Last week for date night, my partner and I went to the Design Cloud gallery opening night of “Objectify This: Female Anatomy Dissected and Displayed.” (Thanks to Kelly for the heads-up!)
Curator Vanessa Ruiz from Street Anatomy featured artists from around the world, and their works really spanned the idea of what it means to “dissect and display” female anatomy. Artists and pieces, to name a few, included: London-based a medical illustrator Emily Evans, whose simple line drawings of the external female form were divided in unique ways to show the complex internal bone structure and musculature; Cake, a female street artist from New York, had one beautiful piece, “It Will Pay for Itself,” showing a crouching woman with two reddened rib areas, the white ribs re-drawn in her surrounding space as parenthesis; and Michael Reedy, an Assistant professor in drawing at Eastern Michigan University, who overlayed incredibly life-like drawings atop brightly colored patterns of subtly lighter cartoon figure outlines. Our favorite, and I believe the artist from which the idea for the exhibit spawned, was Fernando Vicente’s series, Venus. Mostly red-headed women in different seductive poses, often displaying intricate tattoos juxtaposed against internal structures painted externally. Others by Vicente, including “Three Graces” and “American Housewife,” as well as “Maria Antoinette” (not shown here), continue the theme of objectifying women by displaying them in such poses and levels of nudity or lure, with exquisite artistic design and detail to their insides displayed on the oustide. The teal background against the red tones was eye-catching, and the series really formed as a whole.
There was also a display about the book “The Anatomical Basis of Medical Practice,” written by professors (men) in the 1970s to teach medical students the female form.
One of the authors, a medical professor from Duke, had the unique interest of using pin-up posters and labeling anatomy, from which his lessons derived. Written under the guise of mostly male models appearing in texts, pin-ups were an accessible display of the female form. He is also quoted as follows:
“Perhaps we should have included photographs of garden-variety, American males and females who have let their physiques go to pot. Instead, we used female models as model females. The student will see the ordinary specimen every day. Only on rare occasions will the attractive, well-turned specimen appear before him for consultation. He should be prepared for this pleasant shock. For the growing ranks of female medics, we included the body beautiful of a robust, healthy male. We are sorry that we cannot make available the addresses of the young ladies who grace our pages. Our wives burned our little address books at our last barbecue get-together.”
Whew, wow. Wow. If that does not get you fired up as a clinician, woman, or person… I’m just glad I was not around to endure the seventies. Fingers crossed that currently-running politicians don’t take us back there. I digress.
Vaudezilla, a Chicago burlesque group, performed twice during the night, incorporating the main theme of the show itself in objectifying the female form, but using that opportunity for women to reclaim it and be empowered. The first artist was incredibly creative in both song choice and dress, with the hilarious lyrics of “The Physician” by Gertrude Lawrence playing in the background.
The second artist performed to Nina Simone’s “Hotter Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter.” Goodness I love strong women who are proud of their bodies. I was sweating, drinking wine, and fanning myself.
In the days following the exhibit, I have pondered the art and its collective exhibition. Is this a modernized way to learn anatomy? Is this a new method to consider the female nude? Was this art that was trying to transcend solely naked women by interjecting the interest of their insides as well as their outsides? Does it just give us another way to look at women in their most intimate, nude and exposed to the maximum level, their veins and organs and muscle and bones visible for all to see? Or does it show that on the inside and the outside there is great complexity, simplicity, and beauty? Does it show that women’s beauty includes their anatomy, not just what you can see at first glance? Some pieces, including those by Danny Quick from Massachusetts and Amylin Loglisci from Turkey, accomplished interesting concepts of anatomy and objectification without nudity being a factor. Alongside the burlesque performance, where slow stripping and visual tease was at work (and fantastically done, by the way), does it show that subtle views and limited exposure really does more than the full monty as a whole?
It seems that for me, an opening “welcome” presentation and question and answer time would have been well-utilized. Perhaps also by many others, given the amount of questions I heard in conversation. My questions would have centered around the exhibit’s attempt to rename or reclaim “objectification,” the display of female anatomy and requisite nude-form. There was intense power with each piece, the women looking strong and in-control, and for many pieces, naked. There was an obvious factor of the beauty of female form, that it is part and parcel of artists’ interest and history. But words from the curator, the artists present in the room (never-introduced), and the attendees would have really jolted the discussion to a whole new level. Giving an opportunity to name: name what typically happens, what was happening in that room at the moment, and what everyone is trying to make happen in the future. (Perhaps I missed any or all of this by leaving halfway through, so I will gladly eat my words along with the heart-cakes I missed out on).
This was a beautiful exhibit. The space was well-laid, a mix of seating and standing room, hors d’oeuvre, and engaging activities. We were there from 6:00pm until 8:00pm, but we were in a crowd of many: the place was packed, lively, and loud. All of the staff with whom we interacted were lovely, but it was definitely missing something to not have that level of engagement around an introduction or conversation. My partner, and I for that matter, are not art connoisseurs, but we went for a fun night out, and additional information would have really upped the ante. Perhaps we are uninformed as to how gallery openings typically go, and there is an assumed amount of informality to all exhibits: ask questions if you have them, eat the food, and leave when you’re done. The art of this exhibit certainly leaves you with an incredible feeling, from the bright colors, the vivid forms and engagement you can’t help but feel with them, and the overwhelming beauty of the female form.