Category Archives: Culture

Chapter Post: Toyo Miyatake and “Our World” by Karin Higa

Karin Higa’s chapter “Toyo Miyatake and ‘Our World’” centers on a 1944 high school year book called Our World and the photographer who made it possible, Toyo Miyatake.  The yearbook was product of high school students interned in the American concentration camp Manzanar in California which held more than 11,000 Japanese Americans from March 1942 to November 1945.  Higa’s chapter analyzes the many roles of Miyatake- as a photographer for the Our World yearbook, as the official photographer of Manzanar, as an artist and as an interned Japanese American – in relation to the phenomenon of Japanese internment and notion of Americanness in a unique historical moment.

Miyatake served for all intents and purposes as the official photograph at Manzanar assuming this role first in an illicit manner using a camera and film he had smuggled into the camp from Los Angeles, before being given essentially free reign to photograph by the camp’s director.  Prior to his internment, Miyatake had been a fairly successful photographer.  In addition to owning his own photographic studio in, Miyatake participated in a number of international and national photography salons and even worked as a correspondent for the Asahi Shimbun photographing the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.  In addition, Miyatake’s work with the Shaku-do-Sha, “an interdisciplinary group of painter, poets and photographers based in Little Tokyo” uniquely positioned him as “both insider and outsider in his photographic practice” a role that likely influenced his role as a photographer in Manzanar (337).

While interned, Miyatake continued to operate as a photographer in much the same way as he had outside of the camp, photographing family events as well as daily life around the camp.  The desire to have these moments captured on film was so strong that it became necessary to institute a system of rationing whereby coupons were distributed to families for particular events.  Miyatake also photographed nearly all of the images for the Our World yearbook (with the famed Ansel Adams contributing the few not by Miyatake).  Finally, Miyatake photographed the images for Valediction which was the yearbook for Manzanar High School’s class of 1945, the final graduating class from Manzanar.

Miyatake’s personal background and the ways in which he continued to operate within some degree of normalcy are essential to Higa’s discussion of Our World as Miyatake embodies in many ways the underlying tensions of the project.  At its core, Our World represented a desire for normalcy, as the forward explains the purpose of the yearbook was to “approximate in all activities we knew ‘back home.’” (335).   The yearbook bears much in common with conventional high school annuals of the day.  Individual students are presented in rows of headshots and are identified by name as well as by the name of their home high schools, those which they would be attending were it not for their internment.  The annual also featured collaged photographs assembled to look like candid snapshots as well as an “Activities” section.  Another section entitled “Democracy” featured photographs of town hall meetings and Japanese American soldiers.  The rest of the sections were devoted to depicting various aspects of daily life in Manzanar.

A central thesis of Higa’s analysis of the yearbooks is that they function as deliberate and orchestrated performances of American-ness through an excessive attempt at presenting normality intended to counteract conceptions of Japanese-Americans as the enemy.  In turn, Miyatake’s photographs extend the project beyond mere documentation by presenting images that on the surface lack a constructed narrative.  Thus, the almost banal nature of Miyatake’s photographs “underscores the absurdity of the incarceration itself.” (340).  When viewed in the context of the present day, it is this banality that makes the images even more unsettling.  As Higa writes, “it is difficult to reconcile the severe and harrowing experiences of incarceration with a seemingly contradictory picture of utter normality.” (338).

