Ali Kheradyar, “Malibu Betty,” 2011, c-print, 48 x 36 inches, edition of 5
Ali Kheradyar is a Los Angeles based artist of Iranian heritage although she was born and raised in the United States. Her training is in music and dance. Much of her work focuses on the female body and, in many instances, her own body. These works use the body as a jumping off point to explore themes such as beauty, sculpture, commercialization, sexuality and gender.
This work entitled, “Malibu Betty” from 2011 is part of Kheradyar’s Dye series. In Dye, Kheradyar photographs portraits of her pubic hair covered in Betty Hair Dye. The dye specifically designed for use on one’s pubic hair and is for women who want their pubic hair to match the hair on their head whether it is blonde, brunette, pink, purple, or, as is the case in this work, Malibu Blue. The minimalistic image features a cropped close-up of Kheradyar’s lower torso, legs and pubic region. Her pubic hair is matted with a thick layer of the Malibu Blue dye which contrasts starkly to the pale tone of her skin and brings an element of playfulness to an otherwise muted work.
For the artist, the dye raised a number of questions, as she writes, “What was this practice about? The commercialization of the female? Consumerism? Color? Challenging the male gaze, or partaking in female objectification? How are these products appealing? Is this sexy? What do these products say about sex culture and beauty now?” Many of these questions remain unresolved in Kheradyar’s work. Without knowing the artist’s background or the context of the work, the image could easily be an advertisement for the product. At the same time, Kheradyar’s use of her own body and its simultaneous simple presentation coupled with assertive presentation of the self, echo Ana Mendieta. However, such contradictions and layered meanings are an essential part of the questioning process Kheradyar is driving at. Her work highlights the ways in which sexuality can at times be ridiculous, absurd and even funny doing so an practical and straightforward manner. Rather than poking fun at a product that turns your pubic hairs blue, to form this observation, however, she simply uses it as it was intended to be used. In this regard, her work turns the questions she seeks to address to the viewer. You can almost feel her asking the viewer, in genuine curiosity, “is this sexy?” In turning this question around rather than explicitly asking it by presenting herself in a provocative or sarcastic mode, she is able to effectively disrupt a simple reading of her work.
Posted in Commodification, Consumption, Gender, Pin Board, Self-Portrait, Sex, Spectacle, The Female Artist
Tagged Fashion, Female Figure, female nude, Funny, Gaze, Self/Other
Indigo Som, “Wu’s, Hattiesburg, Mississippi”, 2004-2005
Indigo Som is a Chinese American who grew up in Marin County, California and remains a California based artist. This image, entitled “Wu’s, Hattiesburg, Mississippi” is part of Som’s series Mostly Mississippi: Chinese Restaurants of the South 2004-2005. As the title indicates, the series focuses on Chinese restaurants located in Mississippi. Som describes her impetus for the project as stemming from the contrast between the ubiquitous presence of Chinese restaurants in America and the continued characterization of a Chinese presence in America as “perpetually foreign and intrinsically un-American.” The duality of this phenomenon was particularly striking to Som in the form of Chinese Restaurants and in particular unexpected Chinese restaurants which is to say those that you see “in tiny towns when you’ve been driving for hours with no Chinese folks in sight.” One such place was Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
In this image, the Chinese Restaurant Wu’s is shown in a desolate landscape. Although several cars are visible in the parking lot, the image conveys a sense of isolation. Further, although Som draws attention to the restaurant by using it as the subject of her photograph, she also highlights its mundane nature through brown and grey tonalities as well as the devoting nearly half of the frame to asphalt road along which Wu’s is located. The ways in which Chinese restaurants have become a caricature of Chinese culture are evident in this image. The font in which the name “Wu’s” is written appears to calls to mind, albeit tenuously, calligraphic Chinese lettering. In addition, the building which is otherwise a non-descript tan colored cement block, features a green overhanging pavilion roof that, despite bearing similarity to the drive thru next door, is enough to indicate in one quick glance that this is a Chinese restaurant.
