Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Internalization of Oppression... My Art

In my own art, I'm currently working on a series exploring the process and effects of the internalization of oppression. I started this a few months ago with this ink sketchy-drawing. I've finally realized that the medium I was searching for was watercolour, so I'm going to redo this this in watercolour and do a few more like it in watercolour as well. This is the sketchy thing that started it:

The figure is naked and exposed... and ashamed of her body and by the deformity she perceives in it. She is passive. I tried to show this by positioning her arms behind her and her eyes closed. The imperfect sketchy technique I used was meant to communicate distress and hysteria. But I think that will come across better in the next version, with the watercolour. I also attempted to show her mental distress in the text. I held the pen at the top when writing so as to get a shaky, unstable effect. The words "No. SHE IS NOT DISTURBED BY HER OWN WRETCHED, DEFORMED, UGLINESS." are meant to be slightly sarcastic, but mostly evoking a sense of denial. As if, even though she believes these things and believes that society expects her to accept these things, she also feels pressure to pretend like she's okay with being "ugly." She feels pressure to suffer silently and bear it as an unavoidable truth.

I plan to do other watercolour portraits in this same format to the captions "She thought she could tear the ugly away. If not, she might at least have a beautiful skeleton." (This one will be about the way the sexualization of young women encourages them to see their worth only in their beauty, and how this has the potential to lead to self-mutilation. It will be a portrait of an ambiguous girl's face with her hand on her face, ripping into her skin) and "At least her heart was not ugly, They told her. When she dug it out to see if They were right, she found it to be just as repulsive as the rest of her." (A similar theme as the previous one. This would be a girl with an open ribcage, holding her beating heart in both hands)

I've also created a collage about the internalization of oppression. This piece focuses on the various way the beauty industries lead us to self oppression, and while silencing us, also make money. These pictures of it in process, before everything was glued down. I'm currently planning how to re-mount it, because I don't think the first round was very successful.

And because I know the quality of these aren't good enough for fine details, here are some close ups:


Oh, also...

One more...

And I'll get some better, fine-detail-quality pictures up of the redone versions. For now, any critiques on these first-versions would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cartoon Commentary on Bikinis and Burkas

This is what I love about art- it comes in so many different forms, and each one has the ability to make you think. Here, Evans makes an interesting point about the different faces of patriarchy... and I'm still thinking about it, even though I saw this cartoon at least a week ago.

It reminds me that feminism is not limited to our own little community bubble- although communities are very important to work with. Feminism is not dead in the western world. There's still so much we need to improve in our own community. But we also need to remember that there's more to the world than the U.S.A. And the rest of the world is just as deserving of equality and basic human rights as we are. However, in the quest for feminism, we can't try to force anything on another culture. So when we enter into a conversation with another culture about human rights (or anything for that matter) we must go into that conversation understanding the other culture and respecting their right to be different. It is only through a respectful and informed conversation that the oppertunity for progress (for both sides) can be made.

Push-Up Bikinis... WTF?

I was at Target the other day, looking for some maxi dresses and boho-style skirts, but the second I walked in... BAM! I was greeted by a plethora of bikinis. If you're wondering how this is going to tie into art, I should tell you now that it doesn't. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to Of Feminism And/Or Art, but nah. This little post here is about observing consumerism and the fashion industry through a feminist lens. It's also about me wanting to hear what you, my venerated reader, think about the phenomenon I stumbled across yesterday, because I'm still not entirely sure what I think about it.

The bright colours and the promise of sun that comes with bikini season shopping drew me in. I meandered the racks, searching for something in my style. A bright yellow top caught my attention and when I stopped to pick it up, I noticed it was a push-up. I felt the inside of another: push-up. The whole rack was full of push-ups. I wasn't sure what to think. When I was younger, I dreaded bikini season because my flat-as-a-pancake bust was completely on display, and I wasn’t yet okay with that. I felt insufficient as a woman back then, as if there was something wrong with me. It took me a long time to accept my alternative body type and love myself. This is the first year I’ve felt comfortable in a bikini top without extra padding, and then… they start making push-up bikinis.

I went home and searched through the juniors' swimwear sections on various other stores' websites. As I suspected, it wasn't just Target. I understand what's driving the trend: consumerism. The fashion industry must know there's a demand for anything that makes bikini season less daunting for women. Because bikini season has the unique ability to encourage self-judgment in a way other seasons can't. It starts the second a woman enters the store and sees the giant pin-ups of airbrushed models with unreal bodies rockin' the latest trend in swimwear. When she tries something on, it takes an immense amount of self-assurance and willpower not to compare herself to the model. When she goes to the beach or pool, she's surrounded by loads of other women in bikinis. Her body is completely on exhibit and in comparing herself to other women, she likely feels the urge to cover-up, out of self-judgment and possibly shame. Unless she has that same immense amount of self-assurance and willpower- or, you know, happens to be Superwoman and is used to rockin’ a one-piece all day, every day. But the portrayal of women in graphic novels is a completely different story that I will undoubtedly be telling later.

