As I posted my video on Facebook of the new exhibition at Artful : The Gallery, the organic views prompted Facebook to suggest it might be a good post to boost for advertising.
I followed the trail into paying Facebook to boost my post and a few hours later Facebook rejected my ad because of ‘adult content’. Curious, I went into their guidelines to see exactly what it was that had crossed the lines of their community standards. It wasn’t the nudity itself; it was whether the nudity was being sexually provocative or trying to solicit sexual experiences. I was able to understand their perspective until I saw their example of what would be deemed acceptable, a fully nude male Greek statue. I went back to my video trying to understand the difference.
I have always loved drawing the human figure. Our bodies are beautiful, natural and worthy of acceptance and appreciation. All bodies, across the full spectrum of life. When I look at a body that falls into current western cultural ideals of beauty, I can appreciate gravity defying breasts, a washboard stomach or a well-defined buttock, but there is so much more that a body can reveal. Just as engaging to me is a body like mine; with scars, stretch marks, folds, rolls and soft breasts trying to hide in my armpits. How many of us dismiss our beautiful, well lived in bodies because they don’t live up to the media images with which we are inundated?
What exactly is the difference between nude and naked? To me nude is sexualized. Naked is vulnerable. Nude is seductive. Naked has nowhere to hide. My experience is that when I work with charcoal, my hands on the paper, my fingers carrying the medium as I form the body on the page, my drawing becomes an act of loving reverence for the person who is willing to reveal themselves to me. After years of struggling with this question I have decided there is no answer. My lines, drawn between these two ideas are fluid and changing, and I imagine my lines are very different than anyone else’s. Thirty years ago, I wanted the answer, now I want the conversation.
As an artist attending life drawing classes my experience has mostly been one of objectification; the gaze of the artist on the body presented as an object to draw. Asking people to undress for me to draw them has always felt awkward to me. As a result of this difficulty, years ago I started using my own body in some of my work. Suddenly the model was the artist and wow! was that ever a shake up. I could feel my eyes on me, and man did I want to control what those eyes saw.
I created a series called ‘Six Figures’, recreating six famous historical images of women using myself as the model and video collage as the medium. I had been exploring how women’s bodies had been distorted into some transient ideal of beauty since the dawn of art. Today we talk about photoshop creating unrealistic images, yet this is nothing new - just take a look at Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. I was standing in front of one of the monitors at the opening of the exhibition chatting with a friend. A man, unknown to me, came up to view the video. He looked at me, not recognizing me either as artist or model, briskly asking me if I could step out of the way so he could view the video. My friend and I chuckled as I moved so he could have an unobstructed (by me) view of me the model, created by me the artist, naked. Right, model as object. How much of my discomfort in that moment was twisted up in societal judgments and in my own complex relationship with nudity and sexuality?
Can nudity be unsexualized? I believe that our entire lives are a reflection of our sexuality. How we walk, dress, think, talk, touch, fight, love…all of these are inextricably intertwined reflections of our sexuality. Is it a fool’s game for me to try and paint the human body thinking that I can separate sexuality from being naked? As I try, I think that what I am learning is where my lines are, what I consider sexualized. To me the interesting thing is that for each of us those lines will be in different places.
Facebook clearly has some different lines than I do.
We live in a peculiar time where everything can potentially be sexualized; a car, a place, a person. If we look critically at the media and advertising that we consume, the images are subject to sexualization because sexualization sells. Sex sells because it gets noticed. Why does it get noticed? Is it because we have tucked our naked bodies and our sexuality into the shadows? By repressing it, do the leaks become more noticeable?
Who are we when we are naked? Uncovered, our masks of clothing removed, our well lived in bodies exposed to the world. What does it mean to you? Can you define the difference between the ideas of nude and naked? Where are your lines? Do they change? Why?
As I opened this exhibition, I’ve had some wondering about my window displays. What can I hang in the window that will safely not offend community standards? Curious, I drove to visit some of the neighbourhood sex shops to see what they have in their windows. Even as I write this, I realize that my desire to ‘not offend’ might be usefully challenged here. After all, many of us are busy learning to sit in our discomfort about all sorts of things these days. In the end, I think I’ll just get a few fig leaves to hang over any visible genitals and breasts in my windows. Anyone have a fig tree?
I want to host a life drawing class here at the gallery, one where each of us has the opportunity to be both artist and model. Perhaps I will organize something to celebrate the end of the plague.
(detail: Arms Like Roses, from the Sappho Series)