presence in front of the lens which becomes a window to society. The animal-like depictions of prostitutes awaiting their next client are replaced with the powerful, everyday, real female identity. These women exist not for the male gaze, but rather by owning their own image.
Top photo courtesy of Viiein Dampier
Bottom photo courtesy of Shayla Hickerson
Models from left to right: Saskia Pateman, Adelie Bergstrom, Elizabeth Alberta, Adrianna Harvey, Sonny Rupert