This short video has many undertones to it. On the one hand it is subverting the idea of females being passive to a man’s activity. And on the other hand, there are post-colonial undertones as the male is white and the female is black.
This was a part of Cox’s photographic exhibition entitled American Family. This is what she has to say about this exhibition: “When I turned 40 the “Catherine Deneuve Syndrome” set in. In France a woman’s sexuality is allowed to mature, whereas in the United States women are only allowed to be sexual beings until age 39 and then are relegated to the background. As a result my series American Family was created. The body of work was a rebellion against all of the pre-ordained roles I am supposed to maintain: dutiful daughter, diminutive wife, and doting mother.”
Lynn Hershman Neeson, Roberta Construction Chart #2, 1975
There was a movement within feminist art that dealt with costumes, disguises and fantasies. These self-transformations were a way to explore the expanding boundaries of the self and the expansion of identity. Many were trying to answer questions like: “Who am I?”, “What makes me, me?”, “Where does my identity start and end?”. These transformations were the opposite of disguise because they created a whole new persona, a new person.
Masquerade is usually seen as the site at which gender is performed, but this type of masquerade blurs the line between art and life; in a way, they finction as metaphors for understanding human behaviour.
Anyways, Leeson created the persona of Roberta Breitmore. Most of the art surrounding Roberta shows examples of her life, like photos, her driver’s license, etc. This piece in particular is how Leeson becomes Roberta; it is almost reminiscent of plastic surgery.
This series shows photos from the artist’s personal life juxtaposed with magazine ads from popular women’s magazines.
“In the 1970s Iveković probed the persuasive qualities of mass media and its identity-forging potential, after 1990—following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the birth of a new nation—she focused on the transformation of reality from socialist to post-socialist political systems. Iveković offers a fascinating view into the official politics of power, gender roles, and the paradoxes inherent in society´s collective memory.”
I think this really ties to the John Berger quote I posted a little while back: women are constantly watching themselves. They see an image of themselves as they are performing their life.
(Click on the images so you can see the non-cut-off versions)
Left: Claude Cahun, What Do You Want From Me?, 1928
Middle: Claude Cahun, Self-Portrait, 1928
Right: Claude Cahun, Aveux non Avenus, 1929-30
First, Claude Cahun was sort of… “rediscovered” in the 80s and appropriated to theories of identity that began to be circulated then. These included the fluidity and ambiguity of gender, and a multiplicity of the selves. Although I think it’s fair to say that Cahun might have had those types of things in mind in the 20s. Claude Cahun is a pseudonym that she did her work under, it is a gender ambiguous name. She was part of the Surrealist movement, but even within the movement, she did not garner much attention and was generally marginalized.
As you see in the photo on the right, her cape has a multitude of masks on it symbolizing a multiplicity of the self. In Aveux non Avenus, the writing says “Underneath this mask is another mask, I will never finish revealing all these faces”. Her work is anything but two-dimensional.
This is another reference to Manet’s “Bar at les Folies Bergeres” (1881-82). The woman pictured in Wall’s piece acts as the barmaid, looking at the viewer. Wall himself takes on the position of the customer in the mirror and the camera becomes the center of the image. Photography is often thought to be objective because it is a snapshot of reality, but Wall is showing the artificiality of it all by making the camera the center point as well as the seams that you can see on the print (when you view it in real life)
What does this have to do with feminism? Well he takes a Brechtian approach: you don’t get lost in the illusion of the image because you can see that it has been staged. This means that the masquerade is evident. This creates an active and engaged viewer, which is one of the ways of subverting the male gaze.
Laurie Anderson took pictures of men who made comments to her on the street. She was armed with her Nikon camera. This is a direct response to the male gaze, taking away the power of looking (even more so by barring out the men’s eyes), and manifests her objection of the rendering of herself into an object.
Untitled Film Stills are seen as Cindy Sherman’s most famous series of photos. In each image, Sherman photographs herself as a cliche of “womanhood”. What makes this series a feminist work is that there is nothing to tell you that the images have been manufactured, yet when looked at in the series, the masquerade is obvious. Cindy Sherman is present in every photograph, but she is in disguise: she is at the same time the object of the gaze, but Cindy Sherman herself, cannot be seen. In this way, the male gaze is subverted and the work also shows that these stereotypical gender roles are merely performance, they are NOT an essential femininity.