« through the ages, one of the sexes has been constantly, looked at, drawn, sculpted, venerated, appropriated, raped, covered, mutilated, prostitued, adored, feared, dreaded, hated and praised by the other. Woman by man » Nancy Huston.
For years, women have struggled to find their place as artists. Omnipresent in art representations, she takes the form that man gives her : Mary the mother, Magdalen the whore, Venus the goddess, the anonymous courtisan and many others. Women’s beauty is represented in the eye of man. Today, women are catching up years of female artistic void. For the first time a real message is carried by contemporary female artists. Slowly but surely, women are finding their place in the forefront of the contemporary art scene.
Through five artworks of different female contemporary artists, we will attempt to analyse the message, the representation of a woman by another woman. How she sees herself, how she apprehends her body or hates it.
Marlene Dumas, Fingers, 1999
This oil on canvas by Marlene Dumas adresses the theme of the female body eroticised. Dumas goes further and suggests a pornographic staging of the naked female body. This forced disarticulation reproduces and imitates poses seen in pornographic images. The woman’s body does not belong to her anymore. She is an object on earth destined to please man and only man. The girl loses herself, she is disincarnated : an empty body that the girl has left to obey man and society.
Nan Goldin, All by myself, 1995
In this image, photographer Nan Goldin brings us in a raw and frightening intimacy, the intimacy of abuse. This shot is even more disturbing when you know that Nan Goldin herself took the picture of herself after she got beat up by her boyfriend. The distance we usually feel towards such images when the person is anonymous doesn’t exist anymore. The broken woman facing us is the author of this image, she has a name, she exists.
Jenny Saville, Plan, 1993
In Plan by Jenny Saville, a woman’s overwieght body is represented before a liposuccion operation. The lines traced on her skin outline this body that has become a piece of meat that will be cut up, sliced, denatured. This painting like a Rubens gone bad is difficult to watch. When seeing the flesh of the almost supernatural obesity and the topography of the surgery it is about to receive, the viewer feels sickened towards this morbid portrait.
Barbara Kruger, Your body is a battleground, 1989
Barbara Kruger’s compositions are clear and direct almost like advertisements. They raise issues concerning the female body and alienation – alienation in the sense that society forces women to see themselves through the eyes of men and furthermore to be constantly comparing themselves from a male point of view. In our society the female body may be seen as a weapon, however a dangerous weapon where women may in the end be the losers ; no longer knowing how to use their bodies as society, in particular men have taken control of the female body. Women no longer have control over their bodies; how is it possible that the female body is at one and the same time so powerful and yet embodies the inequalities that exist between the sexes.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #13, 1978
Cindy Sherman in her Untitled Film Still #13 uses her own image to represent the figure of a young woman in the 1960s – an archetype of femininity. The artist has learned to identify visual clichés from the media and representations of the female. She then recomposes the images using irony and satire and forces the viewer to engage with the hypocracy and superficiality of the image of the modern female.