So I know what's driving this trend, but I'm unsure what exactly the message being sent out is. If this were about young girls, I'd be outraged. When I heard about Abercombie and Fitch marketing push up bras at little girls, I was incrediably outraged. But from what I've seen, this latest development is about young adult women. Possibly even mature adult women, I haven't been to their section either. But back to the current issue at hand. On one said hand, maybe this is good for younger women who need a little help accepting their bodies and feeling comfortable in their own skin. I'm not sure if I believe this, but I do wonder if maybe if young adult women have something to hide behind so that they feel less judgment and pressure from the people around them, they'll feel less inclined to judge themselves. It could help young women feel okay with their bodies until they learn to fully accept themselves and to stop hiding. Or... as I'm more inclined to believe, maybe this is detrimental to the process of self-acceptance. Maybe they'll see it as extra pressure to fix themselves, as encouraging feelings of shame and self-oppression, as amplifying the voice in their head saying "There's something wrong with you." I’m sure it’ll be different for every young woman, but I don’t know what the common reaction will be.

If push-up bikinis outrage you the way they’ve outraged some of my feminist friends who I told this story to already, I suggest you protest by not buying them and writing to the stores selling them, explaining your stance. Because if there isn’t a backlash, I believe it’s possible they’ll be here for good… for better or for worse.

As for me, I believe the bigger solution lies in the models. If companies feature diversity in their swimwear models, it will de-centerize the unreal, airbrushed pin ups that encourage so much self-judgement. When I was searching online, Target stood out to me because the models they featured actually showed some diversity. For example, there’s an awesome paisley bikini (http://www.target.com/Xhilaration-Juniors-Paisley-Bikini-Swimsuit/dp/B00337661Y/ref=sc_qi_detail) modeled by a woman with a bust flatter than mine. And even though they cut off her face in her picture, she is gorgeous and obviously confident, despite the fact that she has an unconventional bust size for a bikini model.

There are plenty of things I don’t like about Target, and I’m not sure what I think about their choice to feature push-up bikinis, but I give them props for featuring the most diversity in their models than I’ve seen in any other store. Also, they’re the only department store I’ve been in that offers uni-sex changing rooms. I wonder though if those where put in to improve their image after the boycott that took place when Target’s CEO was found funding anti-Gay politics. But back to the bikinis. I find Target’s use of flatter models inspiring and plan to buy the top, and then write to Target about my purchase and encourage them to feature even more diversity.

And now to you, my magnificent reader, I implore you to tell me what you think.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Friday the 13th was the 2011 Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Student Colloquium at PSU. I've always been skeptical that Friday the 13th could be unlucky, but after dragging my friend around on a wild goose chase around campus for at least a half hour or two, looking for the building where the social justice art show was and just not finding it... I was rethinking my stance on superstition.

I did end up making it to one of the events, though, and it was a pretty rockin' one too, so the day wasn't all disappointment. The keynote speaker, Molly Landreth, was presenting/discussing her photography on the same floor that I had my french class, so I managed to stumble into that just by sheer dumb luck. She's a local(ish) artist (I consider Seattle fairly local) whose current project is called "Embodiment," which is a series a portraits that document and attempt to un-marginalize the queer community. After watching her presentation, I was struck by the way she captures her subjects... it just feels so honest. I also love her ability to evoke different moods, which range from quirky/fun to serious to sweet/intimate/tender. If you look through the photographs on her website, you'll see what I mean. Do it. Now. http://mollylandreth.com/

Her discussion about her work was, dare I say, equally as interesting as her work itself. In telling her story she said something that stuck with me. She said that she had to allow herself to take herself seriously. She had to believe that her voice and work were important. She said that it took guts at first, but was also really empowering. And that's how she made it. I think that's a really inspiring and important idea... as an aspiring artist myself, I often don't consider my work worthy of seriousness, because I'm just starting/not good enough yet/too young/ect. I have a lot of artist friends who are similar. And I think this is holding us back. Maybe this is something we all need to remember. So I'm telling you, my adored and valued reader, that your voice is important. And I believe you have an obligation to yourself to let it be heard. So whether that be art, writing, activism, or whatever else it is you're doing... do it loud and apologetically. Allow yourself to take your work seriously. Don't lose your sense of humour, but never hold yourself back.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Hypnotic Voice of Andrea Gibson

I was introduced to Andrea Gibson's slam poetry about a week ago, and I fell head over heels in love with her instantly. To be a poet, you gotta have a way with words. But Andrea Gibson? I feel like she's reintroducing me to my own language every time I listen to her, she weaves words into magick in a way that's mesmerizing and at times even hypnotic. The first poem I listened to her preform was "I Do," which was in response to prop 8. It gave me goosebumps and literally moved me to tears. Love is love. And "I Do" is the most beautiful and sad love story I've heard in a long time. The way she preforms all of her poetry... there's just such a raw, passionate electricity in her that she forces you to feel what she feels. It's also just amazing how she flawlessly blends the political with the romantically intimate and humourous. So how is a lesbian love poem feminist? Because the anti-feminist movement is driven by the patriarchy, which wants to maintain traditional gender roles in order to keep its power. So by challenging the restrictive constructs of sexuality that the patriarchy endorses, she's challenging the patriarchy itself.

