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.
On the 19th of April, Kate asked Becca and I to help her out at a stand for PurpleSTARS during the MERL’s late Digital Takeover.
Kate and the PurpleSTARS team have been developing a Virtual Reality version of a four seasons video in the MERL that many of the students really liked. Becca and I were helping with demoing the first version of the VR before the full version is ready around Summer. It had a really positive response and it was nice to see the public encouraging the worthwhile project.
There are also further developments of a VR game with a quad bike that the Museum has recently included on request of the PurpleSTARS team. Quad bikes are what modern farmers use rather than tractors so the team are planning ideas for a game with VR where you can sit on the quad bike and herd sheep, and also making a steering for people in wheelchairs.
My last portrait is progressing well:
After a group crit, I’ve decided to make the background orange instead of red, as it would coordinate well with the yellow and will stand out rather well with orange and blue being complementary colours.
I plan to curate the painting alongside other works relating to portraiture and women and have them hanging side by side.
For the exhibition, I wanted to have to comparative portraits of women from different cultures exploring the relationship between women and food. For my second piece, I wanted to base it on the Senegalese adverts with a portrait of my mum. Having not had a chance to take any recent photos of her in the time, I used and scanned an old photograph of her in traditional Senegalese clothes.
I aimed to directly photoshop Senegalese food brands which are named are after common Senegalese women’s names to base on my painting on. As seen below:
My completed photoshop is below, where I incorporated all the branded foods into a basket directly taken from a Senegalese advert and making a similar layout to my previous painting to keep the link clear, I’ve also done a vivid Pop-art like background. I’m still a bit unsure about the red, but will see what works as my painting develops.
This is my finished piece for the week 11 exhibition and it was quite well received! Some of the comments I got from a brief group crit were:
- Sense of sexualisation with the bed, and the clothing off the shoulder
- Holding the Ketchup almost like a child, Ketchup linked to bodily fluid (influence Paul McCarthy)
- More detail in the centre of the face, directs your gaze straight to the eyes at first. Less detail in the clothing and food in lap etc – (although I did not do this intentionally, I really liked that it was the effect it and will incorporate it in my next painting
- Vivid background – pop-art influence, changes the perspective a little
- Sense of consumerism
Overall based on these responses I feel that I’ve successfully had the effect I wanted and will incorporate what people found effective (e.g vivid background, pose, gaze etc) in my accompanying painting over Easter
For my painting, I decided to paint this photo:
As I felt that it was subtle in its sexual connotations, with the bed and the clothing slightly of the shoulder. The branded food is also rather clear and held in a similar fashion to the Pre-Raphaelite paintings I drew inspiration from. Thus having a slight contrast here where the Pre-Raphaelite style painting being from “high” art culture, whilst the idea of consumerism and advertising is more “low” art culture.
I also like that the gaze of the model is directly towards the audience, making her seem a lot less passive than the women represented in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The gaze here challenges the viewer, and thus also challenges the male gaze.
Progressing through the painting, I decided to make the background a vivid yellow. This to have that element of Pop-art which is linked to the idea of consumerism.
For my photographs taken for my painting, I decided to keep a similar idea in the set up of my previous Week 4 photos with my model and the bed, but rather than working with just fruit and veg, I added some clearly labeled brands. I felt that with this I could create that link with the idea of consumerism and how it almost suggests a sense of women being up for consumption.
I drew inspiration for the poses in the photographs from the Pre-Raphaelite portraits of women as seen below:
In the way that they are almost ornamented with things to pose with in the photographs. I made my model hold the food items in a similar way, as well as suggestively placing other items to link to the sexualisation.
I attended a life drawing class where we had a female model. I think this was an interesting experience in relation to my work as I got to experiment with portraying the female form in person, rather than working from a photograph. It was a fun experience and allowed me to loosen up more in terms of my portrayal of the female form.