Such embellishments are not necessary, yet they underscore the interplay between authenticity and foreignness that dominate American perceptions of Chinese culture. Nearly every American has eaten food from a Chinese restaurant, Chinese food is in many ways an American cultural staple. Americans have always incorporated things from other cultures, that is in fact a defining feature of the “melting pot mentality” of American culture However, Som’s image of Wu’s reveals more than mere appropriation. Rather what Som’s image shows is the continued isolation of Asian-American culture in favor of an imagined Asian-American culture. The fact that this restaurant in no way resembles actual Chinese culture is not important. Consumers of Chinese food in America are not seeking an actual Chinese culture, rather they are seeking an imagined one- one that is foreign but harmless, exotic but safe, distant but right at home. Again, creating caricatures of other cultures as a means of harnessing or destabilizing their presence in America is not something that is unique to Chinese-Americans. What is unique is the particular role played by Chinese restaurants in this process. They function both as a point of contact (in some cases real, more frequently imagined) between American and Chinese American culture, but also highlight the absurdity of the American conception of Chinese-American culture as well as the continued othering of Chinese and on a broader scale, Asian culture, that makes little logistical sense.
Posted in Caricature, Commodification, Consumption, Culture, Foreign, Identity, Pin Board
Tagged Chinese Food, identity, Safe, Self/Other, Shared Experiences, The South
Left: Mel Ramos, “Life Saver”, 1965. Right: Mel Ramos, “Lifesaver Lil”, 2009
Mel Ramos has drawn ire from feminists and the art-world alike throughout the course of his career. Ramos was born in California and began studying art under Wayne Thiebaud in 1954. His career began in the early 1960s with paintings of images from comic books. In 1963, Ramos participated in a group show at LACMA in which his paintings along with similar works by iconic Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. However, Ramos is most known for his depiction of female nudes posed as pin-ups who interact in some sexual manner with commercial objects (e.g. Chiquita bananas, Hunt’s ketchup, Payday candy bars, etc.).
The two works featured here are in keeping with Ramos’ general oeuvre. The image on the left, entitled “Life Saver,” is a 1965 oil on canvas. The work on the right is entitled “Lifesaver Lil” and is a 2009 drawing. Although these two works were not directly intended to be exhibited next to each other, contrasting them side by side, begs the question, “what’s changed?” Both works feature a nude woman who stares seductively out at the viewer. The sexuality of both women is enhanced not only by their nudity but also by the manner in which they are posed. In the 1965 version, the woman balances on her tiptoes, grasping the top of life-sized roll of lifesavers around which she wraps her bent right leg. In “Lifesaver Lil” the woman thrusts her breasts forward between her arms while pushing down on the top of a roll of Lifesavers that obscures her genitals yet abuts her body in a phallic manner.
Although Ramos describes these works as “not too erotic” with a “trace of humor” and in “good taste”, their explicitly erotic nature produces images of undeniably sexualized women. The question, for me however, is not so much the ways in which these images may or may not continue to perpetuate sexist notions of gender, rather is if and how reception to these images may have changed. In 2009, New York Times critic Ken Johnson described a friends experience on seeing Ramos’s work now as opposed to in the 1970s. Whereas in the 70s the works had infuriated her, now they were “benignly amusing.” Such a shift is reflective of generalized contemporary approach to a myriad of once controversial topics and images. Notions of sexuality and gender that once seemed to define what it meant to be a woman or a man or a sexual person now seem quaint and out of touch. Many would likely see the aforementioned reception to Ramos’s work as a sign of progress. In a post-post everything world, accepting and ironically appropriating formerly oppressive visualities is a means of demonstrating a contemporary empowerment. I am skeptical however, as to the degree to which such appropriation is truly empowering, especially in the context of Ramos’s images. Ramos, as these two works show, continues to work within the same milieu, the same nexus of cultural and personal referents and to the same end. If all it takes is time for us to interpret his work differently is that really moving forward? Of course, time and cultural shifts, undoubtedly make things that were once offensive or troublesome much more accepted. While interpreting the same image differently over the course of time is an integral part of art history, in the context of the nude female figure in art, it is not enough to simply say that times have changed. Although not all of Ramos’s work is inherently sexist, nor do I think it should be read as such, an inquiry into the female nude must go beyond the mere revision that Mr. Ramos’s work lends itself to; if the answer to “what’s changed?” is nothing, then an interpretation cannot reveal changes that have not occurred. In short, Ramos’s images are, to me, more problematic in a contemporary setting than they were in the 1970s.
