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Flipping the Script:
The Female Body and the Politics of Representation


April 28 - June 3, 2017

TADO, Keelia-Panda, from Private Panda Club (2009),
chromogenic color print on Kodak metallic paper, SLU 2009.14


"For us the body is much more than an instrument or a means; it is our expression in the world, the visible form of our intentions."

- Maurice Merleau-Ponty

The nurturing mother, the innocent virgin, the promiscuous whore. Such stereotypes are deeply ingrained in western culture, and in the way images of women are presented and understood. In the context of art and art history, one of the most prevalent visual tropes is the white female nude, typically painted by white men, for the pleasure of other white men. Women’s bodies have often been positioned as objects, pawns of “high art” rather than autonomous sites for self-expression and political engagement.

During the past 50 years, political resistance movements for racial and gender equality have altered much of mainstream consciousness. One would assume that art and creative expression would reflect such cultural and social evolution. And yet, the art world has been resistant to change. Mid 20th-century modernism focused on originality and authenticity, embracing abstraction as it moved away from figural representation and engaged with questions of form, such as color, technique, and style. Post-modernism later challenged modernism’s authoritative voice, yet the de-centralized aspect of the genre failed to account for the particular needs of marginalized groups. Thus, in retrospect, the specific experiences of certain communities may have been effectively silenced.

Reclaiming the female figure as a visual icon can be a powerful political tool in exploring the complexities of women’s experiences. Selected artworks in the exhibition, drawn from St. Lawrence University’s permanent collection, explore stereotypical and, at times, exploitative representations of women’s bodies. Other images represent female autonomy and empowerment, challenging traditional depictions of women through an uninterrupted, confrontational gaze, as seen in work by Bill Gaskins and John Kacere. Flipping the script, works by Dottie Attie, the Guerrilla Girls, and Faith Ringgold make direct references to canonical images from art history as another form of resistance.

In addition, TADO’s Keelia-Panda, from Private Panda Club, featured here, reworks and challenges pin-up girl imagery that often features women caught off guard as they perform traditionally female tasks in hyper-sexualized poses intended for a male audience. In this image, the woman is removed from the domestic sphere and placed in a fanciful room of her own creation, unbothered by or unaware of her audience’s gaze. Removed from the gendered constructs of everyday life, she is free to embrace her sexuality in a female fantasy rather than a male one, in what might be an example of feminist cosplay.

- Rebecca Clayman ’17, exhibition curator

 

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