"Blue Blanket," which explores the idea of rape, is another of my favorites. I feel like there's a movement in our culture to trivialize rape. I see this in the idea that there are "gray shades" of rape (like the assertion that "date rape" doesn't count, or that if a woman is drinking/out late, that she should have known better and been more responsible, and thus it's really her fault). "Blue Blanket" is powerful because she calls it what it is. She doesn't apologize or shy away from the subject, saying something like "oh, yes it was traumatic, but I suppose I'm just sensitive" or "well, I really shouldn't have been walking home alone that late at night." No. The voice of the poem is traumatized and recognizes her right to outrage. In all the versions I've seen, she becomes so passionate that by the end, she's almost singing. The last line is so strong, it sticks with you. I haven't been able to get it out of my head all week. And it brings up such a good point. For years I've had issues with the idea that being a young woman, I can't be out late at night by myself because I "might be attacked." I'm not playing down the fact that statistically women are more at risk of violence than men, but I have issues with the fact that nobody's ever asked me why I haven't walked my boyfriend home when it's late and dark. They don't fret over his safety because our society doesn't label him a potential victim. But me? I've been taught since I was a young girl to take extensive precautions so that I remain safe. And I'm called sensible if I take them, and foolish and irresponsible if I don't. A man would typically be considered paranoid and ridiculous if he took the same precautions. Unless, of course, he identifies as a minority that puts him at risk, such as being queer. Why do we allow the idea that "boys will be boys" to permeate our culture? Why does the burden of "responsibility" and "sensibility" fall only on those that we consider at risk for being turned into victims of violence? I refuse to believe there's anything inherently dangerous about men. The reason men are statistically more likely to become rapists is that our society enables them. Why is it though that we teach the people more at risk of being attacked how to be safe, instead of teaching those more likely to become perpetrators of such violence not to attack other people? Is it impossible to reach a balance so that everyone feels as safe during the day as when the sun goes down?

My other two favorite poems by Gibson are "Swingset" and "The Last Poem I'll Ever Write." The first one, "Swingset," is fantastic because it speaks to the way the ambiguous, in terms of gender, leave many people uncomfortable, confused and upset. The poem is about her own gender experience, and she frames it around the way children perceive her and her gender, and how that differs from the way adults do. "The Last Poem I'll Ever Write" is on my list simply because it's so apologetically beautiful and intimate. Unlike "I Do," which is romantic and sweet and beautiful but also defiant, "The Last Poem I'll Ever Write" is soft and personal. I think this poem proves that you can't label Andrea Gibson a "lesbian poet" or anything like that, because even though Gibson's poetry is a testimony to the ways in which the personal is political, her work transcends any box or niche you can try to put her in.

"I Do" and "Blue Blanket" (as well as a bunch of other poems and links to her bio, shows, photos and stuff) are on Andrea Gibson's blog, http://www.andreagibson.org/poems/, which you should definitely check out. Listen to what she has to say, let her blow your mind and permeate your soul. The world needs to hear Gibson's voice. What she has to say is important and inspiring, so I'm glad to have shared it with at least one other person.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jumping Down A Feminist Rabbit Hole

Feminism isn't just about suffrage, equal wages or abortion. It's not just for lesbians or women who don't want to shave. It's about ending all forms of oppression and discrimination that plague everyone on the gender and sex spectrums. Women and men who want to break out of restrictive gender boundaries benefit equally from feminism.

I've always identified as both a feminist and an artist, but it wasn't until about a year ago that I started to realize how the two overlapped. In studying art, I started noticing the ways modern artists were still objectifying women just as much as the old masters did. I adore these artists, and I've nothing against nudity in art, but seeing the way in which these (mostly western) artists depicted women... it made me thirst for gender equality (aka feminism) in art. Time and time again, women have been portrayed in art as naked objects that the viewer has a right to see exposed and the artist has a right to use as a tool in their art. She is passive and accommodating, with an innocent and eager-to-please smile on. The body type illustrated is idealized and expressive of the time's standards of beauty. She is the epitome of femininity. This wouldn't be so frustrating if the gender boundaries were ever at all blurred a little. What I was beginning to thirst for was simply some diversity in the people represented. I wanted to see men represented in art just as often as women. I wanted to see diversity in body types and beauty. Diversity in the ways people were used in art- less passivity. I wanted to see the ambiguous, to see boundaries between the masculine and feminine blurred. Once I became aware of what was missing in the art I was studying, I started to see feminist issues everywhere else in my own world. It was like falling down a rabbit hole, and once I did, I couldn't jump back up.

This thirst for gender equality led me many different places in the art world and the world of feminism. Over the year or so that I've been searching for the places where these worlds collide, my thirst for feminism in art has intensified and also expanded. I intend to use this blog to share the places my search has and is currently leading me. Sometimes I'll post my own feminist art/poetry, but most of this will be dedicated to the exploration of what's already out there and deserving more attention. I want to discuss under-appreciated feminist art, but I also want to explore feminist issues in pop culture and go down some of the other roads that my thirst for feminism has lead me down.

It's time now. Come with me, we're not falling, but rather jumping purposefully into a feminist rabbit hole! 1... 2... 3.... JUMP!