"Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at…The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight."
- John Berger’s essay on the female nude (Ways of Seeing, 1972)
The nude woman in most traditional European oil paintings is a symbol of male idealism, stripping the model of any individualism. This painting has been commissioned for the male spectator, who is the true subject of the painting.
Berger again: “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself.”
With the advent of new technology, is society shifting its view of women from being nude to being naked? Two trends gaining popularity in the last decade is self-photography (even more convenient with the iPhone 4’s front-facing camera) and sexting. The female becomes the commissioner, the photographer, the model, and the distributor.
Is the ability to take nude self-photos a new tool for female empowerment, or does this further objectify women? Is it hindered by the shame and stigma around nude self-photos, as we have seen in high-profile cases of leaked celebrity photos or young girls being bullied to the point of suicide after they are called “whores” or “sluts”?
I have chosen two found images to modify:
Self-Portrait, Paula Modersohn-Becker,1906
After she left Germany and her artist husband to pursue serious painting in Paris (unusual at the time for a married woman to do), Becker painted not what she had to be according to society’s conventions, but her new, liberated independence. I wanted to convey Becker’s her confident nudity and finding of her true self by depicting her taking a self-photo, which she has essentially done through this painting.
In Venus of Urbino (Titian, 1538), the model is at ease with her nudity. She shows no shyness or godly detachment, as the symbolic goddess Venus was usually portrayed. I wanted to convey her rebelling against the Duke of Urbino, her husband who had this painting commissioned to instruct her on the standards of a “good” wife, by sexting the image to another person.