In a recent ARTnews essay, Wangechi Mutu -- the artist of the work above -- implored her fellow feminists to not only think deeply about the amount of women artists active in the contemporary art world, but also the way women are portrayed in artworks themselves.
“How often do women appear in art, and how do they sit and perform in the works?" she asks. "Is the figure always represented as docile, inactive, sexualized, or subordinate? Does she have an inferior role in a larger narrative that emphasizes the superiority of the male protagonist? Is her appearance stereotypical in terms of weight, skin color, hair texture, and facial expression?"
Do you know what Mutu's talking about here? Shall we take a five-second tour through art history to refresh our memories?
In part inspired by Mutu's words, Rhia Hurt and Mary Negro, directors of Trestle Gallery, set out to exhibit a show that puts the nonconforming body on display. Bodies of color, queer bodies, bodies with disabilities, bodies that don't conform to societal norms and conventions.
To curate the exhibit, titled "Body Utopia," they enlisted queer, feminist Brooklyn-based painter Clarity Haynes. Haynes, who has worked continuously on "The Breast Portrait Project" since the 1990s, focuses her practice on fondly visualizing the beautiful figures that are so often rendered invisible by mainstream culture. In Haynes' words: "I think of my portraits as a cultural intervention -- 'before' pictures lovingly drawn and painted, meditative descriptions of specific bodies that need no correction."
For Haynes, it was crucial to include both a diverse array of artists and a wide range of represented subjects. "Often we think about the nonconforming body as being represented from the outside, an external view," she explained in an email to The Huffington Post. "And that is important. But I’m also interested in how we (and by we, I mean all human beings) experience embodiment in an internal, felt way."
"As Mutu points out, prejudices and constrictions regarding the kinds of bodies we’re allowed to see and create are strongly entrenched in the art world, just as in society at large," Haynes continued. "I believe we need imagery and artwork about the nonconforming body because it expresses a totality -- a depth -- a truthfulness in our experience, that patriarchal mandates do not permit us."
So, she selected five artists to join her in displaying their body positive work, projecting their own images the ways they want them to be seen. The following six artists, merging the personal and political, render bodies that are willful, active, and dominant. Superior. Nonconformist. Free.
Get to know the artists, with introductions provided by Haynes, below.
BODY UTOPIA runs from September 25- October 30, 2015 at Trestle Gallery in New York.
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