The Female Body in Art as a Non-Sexualised Being
The female body in an artistic form has always had the capability to arose and ignite sexual passions. The admirable marble statues from the age of antiquity, the teasingly seductive rococo portrays and surrealist muses depicting impulsive lust, female bodies throughout art history have been objects of desirable, self-gratifying pleasure. Yet there have been artists capable of presenting the female body as a non-sexualised object. These artists used female body to subvert traditional meanings or make them an extension of allegories. Their work gives credence to female bodies having the ability to transcend beyond other artists’ or observers’ need for self-gratification.
Miru Kim: Naked City Spleen
Miru Kim stated Naked City Spleen‘s aims was to merge her physicality with urban spaces. As a result, Kim felt “I momentarily inhabit these deserted sites, they are transformed from strange to familiar, from harsh to calm, from dangerous to ludic” . Kim used her body as a representation of humanity, how we are physically and consciously connected to our surroundings, a relationship which can be flawed. Michigan Central Station is a pivotal example. Michigan Central Station became the world’s tallest rail station when opened in 1913 and was modeled upon classical architecture. However, its declining usage and expensive upkeep meant closure in 1988 and has since been in ruins. The composition’s vast space dwarfs Kim in the foreground by a once glorious, man-made structure reflects societies’ superficial sense of superiority. Places like Michigan Central Station can be forgotten from humanities’ consciousness, yet a human rediscovering themselves in an abandoned space through their physicality makes us realise that no matter how much society achieves, there will always be a threat of decay. Michigan Central Station‘s use of color, particularly capturing the stained colors of the stations decay, signifies the interpreted theme.
Manhattan Bridge documents the structure of the same name, which allows passage for cars, trains, pedestrians and bicycles. Thus Manhattan Bridge is a major part of New York citizens’ daily journeys, a relevant location for Kim’s exploration of the relationship between humanity and urban spaces. Kim described her feelings in conducting Manhattan Bridge, “when I climbed to the top I could look down to appreciate its beauty, while feeling the entire bridge vibrate every time the subway trains passed by” . Kim conveys the vibrancy of Manhattan Bridge as an urban structure through making observers personify her description through her body, also expressed through New York City’s bright artificial colors. As in Michigan Central Station, Kim is a minimal figure engulfed in the foreground by urban consumption, which is symbolic. Kim in the nude emphasises humanities’ relationship with urban spaces, how our interactions can be rushed and that there is a fundamental need to observe our surroundings. If anyone does not take this interpretation, then there is a danger of humanities’ relationship with urban spaces leading to over consumption.
Ruth Bernhard: Vulnerability in Female Form
Ruth Bernhard’s photography is most widely known for her studies of female bodies. Bernhard stated that “my aim is to transform the complexities of the figure into harmonies of simplified forms, revealing the innate reality” . Bernhard wanted to reflect the female body as a natural, rather than sexual entity through minimalist aesthetic and black and white photography. Early 1950s Study reflects the female body in a state of vulnerability. The composition’s angle is reminiscent of a fetus in a womb. Fetuses of both genders are born from this position, indicating equal status. Early 1950s Study represents the female body as a distinctively human rather than sexual being. Yet the fetus position also conveys a fragile state. Bernhard is also emphasising that despite an equal biological status, the female body is still in a vulnerable state due to others’ self-gratification.
In a Box (Horizontal) continues to reflect Bernhard’s trend of representing the female bodies’ vulnerability. The subject is struggling to move in an enclosed space. Her pose has an underling subversion of the female bodies’ representation. She is lay in a position where her body is exposed, a pose commonly used in art to ignite an observer’s sexual arousal. Since the subject is posing within a minimal setting, it is not a composition where any sexual thoughts are being produced. Instead, the minimalism makes observers see a female body as a human being. However, In a Box (Horizontal)‘s use of enclosed space creates an interpretation that the female body can be threatened through any form of violence.
Spencer Tunick: Naked States
Spencer Tunick defined the female body as an extension of humanities’ connection with our natural environment, “the bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance. These grouped masses which do not underscore sexuality become abstractions that challenge or reconfigure one’s views of nudity” . Tunick’s aesthetic direction is to personify female bodies in reaction to their surroundings. Florida‘s composition merges humanities’ relationship to natural and artificial environments. The subject engages with the ocean in her natural form, reflecting nudity as a part of nature, yet her focus is upon a rocket which has set off in the distance. Florida can be interpreted as humanities’ flawed relationship between the natural and artificial. The subject is comfortable in natural surroundings, yet apprehensive about how far artificial technology can go. She is symbolic of humanity, her nudity transcends our vulnerability towards controlling a balance between natural and artificial environments.
Mexico, D.F. (Copilco) continues the examination of humanities’ relationship between the natural and artificial. The subject is lay down on fruits that will be soon be consumed by a large populous. Her position has a symbolic quality in relation to the natural and artificial. Humanities’ need to consume can turn to extravagant levels, meaning there is a danger of meaningless waste caused by industrial methods. This can be a destructive path where humanity can take itself. The subject lay upon the fruits can be seen as a sign of vulnerability through composition and color theme of bright fruits and pale skin, symbolising where humanity could end up if extravagance continues.
The female body has the ability to transcend beyond sexual representation, depending upon an artist’s intentions. While there has been and still are artists who use the female body to symbolise sexuality, there have been other artists able to portray the complete opposite. Artists adamant in using the female body for subversive purposes were able make observers see their own representation by not appealing to self-gratification. These artists’ works reflect universal themes, which the female body symbolises. Thus observers see the female body as a part of themselves rather than a sexual object.
1. Kim., M. 2008. ‘POPULATING MY SOLITUDE’. mirukim.com. [Accessed Online][Available From] – http://mirukim.com/statementNakedCitySpleen.php
2. Kim., M. 2008. ‘Manhattan Bridge’. mirukim.com. [Accessed Online][Available From] – http://mirukim.com/photosNakedCitySpleen.php
3. Anonymous., 2009. ‘About the Photographer’. photographywest.com. [Accessed Online][Available From] – http://www.photographywest.com/pages/bernhard_bio.html
4. Anonymous., 2015. ‘ Spencer Tunick Catalogue’. artnet.com. [Accessed Online][Available From] – http://www.artnet.com/awc/spencer-tunick.html
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