While I agree with much of Higa’s analysis of the yearbooks and the work of  Miyatake, leaves little room for divergence regarding the identities of those in the camps.  In other words, Higa presents the experience of the internment camps as a monolith; an experience that erased all differences among the Japanese Americans in the camps.  As with any shared experience this was undoubtedly true to a certain extent.  While in the internment camps, outside signifiers of difference disappeared creating a shared sense of identity and experience.  However, the experience of those in the camps must inherently have diverged as well.  Within internment camps were business owners who were forced to give up their businesses while others came into the camps with little to their name.  In addition, some in the camps were already second generation American citizens while others were still citizens of Japan.  In this light, the forward of Our World stating that the students sought an approximation of activities from “back home” is problematized.  The home to which this refers is different for each student in more than just the literal sense.  While the images in the yearbook may serve as a holistic performance of “American-ness”, they did not derive from a singular sense of what that American-ness meant and what it ought to look like.  While Miyatake’s images may at first present an image of normalcy in America, in addition to overlooking the absurdity of internment to which Higa alludes, they also overlook the artificiality of this normalcy within the Japanese American community.  The presentation of the Japanese American community as just that, a singular community, is in of itself a creation within a creation and one that is not accounted for in Higa’s analysis of Miyatake’s photos

Along this same line, Higa describes Miyatake’s continued devotion to American ideals and identity even in the face of “assaults on person liberty, property, and political identity.” (343).  Higa hints at how this concept is problematic and is in fact problematized somewhat by the “self-conscious fashioning of young Japanese Americans who knew that because they looked like the enemy, they were deemed so by their own government.” (343). However, Higa fails to address the way in which this tension was concurrently playing itself out in a national and nationalistic sense.  Is a nation reductive in the sense that it represents what we all have in common, or is it about a geographical boundary within which diversity persists but exists under the umbrella of the nation?

Such a struggle plays itself out in the photographs of Miyatake as they present images seeking to demonstrate a shared identity between those within the camps and those outside of them.  These are not images of the enemy but are instead images of Americans.  At the same time, the images, and in particular Our World, demonstrate a separate community, one defined by geographical space.  This community is the one inside the camps, and in a literal sense you are either in or you’re out.  To the extent that Our World served as a performance of American-ness it also served as a performance of Japanese-American-ness one that functioned to identify otherness just as much as sameness.

While internment camps, unfortunately, came to define in part what it meant to be Japanese American, the sheer existence of such camps cut at the notion of what it meant to be American.  The American ideals Miyatake sought to uphold were in flux and not just within the camps.  In many ways, the entire country during this time was taking part in a performance of American-ness that, in the same manner as the ongoing performance in Manzanar, left unresolved many of the questions of what this American-ness meant or to what end it was serving.

Finally, the question arises as to how these images should be approached today.  For many Americans, the existence of internment camps remains a dark spot in our history, an occurrence that is often overlooked or minimized.  As has been discussed in this essay, this struggle is not new and it is likely the case that these images would have been just as troubling to some in 1944 as they remain in 2012.  Thus, who were these images intended for?  The answer to this question plays an important role in how we look at these images today.  It seems unlikely that at the time anyone outside of the camp would have seen them or that those within the camp would have expected their audience to be anyone other than themselves.  At the same time, the entire staging of both Our World and Valediction suggest, perhaps idealistically, a broader audience.  Further, yearbooks inherently speak to a future audience, encapsulating memories with the idea that we will one day return to reflect on our former selves.  Depicting vulnerable and awkward periods of our lives, yearbooks anticipate our looking back with both nostalgia and regret.

Anyone who has ever returned to a yearbook can appreciate the exercise.  For some, they see a time to which they wish they could return, other see things they wish they could forget.  In many ways, it is not so much what yearbooks depict that determines their importance in our lives.  Rather, it is just that they exist.  It is comfort that comes with knowing our memories are safely stored, that they remain in a medium to which we can always return.  A yearbook can be shared not only with those from our past but also those from our present.  The function of Miyatake’s images in this capacity both in the lives of those pictured as well as within the particular moment of American history, should not be overlooked.  Our World remains the world of those interned in Manzanar, but its existence permits those who count themselves amongst the “our” in that phrase to continue not only to exist, but more importantly to expand.

Image Sources:

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v32n1/broz.html

All page numbers refer to-

Higa, Karin. “Toyo Miyatake and “Our World.”  In Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self, edited by Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis. New York, N.Y.: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.

Indigo Som: Chinese Restaurants and Chinese American Identity (Pinboard # 6)

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.

