A mixed media textural piece using biographical and female imagery, focusing on the theme of the male gaze.
Created in response to the Success exhibition brief, Sirens is rooted deep in feminist art theory, which I included more instinctually than purposefully. A photo collage made up of found photographs of the female form from every decade of the last century and this one, I layered the images and weathered them to resemble ripped billboard posters. Introducing the theme of voyeurism, all the images are carefully posed; the women are not smiling and enjoying the activities portrayed for themselves, but for the benefit of the audience. Although much of the imagery used seems carefree, it hosts a subtle narrative of surveillance.
"Men ‘act’ and women ‘appear.’ Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at."
-Berger, ‘Ways of Seeing’
Onto this collage I painted, not a self-portrait, but an autobiographical figure, with elements extracted from photographs of myself taken over various years. The girl portrayed has never existed. Much like in Kahlo’s self portraits, where the figure is not often an accurate depiction of herself, or rather, not a photorealist documentation of ones appearance, but a representation of personal identity and feeling.
I chose to represent this image on top of the photographs, blotting out and obscuring the women beneath, but still in areas the ink creeps through and become apart of the painted image. I am an amalgam of all the women who have come before me, and with my apathetic outlook on life I question ‘have all these years really just lead to this?’. By creating the work using several fragments of misshapen cardboard, the figure is literally torn, incomplete; parts are missing, sections of her body ripped away from her. The work looks disposable, just as she is. ‘Sirens’ is a disheartened muddle of political ideals and emotions underscoring a personal identity crisis and cry for explanation.
The posed female is so familiar in artworks it might not appear unusual to an audience. But, by using it exclusively, thus omitting any visual representation of the male figure, I aim to bring the observers attention to this deliberate exclusion, the subject matter is the Male Gaze, and so the audience must deduce that they are in fact the male element and, by viewing the art work, they are actually a part of it. The masculine commentary exists in the subject matter and the living breathing, fluid audience. But the feminine component is not completely passive; she stares back.
Eye contact has been an interesting subject, particularly in the representation of women, because stereotypically the woman is passive- to be looked at, not to look. Eye contact, in female imagery particularly, is thought to be sexually provocative, perhaps because the eyes are in fact an orifice. It is said that if you can hold eye contact with a person for more than six seconds it means they either want to sleep with you or murder you. Two incredibly [and yet not so?] opposing reactions.
But my figure does not necessarily want to be looked at, at least not in the sense that Berger means; she wants recognition. In a slightly defensive pose, she does not ‘gaze’, but stares out the viewer with an almost desperation, a need for answers. The women behind her are a painfully stereotypical representation of the successful female: youthful, white, physically abled, slim. The painted girl is a mishmash of coloured brush strokes, not a person, but a reproduction- her hands defensibly guarding her rounded abdomen, proclaiming her as a reproductive vessel.
Sirens was not received positively, because the exclusion of the male form was assumed to be an oversight, not a deliberate omission. I think my work has always fitted better into ‘Art Therapy’ side of Art opposed to the product created for an audience. It is very fitting that the girl in the paintings intentions were misunderstood. I personally cannot make eye contact with her without wanting to cry – but I know the questions she is pleading to be answered.