Monday, July 28, 2014

The Femme Obsessive

Pablo Picasso - Nude Woman with Necklance 1968
The female body is an obsession on a viral scale. For decades now, the fairer sex has been increasingly sexualized in the media to interest men and to influence women. In more recent years, this perception of women through mass media has driven the objectified to an unprecedented amount of pressure and insecurities. Today, these pressures and insecurities have given birth to an incessant feed of new trends. The image goals of women have most often been anything from supermodel skinny to “fit is the new skinny” and less often, the image they see in the mirror.

As a product of today, I was naturally drawn to images of the feminine form while browsing through the pieces at the Tate Modern. Walking through the bounty of surrealist art, my eyes instantly latched onto “Nude Woman with Necklace” by Pablo Picasso. Made in 1968 and towards the end of his career, Picasso was quoted, “It’s all there… I try to do a nude as it is.” His perception, displayed on canvas, of the female body is as colorful as it is different—different from today’s perception constructed by the media.

Her facial features are asymmetrical and atypical, and her limbs and joints are distorted and swollen in unnatural places. The most looming oddities are the body parts that make her a woman and make women such an object of obsession. Her breasts are splayed across her chest, nipples pertly pointing in opposite directions. Her genitals are exposed, releasing some sort of essence from within its folds.  Her derrière is dislocated on her side, spouting something else from between its cheeks. These substances discharging from her body are ambiguous, because these secretions symbolize the true essence of the fairer sex, which remains a mystery to man.

Louise Bourgeois - Woman in the Bathtub 1994
Nearly 30 years later, Louise Bourgeois created “Woman in the Bathtub” in 1994, a simple drawing on paper that portrays a naked woman sitting in her bathtub. Drawn from the woman’s perspective, we see her legs in water beneath and her reflection in the mirror above. This piece juxtaposed to Picasso’s, there are overt stylistic differences, but most considerably, we see the woman’s perspective of herself through the perspective of a woman artist.

This woman’s face is round and plain with dots and strokes for facial features. Her breasts are two perky crescents and her legs are two knobby-kneed planks. She is average looking, but how she looks is not what is most striking about the piece. This piece is, once again, about perspective. The way a woman sees herself, in the mirror or in the water, looking up or looking down, is nothing like what anyone else sees but it is everything to her and who she is. The mirror tells women whether or not they’re having a good hair day, how they butt looks in those jeans, and if they’re pretty or plain. The mirror can make a woman vain or insane with insecurities; it can be our best friend and worst enemy.

Today, we have mirror #selfies on Instagram; at home, at the gym, at the mall, and in any restroom, there are girls finding every opportunity to capture the perspective of a mirror through a camera for social media. There are so many eyes or lenses through which a woman can view herself, and with the growing culture of instantaneous media sharing, I could not help but be fascinated by these two pieces. I am guilty of taking photographs of myself, staring at myself in the mirror for too long, and being curious as to how men see me. At the Tate Modern, I saw something relative to me but so much bigger than me. Two artistic pieces, decades apart. Two gendered artists, one subject. The female body is indisputably beautiful but boundless in interpretations, and Picasso and Bourgeois provided evidence of that.

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