Posted in Blog Post, Consumption, Culture, Gender, Revisionism, Sex, Spectacle
Tagged (Re)claiming, Female Figure, female nude, Looking, Male Gaze, Representation
This image is from the book I mentioned a few weeks ago : COLORS OF CONFINEMENT: RARE KODACHROME PHOTOGRAPHS OF JAPANESE AMERICAN INCARCERATION IN WORLD WAR II
In addition to being relevant to this week’s readings I thought people might be interested in knowing that the images are currently on display at
Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. To learn more check out :
“Town and Country” part of “Cover Girl” Series, Iké Udé, 1994
This image is part of Nigerian artist, photographer and designer Iké Udé’s 1994 “Cover Girl” series in which he depicted himself in a variety of roles on the cover of a number of popular magazines. In this image Úde chose “Town & Country” self-described as, “America’s premier lifestyle magazine for the affluent.” In the image, Udé’s face is painted in a pseudo-tribal manner that leaves much of his face white with stripes left unpainted. His clothing contrasts somewhat with his face as he wears a tweed jacket, collared shirt and an ascot clearly referencing the style of a gentleman. Four headlines are printed on the work: “The Noble Savage is Dead”; “What is Art? Experts Disagree”; “Ex-President Admits to Sodomy”; “Investment Tips for the Novice”; and “Yellow Cab & Their Enemies.” The headlines highlight the ridiculous nature of the “newsworthy” magazine articles while at the same time illuminating the subtext that can be easily masked in the representational space of a magazine cover.
As a whole, the Cover Girl series brings to the fore the ways in which magazine covers serve as a political space. As such they purport to be reflective of the mainstream, but as Udé points out, the question of whose mainstream and by what measure such mainstreams are created often results in a deliberate practice of inclusion and exclusion. As Udé writes, ‘“Cover Girl” is neither a metonymy nor an apologue, but an earnest interrogation of institutionalized Caucasian practices of hegemonic right to name first, to colonize, to mis/represent and other exclusionary practices.” The use of magazine covers for such an interrogation remains relevant even as we begin to move away from the medium in popular culture. Thus, Udé’s work draws attention to ways in which concepts such as “mainstream” or “public” exude inclusion while effectively serving as forces of exclusion.
Although we have become increasingly aware on a socio-political level of the ways in which oppression, racism and sexism manifest in areas such as poverty, and education, it is easy to overlook the obvious mechanisms by which such notions continue to circulate. Udé’s work provides a template for continued interrogation by presenting imagery and text that does not explicitly dictate answers, rather it provides a set of contrasts and juxtapositions that bring attention to the form, content and means by which identities are perpetuated, created and must be questioned.
Posted in Identity, Performance, Photography, Pin Board, Race, Self-Portrait, Spectacle, Subversion
Tagged (Re)claiming, conceptual art, Magazines, Mainstream, Mass-media, Representation, Roles, Self/Other
- To See Image Please Visit: http://web.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/picasso/artworks/charnel_house
- “The Charnel House,” Pablo Picasso, 1944-1945
The Charnel House is a 1945 painting by Pablo Picasso. The work, which is unfinished, is rendered using a black and white palette and serves as Picasso’s response to the atrocities of WWII. The work is compositionally similar to Guernica and features similarly grim subject matter depicting a family that has been murdered. Their contorted bodies are piled beneath a dining table. The father lies at the bottom of the pile. His face is abstracted and fractured although one eye appears to stare out at the viewer. His hands, which are bound jut up towards the center of the work. On top and to the left of this figure lies the mother. Her sexuality is emphasized, even in death, as her breasts, rendered in a figure eight-like manner, are central to the work. Her head tilts back and the expression on her face is suggestive of a grotesque ecstasy. Beneath the mother, to the left of her bosom her infant child is visible. The child’s eyes are also closed and his cupped hands appear to be blocking something, perhaps the blood that flows from his mother. The banal depiction of the set table in the upper left hand reinforces the ways in which the war had infiltrated all aspects of life including the homes of innocent civilians.
Picasso painted the work just as reports and images of the Holocaust were circulating in newspapers and film reels. In turn, the grisaille palette of the work as well as the subject matter are evocative of the images Picasso was seeing at the time. In addition The Charnel House was painted just one year after Picasso joined the French Communist party and the overtly political nature of the work is reminiscent of Guernica. However, although The Charnel House bears much in common with Guernica, its unsettled and almost ambiguous nature distinguishes it from the latter. Although he worked on The Charnel House for over six months, the work remains unfinished. This is due in part to the horrific subject matter depicted which seemingly defies pictorial and artistic interpretation. This notion is reinforced by the use of a black-and-white palette, which, as the current Guggenheim exhibit “Picasso in Black and White” illustrates, was a means by which Picasso dealt with particularly complex or difficult subject matter. In the context of this course, this image is indicative of the ways in which artist struggle to depict immense atrocities that simply cannot be rendered in a work of art.
