Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze
Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.
That’s what art critic John Berger famously observed.
But some feminist artists have turned the tables in the exhibit, Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze:
With a gallery filled with men stripped naked this body of work exposes women’s cheeky, provocative and sometimes shocking commentaries on the opposite sex (which) may make the viewer squirm a little. But that is precisely the point.
The exhibit reveals sundry masculinities from female/feminist/
transgender perspectives, moving from sensuous rear views of the male buttocks to gender-bending to daughters gazing at fathers. Featured artists include Juana Alicia, Nancy Buchanan, Guerrilla Girls on Tour!, Lynn Hershmann, Jill O’Bryan, ORLAN, Carolee Schneemann, Sylvia Sleigh, Annie Sprinkle, Elizabeth Stephens, May Wilson, and Melissa Wolf.
Man as object strikes a pose, buttocks pushed out, offered to us as bedroom eyes shoot a backward glance. Men flex in awkward positions, or bend gracefully into compliant cants. Some men turn submissively into tables.
Others lie down. Natural enough, yet rarely seen in art. Too sensually passive… waiting… vulnerable… or “on the bottom” for mainstream viewing?
The visions can come across as “gay.” Since sexual pose is so often meant for the male gaze, on some unconscious level we may see it all through male eyes. And that is jarring, too.
The camera pleasurably zooms in on erotic man-parts. Images of male autoeroticism and penises abound, including a piece called “Where’s His Head?” that depicts a giant phallus-man fondling his much smaller man-phallus. Indeed! And when Pinocchio tells a lie, it’s not his nose that grows. More like a woody that “lasts more than four hours.” Actual penises are rarely displayed, apparently unable to live up to what Richard Dyer called “the mystique implied by the phallus.”
The exhibit includes a lenticular postcard (turn it one way and it’s a woman, turn the other and it’s a man) that juxtaposes Courbet’s “Origin of the World” with a close-up vagina shot versus ORLAN’s “Origin of War” with a penis close-up.
At times men are objectified in one-dimensional, controlling and demeaning ways. But sex-positive feminist photographer Shiloh McCabe explores the other side, working to ensure that her gaze does not consume or dominate. She takes a wide view, seeing those who are usually not. Her subjects help create their own representation so they can retain their power. “I’m not here to objectify or harm; I’m here to nurture and document,” she explains.
Man as object, Rubenesque, reclining, bathing, cooking, lounging, washing up before bed. Man as Madonna and Child, patriarchal man, veiled man, man as cowboy bunny, trans man. Blonde man in short shorts. Bodybuilder, Founding Father. Homeless man. Nude and vulnerable. Empowered. Bound and submissive. Striking a pose. Objectified.
So much to gaze at. And so much to see.
In the past it was totally taboo for women to gaze upon the male, yet it was appropriate and common in the reverse.
Do you think that things are changing?
That’s what artist, Marian Yap, wonders.
Good question. This art pushes us out of our taken for granted ways of seeing to explore that path.
This is a repeat — I’m on vacation.
Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze opened at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco before traveling to the Kinsey Institute Gallery, Bloomington, IN in 2011-2012.
This exhibition was created by The Women’s Caucus for Art – the founding organization promoting feminist art and art as activism since 1972.
For more information click here.
Ms. Magazine reposted this piece on their blog October 28, 2011.
Posted on November 10, 2014, in body image, feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged body image, culture, feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.