Sources:

http://sites.asiasociety.org/arts/onewayoranother/oneway3.html#Indigo

http://www.well.com/~indigo/

http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Berkeley-artist-goes-deep-to-get-her-fill-of-2722528.php#photo-2176652

http://www.creativeworkfund.org/modern/bios/indigo_som.html

 

Pinboard #5: Mel Ramos

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.”[1]  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.

Additional Sources:

http://www.srcart.com/art_ramos_bio.html

http://palmspringsfineartfair.com/mel-ramos-wins-lifetime-achievement-award/

http://www.melramos.com/


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/arts/design/25john.html

Pinboard #5: Andrej Pejic & Erika Linder

In the black and white photograph on the right, model Erika Linder poses against a white backdrop. She wears loose-fitting jeans, open at the waist, which slip from her hips to reveal the band of briefs beneath the pants. The outline of a star is tattooed on her muscular stomach. Her arms are held in front of her chest and her hands grip a t-shirt; this pose conceals a seemingly sunken chest. Her face, devoid of makeup, grimaces. Her short hair is in disarray. In the color image below, male model Andrej Pejic wears a black wrap dress, long blond bedhead, and subtle, feminine makeup. The dress has slipped off of the left shoulder, and a bra strap is visible. Text lines next to Pejic’s silhouette convey that the image was produced for a Dutch lingerie advertisement, selling a bra that claims to add two cup sizes.

Are these images intended to be humorous? Perhaps – but only those in the know.  Linder, a woman, frequently works as a male model. Pejic, a man, frequently works as a female model. Linder is not a drag king, and Pejic is not a drag queen; neither model caricatures, exaggerates, or lampoons gender norms. Instead, each model conceals himself or herself within the costume of the familiar. Each model works the parameters of gender to his or her professional advantage. Linder and Pejic conform exactly to current standards of masculine and feminine beauty. They simply don’t conform the beauty standard expected of their respective sexes.

Erika Linder and Andre Pejic force us to reconsider how we recognize and react to male and female bodies. I suggest that we looked at these bodies as sexed (if not gendered), and ask why we recognize Linder as “male” in the image on the left (when she is recognizably “female” in other images) and Pejic as “female” in the image on the right (when he is recognizably “male” in other images). Which elements of Pejic’s wardrobe and makeup tell us that he should be read as she? Which aspects of Linder’s outfit and physiognomy categorize her as male? Further, do we consider these distinctions useful and expedient? Are they visually or erotically attractive? Which norms are disrupted by these images? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are norms disrupted at all if no further explanation is attached to the images?

Pinboard #4: Richard Prince

Richard Prince’s Unitled (Cowboy)  is an iconic photograph that refers to an iconic advertisement that refers to an iconic American role. The image is a palimpsest of meaning, and seems to acquire additional layers of resonance with every passing year.

Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), chromagenic print, 1989

 

 

 

Prince (b. 1949) is an American painter and photographer. He is usually referred to as an “appropriation artist,” because his most famous works are rephotographed photographs, some of which are physically or digitally altered. Most of his early material, such as the Marlboro advertisement used in Unitled (Cowboy) came from magazines, newspapers, printed advertisements, billboards, and television. Prince is attracted to suspicious narratives in widely circulate images; of his work, he has said, “I seem to go after images that I don’t quite believe. And, I try to re-present them even more unbelievably.” [1]

Untitled (Cowboy) is taken from the Cowboys series, arguably Prince’s most famous works. In the far right of the frame, a cowboy seated astride a galloping horse seems to race off the very edge of the image. The rest of the image is filled with blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Each image in the Cowboys series was taken from a Marlboro cigarette ad, a campaign known for its celebration of traditional American masculinity. Marlboro’s ads seemed to depict authentic scenes of masculine action replete with wide open spaces, blue skies, tumbleweeds, lassos, and ten-gallon hats.

