Entering Untitled Space on Saturday felt like the calm before the storm. The white walls, pregnant with anticipation, were waiting to be covered by the work of 20 artists targeting the female nude in all mediums available. In the Raw: The Female Gaze is an all-female exhibit opening on May 3rd at Untitled Space, curated by Coco Dolle and Indira Cesarine. During my conversation with Indira, who is also the director of the space and of the magazine by the same name, we discussed the female and male gaze, feminist art, its evolution and relevance today.
Tell me about the exhibition and the female nude?
Indira Cesarine: I really felt it was important to have a wide variety of female artists bringing their voice to the female gaze because it’s a theme and a subject that can’t be addressed by the work of one woman. It needs to be the voice of many because each woman brings such a different element and history of her own experiences to the table through her work.
As you know, the female nude traditionally has been a very male dominated subject. Men often are led to doing nudes of women because they are attracted to women. They have their muse; there’s a certain amount of sexual desire that makes them interested in the female nude as a subject. Maybe 25% of the show are women that would align themselves with LGBT, but the rest of the show are actually straight women. When you look at that dynamic–the majority of women who are heterosexual–why would they want to do nudes of other women? The reason they would is because they want to address female experience. They’re drawn to the nude as an exploratory thing of examining self.
You mentioned that in your work you use a female nude. So, I’m guessing you’ve been thinking about and working with this topic a long time. Why did you feel now was the time to put up the show?
IC: Interesting question. We did a show in the fall called The F-word, which was 20 female artists addressing work that related to feminism in one shape or form. That was a much looser framework because it was more like 20 female artists that were addressing feminism in their work. I think that this is an interesting follow-up to that show. I also think, for me, it’s been about going back to my early days as an artist. I started studying painting and photography when I was, I think, six–when I first started art school. I went to Parsons School of Design. When I was 14, I did their intense summer program for painting. We went to class 9-5 everyday, all summer. We were doing oil on canvas, and we had nude models in class everyday. All kinds of very advanced, mature themes. The following summer I did their photography program. We had nude models in that class as well. From the beginning, the nude was such an important and integral part of honing your skills as an artist, as well as an inspirational form.
There is a whole new wave of women that are engaging in feminism now, and it’s a much higher volume than when I was younger. Feminism was a huge thing in the 80’s and 90’s, and then it died out for a while. There’s also an emergence of female visual storytellers that have come out in the last couple years. It’s a much, much stronger force than ever before, with regards to women expressing themselves and being very brave about their work.
During the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of feminist art revolved around sexual liberation. There were a lot of feminist artists who were using their body as a message or catalyst for their art. When you look at feminist art from that era, a lot of it was addressing sexual liberation, and I think that it then evolved into various different paradigms of women addressing themes of female empowerment. I do think that today, it’s a much more experimental, exploratory element.
I feel like fourth-wave feminists today are moving on to subjects that perhaps weren’t addressed then. I do think that there’s that element now of social media, which brings such a different tangible access of immediacy where female artists today are able to and are becoming superstars online through Instagram and other platforms where they’re posting their work. Leah is a great example of working with the selfie and using the modern tools of technology to evolve her craft in a way that was not feasible or even possible during the second and third wave of feminism. This is a whole new territory, and it’s obviously allowing for a lot of really interesting new subjects to come to light.
What you said makes a lot of sense–for them to have used their bodies more as a vehicle–versus now. It’s about the gaze.
The gaze is an interesting concept in itself. I think a lot of people think of the gaze, and they think, “Well, what does that mean exactly? What is the gaze?” One of the misconceptions is that it’s not just about who’s creating the work. It’s also about the subject matter and about the audience. The gaze is a 3-dimensional element, so to speak.
The male gaze really relates to men historically having crafted and created work that really only relates to a male audience. So women always looked a certain way because there’s no interest in women that don’t look a certain way to them. It’s only appealing to a male sensibility and what actually turns them on. It tends to lean towards a very traditional image of beauty and of women as an object of desire, fantasy.
The female gaze is not just about women looking onto the world. It’s also about the female perspective at large–of women and their perceptions on reality. I feel women are interested in subjects that relate to humanity at large. They’re not as sexually motivated, so to speak. The erotic, and the politics of desire and sexual motivation, don’t come in to play as inherently. It’s much more focused on humanity at large and on the human condition.
When you look at the female gaze, and it’s work where they’re talking about, for example, female body types and body positive imagery, there’s nothing remotely sexually oriented about that work. It’s a purely intellectual piece on the need to conform to certain body types. It’s the pressure in our culture to look a certain way. If you are over 40 or if you’re fat, then you don’t exist. You’re nothing; you’re a piece of shit. According to the male gaze, women who are not beautiful and women who are not young don’t matter. They are just excess that we’d rather not see.
As a curator and gallery director, I think that it’s such an important thing for there to be a platform for female artists to express themselves. Right now, there’s finally an interest in female artists.
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