Left: Unidentified Photographer , “Lynching”, ca. 1900
Right: Frank Hudson, “The Avengers of Little Myrtle Vance, and the Villian brought to Justice, ca. 1900
“Luxe, Calme et Volupté” 1904-1905 is a fauvist work by Henri Matisse. During the period in which it was painted, Matisse belonged to a group of young artists whose bold and unconventional works alarmed critics to the extent that they referred to them as“wild beasts” (les fauves). Matisse’s work, in particular, embodied this new spirit utilizing color and brush strokes to convey feelings and sensations in a fashion that broke dramatically with the canon.
- To See This Image Please Visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Matisse-Luxe.jpg
- Henri Matisse “Luxe, Calme et Volupté”, 1904
The work is a leisure scene that shows six nude women each from a different vantage point as they bathe and picnic on a beach in St. Tropez. Moving from left to right the viewer sees one woman from the back and another reclining with her nudity on full display. Behind her a smaller figure is seen wrapped in a blanket. At the foot of the reclining nude another woman is crouched combing through her hair. The penultimate figure is in a semi-reclined pose with her back to the viewer while the last is slightly turned such that her body is fully visible but her face is shown in profile. Matisse has placed these women in an idyllic even pastoral setting showing them on the shores of a lake. The only clues that this is a modern scene are the boat in the background and the picnic utensils placed in the left corner of the work.
In many ways this work is highly traditional. The subject matter of nude female bodies as created by a male artist and in particular bathers in a pastoral landscape “can be traced back to the work of Poussin” an artist that epitomized the values of Academic painters. Further, the title of the work comes from the chorus of a poem entitled L’invitation au voyage “which describes an escape to an Arcadian land of sensuality and calm.” Such references to poetry are in keeping with nineteenth-century Academic traditions.
The poem referenced, however is by symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire and indicative of Matisse’s modernist tendencies. Similarly, Matisse’s technique can only be described as modern. Matisse’s use of lozenge-like shapes reveals the artist’s every brushstroke. The bodies are portrayed crudely, some are little more than the outline of a shape. In addition, the use of the word “luxe” in this context conveys more than just “luxury” rather it suggests “voluptuousness, self-indulgence and sensuality” a well as a connection to the contemporary cult of “joie de vivre.”
Gill Perry suggests that it is precisely the tensions in the work between technique and subject matter that serves to disrupt the notion that these women are merely objects of the “male gaze.” Rather the Matisse has portrayed the women in an unreal manner manipulating and distorting their figures such that their physical oddness “undermines any easy perception of these women merely as objects of male sexual desire.” The question Perry poses in connection to this work is whether artistic processes can mediate social and sexual politics. For me, however, this work raises another interesting question: how is gender being used as visual shorthand?
I fully agree with Perry that Matisse is able to use technique to disrupt reading this work as purely one of sexual objectification or male eroticism. However, this reading cannot be disrupted without existing as an initial assumption provided by the presence of female nudes. The female nude provides a ready-made discourse that tends to imply the same categories of interrogation. Thus this “female shorthand” freezes the notion of the female body in a specific set of meanings and discourse continuing to convey the same readings and associations in a manner that inhibits new interpretations.
For example, in discussing this work Perry speaks first of the male gaze and then of the sexual nature of the poses. Although Perry is by no means characterizing the work solely in terms of these elements or even suggesting that they are the primary themes of the works, the need to address such elements time and again seemingly conflicts with her notion that abstraction disrupts such discourse.
To me, the abstraction in this context suggests the assertion of the male artist as he can now control the body of the female. Thus, the use of the female body as a form of visual short hand permits the artist to present the same ideologies and associations and emphasize the modernity of the technique rather than the subject matter. In other words, the use of the female nude acts as Matisse’s acknowledgement of his familiarity with the traditional art historical canon while his technique demonstrates his innovations as an artist. In this manner, this work becomes more about the emancipation of the male artist than it does of the female figures suggesting that abstraction does not truly disrupt traditional discourse.
 Gill Perry, ed., Gender and Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 202.
 “Primitivism and the Modern” by Gill Perry from: Primitivism, Cubism and Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century. The Open University, 1993, p 54.
 Gill Perry, ed., Gender and Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 205.
 Gill Perry, ed., Gender and Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 205.
Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxe,_Calme_et_Volupt%C3%A9:
Posted in Academy, Blog Post, Gender, Historical Approach, Identity, Visual Shorthand
Tagged Fauve, Female Figure, Gaze, Gill Perry, Henri Matisse, Male Gaze, Nature, Nude, odalisque, pastoral, Roles