Prince’s rephotographs call the authenticity of these scenes into question; because Prince’s image isn’t “real,” the viewer is asked to reconsider what makes any photograph “real.” In this case, was the Marlboro ad, which appeared to document a cowboy at work, really emblematic of a type? Or staged with models? And if this “authentic” American experience could be staged, was it truly “authentic” at all?

[1] Marvin Heiferman, “Richard Prince”, “BOMB Magazine”, Summer 1988.

Disruption and Consumption: J.P. Ball’s Photographs of William Biggerstaff (Blog Post 2)

J.P. Ball & Son, Portrait of William Biggerstaff seated in a chair with a hand on his face wearing a flower in his lapel; Photograph of the Execution of William Biggerstaff, hanged for the murder of “Dick” Johnson, flanked by Rev. Victor Day and Henry Jurgens, sheriff, 1896; Photograph of William Biggerstaff, former slave, born in Lexington, KY in 1854, 1896.

 

This work is a series of three photographs taken by James Presley Ball of William Biggerstaff in the year in 1896.  Biggerstaff was a former slave from Lexington, Kentucky who had moved out West to Montana after gaining his freedom.  In 1895, Biggerstaff was accused of murdering the African American prizefighter Dick Johnson in a quarrel over a white woman.[1]  Although Biggerstaff claimed the killing was done in self-defense he was nonetheless found guilty and hung.  In this series of images, Biggerstaff is shown in life, just after his execution and in death.

The first image is a posed portrait of Biggerstaff.  His head rests on his right hand and he gazes solemnly in that direction.  He is dressed formally wearing a suit with a flower pinned to the lapel.  The second image is gruesome and depicts Biggerstaff’s hanging body shortly after his execution.  His face is covered in a mask meant to preserve his dignity in death but which only adds to the horrific nature of the image.  Biggerstaff wears the same coat as in the first picture and is flanked by a Reverend, Victor  Day, as well as the sheriff, Henry Jurgens.  A crowd of onlookers is clearly visible in the back indicating the public nature and spectacle of Biggerstaff’s death.  In the final image, Biggerstaff is shown in his casket.  The angle of the image draws attention to his hand on which a wedding ring is clearly visible.

At first glance this troublesome series of images seems no different than the myriad of lynching images from this time period.  Leigh Raiford describes such images as an essential component of the “reinscribing of the black body as commodity” and a mechanism that “helped extend [a unified white identity] far beyond the town, the county, the state, the South, to include whites nationwide and even internationally.”[2]  While this is certainly true of the vast majority of lynching images several features of this image complicate reading it in such a manner.  The first is the presentation of the three images as opposed to a singular image of a lynched body as was the custom.  Rather the photographer’s decision to use three images, including one showing Biggerstaff while he was still, creates a narrative that individualizes the work.  Typical lynching images present bodies that are often unrecognizable, providing an anonymity that allows for a disassociation from the work that for white audiences at the time played into racist fantasies and for contemporary audiences makes it easier to stomach.  Such dissociation is impossible with this series.  By presenting Bigerstaff’s portrait side-by-side with those of his death, the photographer creates a narrative that contextualizes and brings meaning to Biggerstaff’s life as well as death.  The wedding ring in the final image punctuates this narrative and again forces the viewer to think about the consequences of Biggerstaff’s death on those in his life.

The second characteristic of the photograph that disrupts a conventional reading, is not a feature inherent to the work itself but is in fact the photographer, James Presley (J.P.) Ball.  Ball was born a free man in 1825 in Virginia.  He learned the art of daguerreotype and quickly became extremely successful as a photographer.  As one of the most successful and famous photographers of the latter half of the 20th century, Ball photographed a number of notable people including Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass.[3]  However, in addition to his famous portraits, Ball also documented the horrors of slavery as well as lynchings, publishing a pamphlet addressing the horrors of slavery from capture in Africa through the Middle Passage, ” and serving as the official photographer for the 25th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. [4]  In addition, Ball was one of the leaders of the movement for William Biggerstaff’s clemency.[5]

