Normally I hate “suggestions” from social media platforms. We all know how it goes: you “like” one person’s post about a sandwich and suddenly you’re flooded with suggestions to follow McDonald’s, Wendy’s and all things pickles.
This time, though, I was grateful to Tumblr for introducing me to Laura Berger, artist. In an interview from a few years ago, Hypertext Magazine wrote this, which perfectly articulates why I was captivated by her work:
“Working with gouache and acrylic, her work is focused on exploring connections to ourselves and each other, and the idea of finding novelty and adventure in everyday life. She’s interested in rituals, the quest for self-development, and how we piece it all together to create personal meaning and a sense of belonging to the greater whole.” – Hypertext Magazine
I love the feeling of community and togetherness, especially when expressed as women holding each other up. That is such a powerful message for us.
I also love seeing such a wide array of depictions from different women artists the more I browse or go out. There are so many different styles, voices, messages and invitations to simply experience the work. I love our voices. Our many exquisitely diverse voices.
Editor’s note: One of today’s Women on Wednesdays posts comes from contributor Penelope. This piece is speaks to a deep issue many of us face: that we have not known ourselves before others have gotten to know us. Women’s bodies are often objectified and labeled as inherently sexual, bad, evil, sinful as well as something that must be covered, controlled, policed. For example, as mentioned in another recent piece on clothesfreelife.com, “wow: free to art” women artists were not allowed to see and articulate the female nude although men artists had been allowed to do so for centuries. Even male doctors were allowed to see, diagnose and treat us while we were rarely, if ever, encouraged to look at our own bodies. Penelope’s piece is quite timely during an important cultural, social and political transition. Finally women are beginning to have these conversations around reclaiming agency for their own bodies, looking at them and treating them on our own terms. This is something Paulette Leaphart encourages us women to do. This piece continues this important conversation.
As a young girl, I knew the awkwardness – the queasy feeling taking over your chest when certain topics float around your airspace. I have felt my skin crawl at the mere mention of the word “childbirth” sometimes even in recent times. A long time ago, in a Caribbean classroom, I was one of the girls squirming, reading Annie John, as Jamaica Kincaid so vividly recreates the ever looming inevitable, which circled almost all our heads at the time — the first menstrual cycle.
I have to admit, I was right in the middle of being under- and misinformed. I was almost afraid of my “lady bits”. I found all kinds of names for it which were neither scientific, nor traditional, but a euphemism. I can’t remember when a thing of beauty, like a yoni, or vagina, started needing a euphemism, and I don’t know when it became okay to use swear words or insults interchangeably with the word vagina, and I don’t know, but something in me, felt like there had to be more to the vagina, to my entire physical reproductive system.
I wanted nothing to do with the idea of a vagina that just randomly, without warning, starts bleeding on you one day, and then continues to do so every month, unless you become pregnant. That, in itself, was something that could happen at any time, and was introduced to us as something that was completely out of our control. There was me, the woman, and my almost-out-of-control parts, which supposedly made me so unfortunate to be a woman.
It was only after young boys had invented, and popularized the old “mirror on the shoe” trick, to check out girls’ underwear, that I thought of this new perspective for viewing my body – from the bottom up. I would lay my mirror on the floor, while oiling my skin after showers, often moving to the sound of my own beat, watching the meat on my buttox and vagina bounce in the aftershock of my movement. I was completely captivated, like a lover laying under that beautiful sight.
For months, the post-shower dance alone would go on, and I would be come more aware, and in turn, more curious, and eventually even more aware of more of my pelvic parts. I began feeling sensations in my uterus more distinctly, I felt around and became more involved, with a part of the body often ignored until it’s about to be loved up by another, or is in need of help. I was relentless in getting to know myself and my body as much as I possibly could.
