What About the Male Body in Feminist Art? An Exhibition Examines

May 23, 2018

The artistic practices of a new generation of women artists in the 1970s were focused on the explorations of the female body and sexuality. The rise of self-awareness and self-expression was of great importance in order to defy the omnipresent male gaze.

The very notion of self-observation and self-indulgence has become a matter of an actual political statement - women have decided to reshape the traditional canons or representation of their own, but also male bodies.

The recently opened exhibition titled In the Cut – Male Body in Feminist Art tends to reveal both the historical shift and contemporary take on the female gaze at the male body. The works of women artists of a different age, approach, and sensibilities will reveal how the gaze is being constructed in regards to sexual self-determination and artistic authority.

Susan Silas - Love in the ruins; sex over 50, 2008–13, photographs
Susan Silas - TORSOS, 2017, from the series love in the ruins; sex over 50

A Few Words More On Concept

The concept is embedded in the art practice, as well as the then-rising theory of the protagonists of the Second Wave of Feminism. These women attempted to dissect the patriarchal codes in order to articulate different takes on sexuality, body, and gender. Despite their immense efforts, in the current global political climate such demands are still not fully accepted (a good example is the Me Too phenomenon), so the female gaze is overshadowed by the male one.

Therefore, this exhibition also attempts to underline the importance of female experience (sensuality and desire) and to broaden to boundaries for women artists to explore subjects which remain a taboo for women themselves, since such a reaction is an effect of the phallocentric society we live in.

Jana Sterbak – Distraction, 1992, Herlinde Koelbl – From the series: Men, 1982
Left: Jana Sterbak – Distraction, 1992. Color photograph, 49 x 36 cm, Edition 15. Courtesy Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich / Right: Herlinde Koelbl – From the series: Men, 1982. Photograph © Herlinde Koelbl

The Selection of Artists

The iconic artistic figures from the 1970s like Louise Bourgeois, Betty Tompkins, Eunice Golden, Kathleen Gilje, Joan Semmel, ORLAN, Herlinde Koelbl and Carolee Schneemann have definitely initiated the emancipation processes through their art in order to claim the female gaze, among other things.

Their works will be displayed next to the works of newer generations, such as Tracey Emin, Sophie Calle, Anna Jermolaewa, Mwangi Hutter, Alicia Framis, Anke Doberauer, Susan Silas, Julika Rudelius, Jana Sterbak, as well as younger artists like Aude du Pasquier Grall and Paula Winkler.

All of them have depicted the desirable male bodies, either by just exposing them or contrasting them to their own. The often result is a depiction of homoerotic delight, so the works subvert the hierarchy of the person who objectifies and the objectified body. Such a tension reveals the models' vulnerability, imperfection, and individuality.

On the other hand, several works which contain deliberately placed traces of female sexual activity or serve as a gender role-play operate with the general subject matter from more subversive perspective.

Eunice Golden - Purple Sky 1969
Eunice Golden - Purple Sky 1969. Oil on canvas, 48 x 72 cm

In the Cut at the Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken

This exciting exhibition should be perceived also as an important, yet brief survey on feminist art history since it displays a myriad of artists and practices. It is funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and is accompanied by the bilingual catalog published by Kerber Verlag.

In the Cut - Male Body in Feminist Art is installed at Stadtgalerie in the German city of Saarbrücken, until 30 September 2018.

Featured image: Alicia Framis - From the series: Foreign Affairs, Shanghai, 2011, 23 photographs © Alicia Framis/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. All images courtesy Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken.

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