Thus, when viewed in this light, these images necessarily take on a different meaning.  If lynching images were commodify the black body for white consumption, as Raiford argues, then what does it mean that this particular set of images was taken by a photographer such as Ball?  To some degree the images of Biggerstaff highlight the relevance of authorship and purpose when it comes to lynching images.  Had the same set of images been taken by a white photographer for purposes more in keeping with most lynching images, they would remain part of the processes described by Raiford, lacking any notion of emancipation.  At the same time, the mere fact that Ball may have intended the images to serve as a call to arms, or at the very least a powerful memorial to Biggerstaff, does not control how they would have been and continue to be interpreted.  Thus, although the typical mechanisms of lynching images are unquestionably disrupted, Ball’s role and the photograph itself cannot be neatly summarized.  The question then, becomes what the role of the art historian ought to be with regards to this image.  Is it enough to merely draw attention to the ways in which interpretations of images are complicated by concepts of authorship, viewership, subject and object?  Such an exercise seems to fall short.


[1] The San Francisco Call. (1896, April 8). Met Death with a Smile. The San Francisco Call, p. 1.

[2] Leigh Raiford, “The Consumption of Lynching Images,” p. 270.  From Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self edited by Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis.

[3] http://www.lonniedawkins.com/JamesPresleyBall.htm#_edn5; (The San Francisco Call, 1896)

The San Francisco Call. (1896, April 8). Met Death with a Smile. The San Francisco Call, p. 1.

http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/state/070226-stover-ball.html

[4] http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/state/070226-stover-ball.html

[5] P. 246, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature by Jacqueline Goldsby. University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Also: http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aaw/ball-james-presley-1825-1904, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma02/amacker/photo/death.html

Pinboard #4: Assimilate/Impersonate, Name/Shame, Vote

Nani Teruya

“Nani Teruya says Hawaii shouldn’t be part of the United States. She doesn’t vote because she believes the government is illigitimate. Still, a member of the Hawaiian royal family urged her to use her vote to push for change.”, From CNN’s Change the List Tumblr Project

The Image is a moving gif.  It features an older woman, who looks as though she is of Hawaiian ancestry, standing outside in the of trees shade wearing sun glasses.  She wears peach Aloha print top.  Her black bra strap is falling down her arm, visible on the right side.  She is wearing a necklace, something we notice as the gif creates a movement in her hand, over and over again as though she is frantically scratching herself just below her neck. She is saying something, but her lips are unreadable.  The mechanical loop of the gift couple with the movement of her mouth makes it looks as though she is doing some nervous lip motion followed by a howl.  The text on top of the image says “CONVINCE ME TO VOTE!!!/#CTL3” as a piece of something moves up and down right next to the C.

This image is a part of a series started by CNN called the change list.  CNN describes the project on the Tumblog as a way to  “Help [CNN] bring change to places and issues that need it most. Our current effort: Bumping Hawaii off the bottom of the United States voter turnout list. This CNN experiment is led by John D. Sutter.”  Limited information is provided about Nani Teruya.  The most important information is that she is choosing not to vote, this despite urging from her royal family, this, despite it being illegal to vote if you believe Hawaii is illegally occupied.  That last part is not part of the story or the image.
The inclusion of the larger narrative, the one that includes the international discussion of the status of the Hawaiian kingdom, is placed under the title “Why Hawaii should be more like… Iraq?”  This titling, coupled with the positioning of the photographs (and the Iraq story) of putting the people against royalty, and the presentation in the gif of Nani Teruya as impersonating the wrong model, by not voting, and moving as though animal is something I find troubling.

Gallery

Images for Prairie Pinups

This gallery contains 6 photos.

