THE ART OF SUBVERSION AND THE FEMALE GAZE
In this feminist contemporary art blog, I am going to do a comparison between Édouard Manet's, "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe", also known simply as "The Picnic" and my painting called, "The Wonder".
The Wonder was inspired by "The Picnic" because I wanted to do a painting where a conflicted woman is in the process of overcoming shame. The Picnic was a shameless and controversial painting that inspired me. Its controversy was explained to me twice. Once in my art history class at Washburn University as an undergraduate art student in 1983 and again in my Women and Art Class at the San Francisco Art Institute, in 1989 while working on my M.F.A.
They were 2 different views. At Washburn, the professor explained that the reason why the painting was controversial was because public nudity was condemned when this painting was created. The bather in Manet's painting wears a typical Victorian undergarment and not a typical swimsuit. People did not bath in rivers, but instead privately inside their homes. Therefore, The Picnic was seen as a "tongue in cheek" connotations to prostitution, which was rampant at the time in Paris and in big cities in Europe.
The Women and Art class introduced me to the male gaze. Laura Mulvey was one of the woman artists that I studied and is credited for bringing up the issue of the male gaze in movies and the designing of female curatorship. In this class I was showed how women artists of the 60's and 70's subverted the male gaze.
In the 2000's I made a trip to Europe where I visited the Musée d'Orsay and saw Manet's painting of the picnic. It was enormous. I studied it for a good half hour and it's image stayed in the back of my conscious until I began The Wonder in 2007 at an artist residency in Oaxaca called, "The Curtiduria". The Curtiduria is when I first began a series of masked women who were protesting shame. The mask is used a symbol of rebellion like the Zapatistas. And so I wanted to take The Picnic and subvert it.
I wanted to paint a woman without any scandal. So I painted her alone. Legs closed, arms positioned to flex muscle while in a relaxed pose presenting to us a woman that is searching for something much greater than herself, for her gaze is not at us, but up above. She has eaten from the sacred fruit of grapes and pomegranates. These fruits have dual diverse cross cultural religious symbolism to fertility and abundance due its many seeds, but also to debauchery in Greek mythology, and blood and death related to Jesus Christ in Christian beliefs. The horse is at ease, without a saddle or bridle, a symbol of freedom and reserved sexuality.