Today, I am so thankful for those moments, dancing around with my mirror on the floor, getting to know myself on a real and raw basis, becoming more and more aware of more, and deeper parts of me. Getting to love all of me, by beginning to know all of me. I got the rare opportunity to develop a relationship with parts of me overlooked by anyone but a lover. I got to see myself through the eyes of a lover, and see a new perspective on my beauty and essence. I have to acknowledge those moments, of playing mirror, mirror on the floor, as a period of great growth, understanding and confidence, and speak of those times with fondness and gratitude.
Photographer Kacy Johnson heads to Detroit, MI for her project FEMALE
“For me, the little something magic about these portraits lies in the ability to show each woman’s unique story while also celebrating the shared lived experience of being female. I do my best to balance intuition and also choose locations that build upon the narrative that is coming together here, and I believe that we’ll find amazing women and amazing stories in Detroit.
As always, I will be looking for women to photograph. There are never castings for this project. The only requirement is that you identify as female.
I also have some plans for oversees portrait trips in the works, and I’ll be offering opportunities for this beautiful community to support those those by buying prints or maybe crowdfunding a book. What would you be most interested in investing in to allow this project to continue to grow?”
If you identify as Female and are in/near Detroit, get in touch with Kacy to participate in the project!
Through her portraits, Frolova alludes to art history’s penchant for eroticizing the female form while manipulating her subjects’ bodies to fit contemporary standards of decorum. The resulting images teeter between enchanting and disturbing, illuminating how the ongoing conversation about women’s bodies, more complex and insidious than it first appears, can’t be encapsulated with a single hashtag.
Frolova’s “Busts” offer a hallucinatory image of acceptable femininity ― something which, in real life, simply does not exist. “More than communicating a specific thought directly, I hope to leave an image in a viewer’s mind, like an emblem, that can recall the contradictory relationship between the highly censored yet sexualized female bodies in the media,” the artist said.
As for what Frolova’s audience does with the visual input conveyed in the uncanny artworks, that’s up to them. “The conversation they choose to have based on that dynamic is their own.”
Did you know that women artists in Europe and the United States were prohibited from studying the nude figure until the end of the 19th century? I certainly didn’t until I took a walk through the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, DC this week. Read more wow: free to art
August 19-21, 2016 I found myself running around the hills and trees of Camp Ramblewood stark naked during Field Festival 2016. I was one of very few women who had opted to go nude at this clothing optional event. What’s more is that I was the only black woman who chose to bare much of anything. Black women wore the most clothing of all women present at that festival, considering that even other women of color experimented with going bare chested or completely nude.
I find nothing wrong with one choosing to wear clothes. I believe that we all should have the right to choose how much or how little we want to wear and to be respected. I did not poll the women at the festival to ask them why they chose to wear what they wore. In fact, many people took this festival as an opportunity to use clothing etc. to express themselves in ways they might not normally get to do in la vie quotidienne. However, this observed pattern around black women at the festival raised some thoughts for me, personally, given conversations I have had with women of color, recent news media and stories shared by black women through various mediums. Read more wow: i’m here, i’m me
I don’t aspire for a world in which everyone is nude all of the time. I do, however, aspire for a world in which everyone has the right to choose how little or how much to wear without being penalized. Read more wow: choice
If we’re pointing out the most pervasive tropes in art history, it’s difficult to get past the female nude. From Rokeby Venus, Velazquez’s sensual tribute to the Roman goddess of love, to Olympia, Manet’s 1863 rendition of a lounging courtesan, these naked women have long anointed as geniuses the Great Male Artists who conceived them.
And these geniuses weren’t just dab hands with oil paint! Their nudes were so masterly, they also sowed the seeds for a de facto femininity, one that cast women as sensuous nymphs for the taking or coy objects whose contours only appeared once a man imagined them into being.
As a teenager with a growing art history obsession, I scoured textbooks for paintings of female bodies that weren’t a projection of male desire but a reflection of the flesh-and-blood women I knew. The fact that my search yielded nothing was proof of a world in which a male expression of the female experience is considered more authoritative than a female expression of her own experience. God, it was so depressing.