 

Psychoanalysis, Fetish, and the Nude

A set of widely varied readings from Gender and Art provided us with fodder for a lively discussion. We asked whether and when images can be seen as gendered, analyzed several modernist nudes, and explored the utility of psychoanalysis as an art historical methodology. By addressing a mixed series of images the early modern, modern, and contemporary eras, we delved into Perry’s assertion that “identity – or subjectivity – is not fixed or given [but] is socially and psychically constructed.” [2]

We reviewed several nudes by Edgar Degas, Suzanne Valadon and Emilie Charmy, and discussed the role of distortion in the construction of a “male gaze” and the existence of a female gaze. [1] Katie reminded us that distortion is always a value judgment, especially in modernist painting, wherein naturalism is not what an artist strives for.

Along with these examples from Perry, we reviewed Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nude (1964) [right] in depth.Jade noted the resemblances to Manet’s Olympia (1863), while Jess remarked on the humorous contrast to be made with the removable features of Mr. Potato Head. Both comments suggested that Wesselmann’s gaze was historically grounded, informed by popular culture, and confident in its ability to construct its object. Dr. Powell reminded us that elements of Great American Nude suggested fetishism: the artist’s emphasis on a collection of items (including the choker, the leopard throw, and the breast-like ice cream scoops) rather than a coherent totality resulted in a flattened, collage-like composition that suggested psychological fixation.

We ended the session with a series of objects that have been interpreted as motivated by fantasy or fetish, including Eva Hesse’s Accession II (1967), Meret Oppenheim’s Fur Breakfast (1936) and Alexander McQueen’s “bumster” skirt (1998). We concluded that the role played by gender in the development of images and objects is sometimes obscure, and that psychoanalysis can prove helpful to interpreting embedded constructions of masculinity and femininity.

[1] Gill Perry, ed., Gender and Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 265.

[2] For discussions of the female gaze (or lack thereof), see Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16 (3): 6-18, 9 and John Berger, Ways of Seeing (New York: Penguin Group, 1972), 46-47.

 

Colonial Collection/ Context and Narrative (Pinboard #1)

Fred Wilson "Colonial Collection", 1990

Fred Wilson is an artist of African, American Indian and European descent and was born in 1954 in The Bronx, NY.  He attended Purchase College, State University of New York where he received a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in 1976.  Wilson is best known for his site-specific museum installations and first rose to national prominence with his 1992 exhibition for the Maryland Historical Society, “Mining the Museum.”  In this and similar works, Wilson uses objects either not normally on display or typically displayed in a different fashion and juxtaposes them in a way that “alters their traditional meanings or interpretations.”[1]

“Colonial Collection” is part of the 1990 exhibition “Rooms with a View: The Struggle Between Cultural Content and the Context of Art” an installation in which Wilson took two works from 30 artists and then arranged them in three different rooms- a regular gallery space, a white cube and a room designed to look like an ethnographic museum.  This work comes from the ethnographic space. “Colonial Collection” features seven African masks hung on a rust colored wall.  Around each mask, Wilson wrapped French and British flags which cover the mouth, eyes and nose on the different masks.  Beneath the masks is a glass display case which features insect vitrines, a jawbone, Mylar labels, wood and glass vitrines and Harper’s lithographs depicting punitive expeditions between the Zulus and the British and the Ashanti and the British.[2]

Although the masks are trade masks and Wilson had the vitrines in the glass display box made specifically for the exhibit, Wilson’s presentation of the objects under “museum lighting” and within an ethnographic space led many visitors to believe they were seeing traditional ethnographic (or authentic) objects.  The work demonstrates the ways in which museums anesthetize and control the presentation of objects making them “hostages to the museum.”[3]  The masks are shown as objects, historical and yet devoid of context; they present the idea of a culture while obscuring the realities of how the objects came to be there in the first place.   Thus, Wilson demonstrates how context can control, co-opt or even create the narrative of a particular work.  In doing so, he raises not only the question of whether the meaning that’s being is correct, but also of who has the right to convey meaning.   Such questions arise most frequently in regards to ethnographic objects but are equally relevant contemporary art history.  When discussion art at the intersections of race and gender it is necessary to bear in mind not only what but whose story is being told.