Gender Essay in Art

1 January 2017

They all borrowed past paintings and promoted them with new context to portray and explore different meanings towards gender, being mediated. Yasumasa Morimura appropriated historical works through the applications of modern technology and questioning the female gender. Morimura also has a scrutiny approach to determine if these historic masterpieces are appropriate in the period of mass media, innovating technology, mass production and growing female deliverance. As he contemplates that the “East meets west in my work, but I haven’t made an attempt to merge the two worlds.

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They exist in opposition” Through the utilisation of appropriation, Morimura enforces the indulgence of Japanese culture implanting the context of western artworks, questioning the assortment of eastern cultures role in a western-dominated world. Yasumasa Morimura’s artwork Self-Portrait (Actress) After Marilyn Monroe, 1990 is a photograph where Morimura is posed as the famous actress Marilyn Monroe. The photographic reconstruction is an exploration of both the individual identity and gender of the artist. Morimura is also influenced by cultural, historical and societal issues.

In Morimura’s photograph poses at the famous actress Marilyn Monroe wearing make-up and costume. He refers to the female impersonator tradition of the onnagata (female figure, in Japanese), which reminds us that his work deals with cross cultural identity as well as gender identity. His photograph is an exploration of the individual identity and gender identity as well as other social issues such as national identity and global identity. Both gender and Western versus eastern ideas of pop culture concern Morimura.

By dressing as a female, it is a quest for self-identity. By presenting himself as Monroe, Morimura explores a different role of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class and time. Morimura explains why he incorporates Western images “I am Japanese, so why am I dealing with Western work? Because it feels as close to me as traditional Japanese art. If I had used a canvas to explore my themes, it would have shown partiality to a Western language, but photographs, I think, are neither Japanese nor Western. They represent my feeling that I exist in between the two worlds”.

Re-contextualisation is exhorted by the artist and photographer Julie Rrap as she explores the history of the female figure and representation in the history art. Often replacing previous male produced images of women in historical artworks with images of her, Rrap incites the notion that sexual identity has become an object that is constructed and fixed ultimately through male vision in a patriarchal society, rather than something that is natural. Through use of wit and parody Rrap explores identity and historical representation and context of the female form.

She refers to her works as ‘games’, tempting the audience to interact and ‘play’. In the work “Vital statistics” (1997), the concept Rrap is trying to express it how the female body has been represented. She interprets the world of media and the art world from a female point of view. Rrap’s also adds a sense of humour to her installations that lures the participation of the viewer. Rrap does this so we are made aware of the process of creating this art, and we are also amused by her playful approach to breaking the traditional concept of sculpture as positive space.

The negative spaces in the rubber moulds evoke an intimate presence of the artist’s body while building a relationship with the naked photographs also of the artist on the wall. Rrap uses her naked body as a vehicle for social or political expression, which alerts the viewer to the experiences of women in art history and contemporary society. Rrap mobilises her naked torso as a weapon for sarcastic and subversive art. Unlike artist Yasumasa Morimura, Rrap doesn’t take on different personae through disguise with wigs and makeup, but rather maintain her own identity as both artist and subject.

Conventionally, artist Anne Zahalka is one of Australia’s most recognised artists working in photo media, questioning the conventional ways in which gender has been depicted throughout the history of European Art. Through appropriation and the utilisation of irony Zahalka highlights contemporary issue associating gender as well as questioning traditional artistic representations of women. Her use of photography allows Zahalka to explore how culture can be identified through images. She highlights photography’s ability to demand, disfigure or deny the truth.

Zahalka challenges stereotypes in previous artworks by re-staging historical art scenes in ways that address the representation of gender and various cultural issues in order to reflect modern concerns. Throughout her career, Zahalka has examined the relationship between the place and the objects placed within it. Whether those objects are people, animals or objects, they often sit uncomfortably in it. The Sunbather #2 and The Bathers belong to a series she shot at Bondi in the late ’80s Zahalka has an “interest in issues relating to the representation of gender and national identity”.

These 1980s images are post modern in concept as they reference the past, make comment on Australia’s cultural diversity in an era when issues of multiculturalism and ‘melting pot’ were being discussed, and pay homage to leaders in Australian art through artists Max Dupain and Charles Meere. Sunbather #2’ is clearly a homage to or appropriation of Max Dupain’s iconic ‘Sunbaker’ image. The sleek, bronzed original in black and white has been replaced in brilliant colour by a pale and rather scrawny red-head.

While Australian Beach Pattern is a representation of all that is stereotypically Australian (bronzed chiselled figures relaxed and at home on the beach), The Bathers is an obvious testament to the Zahalka’s “interest in issues relating to the representation of gender and national identity” with the female figures being in positions of prominence in the image and including people of different physical builds and ethnic backgrounds. The figures are not all ‘typical Australians’ in the sense that they are not all sun bronzed, athletic White Australians.

Cindy Sherman is an American artist, similarly dealing with constructions of gender and identity. She is best classified as a feminist as the majority of her work is thematically concerned with female identity, critiquing both historical and current social and cultural classifications of women in western society. Feminist critic Dora Maar has noted that Sherman’s work purports that “as far as femininity goes, there is nothing but costume. ” Indeed her methodology like Morimura is to use her own image in different guises.

Her playful manipulation of artistic practice and incisive criticism of patterns of authority, power relations and hidden assumptions within the art world characterise her as distinctly post modern. Similarly to Julie Rrap, Sherman often poses herself as the subject for her artworks, incorporating humour, wit and satirising the ideas of femininity held by popular culture. One of her better-known body of works is the series ‘Film Stills’ (1977-1980), a collection of ‘stills’ from hypothetical movies.

The sixty-nine heroines within her sixty-nine appropriated stills represent the archetypes of fictional femininity that took hold of post-war America. ‘Untitled #6’, an early shot in the series, sees Sherman, prostrate and S shaped, blond wigged and lingerie bedecked, lying amongst satin folds. The birds eye camera angle, the contorted form of her body, the position of her arm above her head signalling sexual resignation all reference the ‘desperate diva’ stereotype.

As critique Amada Cruz notes “the vantage point of the viewer, who looks down on these women, reinforces their vulnerability, as does their mostly dishevelled look. ” Sherman uses the melodrama of the shot to parody the construction of female identity in cinema and more importantly in the mainstream historical narrative which has defined what is and isn’t feminine and beautiful. Through ‘Untitled #6’ and its sisters, Sherman reveals gender as an unstable and constructed position, which suggests that there is no inherent biological female identity.

The works also draws attention to the banal, cheap and vicarious aspects of popular culture. Through performing simultaneous roles as the subject and the artist she subverts the conventional gendered relationships of male artist/ female subject/ male voyeur. The playful instability of her work is summed up by critique Craig Owens “While Sherman may pose as a pin-up, she cannot be pinned down. ” Yasumasa Morimura, Julie Rrap, Anne Zahalka and Cindy Sherman have challenged the ways in which gender has been portrayed historically in art.

Through their varied uses of photography, painting, cultural influences, and mixed and mass media techniques, the artists have each commented on the role of women in history and their constant relation to sexual identity. The artists have employed appropriation in order to critique and satirise the artworks in which such identities are evident and to express to the viewer how these gender roles have changed within contemporary society.

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