Female Body Autonomy

"Body autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long." 

If body autonomy is really important and understood by a person, that also means that person is capable of respecting the intentions behind another person's motivation to control and display their body. Calling people out for "exhibitionism" for doing an art piece naked is the antithesis of the previous statement. Do not let the bizarre, contrarian relationship to nudity and sexuality in this country confuse you into prudish ways.  

Do not worry American! those European libertines were once there, too. 

My favorite art historical example is this capolavoro by Edouard Manet:

Édouard Manet, "Olympia", 1863. © Musée d'Orsay 

In 2016 this painting of a nude woman with her maid and cat does not cause too much controversy, except maybe for the racial disparity between the two female figures and their social standing at the time. In 1863 this was a shocker, madness I tell you! how dare Manet confront the French art establishment with a disgraceful portrait of a courtesan? while the men at the time (like many men today) felt comfortable hiring courtesans (prostitutes) for sexual pleasures and lively conversation, just like Roman men in symposiums were intellectually and sexually entertained by the hetaerae, they refused to accept one in an art museum. 

What is so bad about this? have humans not created female nudes since antiquity? Well... yes, there have been nudes for thousands of years (Venus of Willendorf) but if you pay close attention you will see that these nudes either do not have defined faces or are innocently looking away:

Venus Kallypigos, 1st Century, © Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. 

Venus Kallypigos, 1st Century, © Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

It is quite convenient for a patriarchal society (in the making since 4000 BCE) to let the male gaze eat up a woman's naked body without her intruding by looking back at them. So when we had Manet turn this concept on it's head, people were angry. One would think that after such a move the history of art was going to prove everyone we are capable of fast adaptation and open mindedness.

Le sigh.

It really bothers me when I see artists after Manet - male or female - cover, distort, or remove a nude's face. Let me see the face of the body's owner! Look at Olympia; she isn't allowing the audience power to slut shame her (not a term used back then but same foundation). She even looks down in condescension, don't you think?

And yet, I see this in the XXI century:

Giovanni Di Rosa, Untitled (#20), © BAC Bogota Arte Contemporaneo

Giovanni Di Rosa, Untitled (#20), © BAC Bogota Arte Contemporaneo

At the same time, I want to check myself by giving power to the models and female artists who do have a legitimate reason for covering their or the subject's faces. I just hope they understand the history behind that action. As for male artists: if you guys are using a female model ask how she feels about having her face covered/distorted/removed/frontally depicted, etc. and take into account you are portraying a gender that your frame of reference will not allow you to fully understand. Both male and female bodies should be depicted with all respect, of course, but female nudity has been manipulated in ways male nudity has not. At least, as a well read art historian, I have not seen anything to indicate they are at the same level of violation. 

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Update: I started my research paper on cultural hybridity!! :) cannot wait to finish and submit it to the College Art Association's Art Bulletin in four years or so. In the meantime I have some calls to make to an artist in Dubai. 

Also, in the spirit of female body autonomy, I want to share with you an event I will be participating in. It is called Read + Bleed. It is a "women only" event at Twilight Gallery on February 13, 5 to 8pm. Click on the blue highlighted link to learn more. 

A. Iaroc