women in arts, sexual objectification, sexuality, contemporary art, gender images

From the 12th century Archangel by Novgorod School in Russia to the 16th century Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and to Pablo Picasso’s 1946 Portrait of Françoise, women have ruled the artists’ canvases and art-lovers’ hearts for over 500 years. Each of the great artists trying to emphasize on the beauty of their creation – the elusive eyes, the silk locks, the tender smiles and the subtle deportment – attributes that still warm our hearts and make us gaze at the art work for hours and hours. I personally did not want to move away from the sight of Mona Lisa until I was dragged away by a friend reminding me there’s was much more left to see of the colossal Louvre Museum.

But what makes me uncomfortable are the changing images and [mis]representation of women in contemporary art. I doubt there’s a way to euphemize the changing perceptions, but I have no doubts in saying that women are constantly being sexually objectified in contemporary art, unfortunately mostly by women themselves. 

I for one do not want my children to grow up forced into watching and praising the art that rather objectifies women as sexual entities than as individuals. I am sure none of you want that either. I wish I could steal Huffington Post’s blogger Neal Samudre’s words when he said, “I’m terrified this culture will continue for my children, and one day they’ll dishonour the beautiful people around them, just because they’re not dancing naked in front of them.”

The worry is since then increasing. The apprehensions about our children never being able to develop the sense to see and appreciate beauty in art. And it wasn’t until I read a report about a female artist in the US, who did exactly what she shouldn’t be doing: using her sexuality to project art. In other words, she rolled around naked on the gallery floor, performing absurd acts to bring the audience’s attention to her ‘sexualized parts’. Some people might call it an art form, but I call it objectifying a woman’s body to the extent that the subjects only see her as a sexual entity and not a person. And then there was this weird live art performance elsewhere, in which the woman popped out paint balls from inside her vagina that fell all over the floor canvas making some form of stained picture that she later called abstract art.

Is this real art? And is this all left to a woman artist’s creativity, artistic abilities, and gender representation? I am sure, not.

We didn’t notice this sexual objectification in the 70s and the 80s, and we didn’t identify its silent emergence in the 90s and the following decade. I am afraid if we continue to ignore initiating a public discourse now, we will regret it in the coming decade and those to follow.

Most of you will agree with me here when I say that when the situation will go out of control, we will not only be responsible for ruining beautiful art and the meaning of art, but also for destroying the true meaning of freedom of expression, rational thinking, the very basis of gender definitions, respect for art and cultures, and art itself as a form of medium of expression and message.

I fear that my child, in case of wanting to become an artist, will be judged by his or her impudence to accept unreasonable nudity in the name of ‘abstract art’ rather than his/her understanding of classical art and realism. I am afraid if he/she will be bullied as old-school for studying da Vinci or Picasso (that is only if professors and universities still taught them then, huh!). I want my children and yours to recognise this thin line between sexual attraction and sexual objectification.

For now, I am sorry but I don’t appreciate art where a woman pops out paint from her vagina and calls it ‘live art’, nor do I want my child to grow up into one. I am rather happy with the timeless strokes of paint that create eternal, real images. Let’s not make the world a queerer place for our kids. It already is quite enough.

Image via thesocietypages.org

By Ayesha Hasan