My piece explores representations of women and their relationship to food from a Western and non-Western perspective. While experimenting with portraiture, I aimed to create a piece to challenge the historical portrayal of women as passive bodies presented for pleasure. In my portraits I aim to engage the viewer with the effects of the male gaze and representations of women with food in different social contexts. The contexts being a Western one which has elements of sexualisation, and a non-Western one which enforces gender roles.
Last term I made a video with a series of portraits of young women in their own private environment, with a recording of a male voice reading a passage from Laura Mulvey’s essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. The video documented my experience of female youth culture portraying women from my female gaze, as opposed to the male gaze. To achieve this, I tried to keep the photos as candid as possible, for them to be intimate pictures of women “being themselves” in an all-girls environment. However, I didn’t feel that my piece was as effective at subverting the male gaze as I would have liked. From this I began to develop my ideas on how to approach this large concept of the male gaze.
Research on Chloe Wise’s portraits relating to the sexualized portrayal of women and to the consumption of food made me consider the similarities of visuals in advertising of food and sex. Often food adverts are playing into the viewer’s desires, with movements that are almost erotic. This relation can be seen in the media as recently as in December 2017 with Emily Ratajowksi’s Love Magazine Advent Calendar video where she is rolling around in pasta in lingerie.
I also found this link between women and food in advertisements when I was home in Senegal over Christmas. Gender roles are quite strongly imbedded in Senegalese culture and this is reflected in the advertisements. Almost all food related adverts will not only have pictures of women promoting it, but the food products themselves are named after traditional Senegalese women’s names, indirectly relating women to consumption.
In my two portraits, I incorporated elements of Pre-Raphaelite portraits due to their history in relation to the male gaze. With the women always looking away, there is an asymmetry of the gaze and she appears more passive. A male fantasy is thus created and the body is easily fetishized. I chose to replicate the poses of the women and how they held the food, based on the way in which the women held fruits or heirlooms in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. However, I changed the gaze in my portraits, here the woman challenges the view of the male gaze by looking directly at the viewer.
Pop-art was also influential in my paintings, where I have vivid coloured backgrounds to relate to consumerism. The food brands and labels are visible in the paintings and this is especially significant with the non-Western portrait as they are all the brands with women’s names.