The female nude from a different gaze.

Atom Painting

Miranda Forester seeks to question the place of the female nude in the western canon. More accurately the place of black women in that equation. Working directly from live observation Forester, as the artist progenitor inverts the androcentric gaze as described by John Berger: As a systematic way of apprehending women as objects to fulfil the wish fulfilment of the heteronormative male psyche. The western art world has been dominated by men’s desires being projected onto female docile bodies, artists like Pablo Picasso amongst others have made huge play on their relationships with women. Extracting their image and agency their feminine essence thus literally objectifying the same women in a style that they do not fully own, placing them in the category of muse, rather than of artist collaborator. So much so that whole books and careers have been based on asking the question of where women artists are: ‘Why Have there been no Great Women Artists’ by Linda Nochlin. Which acts as a generationer for the argument that follows beyond it that there have been great women artists they have just not been given the space in the male cannon and it is the work of revision to see that the record be corrected to reflect these contributions.  

It was the recently deceased Bell Hooks who, problematised the predominantly default white female gaze adopted by many a feminist thinker, who in enfranchising if at all women who live at the margins of society. Due to intersections like race gender and class ability etc, do not augment the argument in order to fully reflect the diversity of the fem presenting individuals. It lends itself to in essence to a continuantion of the misfiting violence of the male gaze, just empowered by the girl boss mentality of late capitalist ideology. Quoting ‘The Oppositional Gaze: Black Famle Spectators (1997)’ one of Hooks interlocutors remarks in relation to seeing Black women assume the same positions of that conferred onto their white counterparts: This action amounts to “Transfer without Transformation”. There is an amnesia in placing black women’s bodies in the position occupied by white women without the relevant transformative learnings; without real difference; without breaking from conventions made by men for men. The mire memetic assumption of the postion of dominant control is by itself unsatisfactory. 

Forester has asserted herself in the business of making work that the participants feel seen in. A position that is both linked to the queer gaze, one that cancels out the binary paradox associated with the male gaze. In this I mean the power dynamics of object and subject are replaced by the politics of desire. A scopophilia without the penetrative male gaze, with all the cast of assumptions and expectations brought on by patriarchy.      

The influence of cinema in Foresters artistic language, can be seen not just in her technique of using image transfer as a form of mark making from movie stills. But also in the framing of her works action. Though the splicing and cutting togther elements of the homely like the Flora and fauna, that would be naturally part of her sitters lives. In conjuction with the way in which she carefully isolates elements of her sitters bodies splicing these elements to the point of ambiguous tangling so tight. It replicates the action of a hot encounter, intimacy, plationic touch in flirtation. Rendering this ranage of emotions ultimately transparent in the way she uses PVCs and other such material as her canvas of choice. Make for works that force the viewer to always look beyond the nature of the frame. Engage with what lies beyond that which is visible. 

Inadvisable form her work is the parataxis of placement, not only in the way Forester constructs her work but also in the way she images the universe within which these works function. One of her main influences for her work is the film: by Cheryl Dunye entitled ‘Watermelon Woman’, a post-modernist work that breaks the fourth wall in cinema as, the name protagonist and director of his film Dunye. In assuming both roles, she narrates and stars in her own construction. Aiding us in understanding the Cheryl’s place in the mist of the confusion her friends and others feel towards the project behind uncovering who this mythical watermelon woman is. The movie is a story of coming to realisation, the project that one wishes to embark on is not always clear and thus does not always gather you praise or support. But the journey will teach you about your place in the world and my be as valuable as the end.

The movie ends on this note “Sometimes you have to create your own history, the watermelon woman is fiction”. In this call to make up your own history, in acknowledgment of the artificiality of her movies fiction. The film breaks the down the forth wall and interrogates the audiences own, relationship with their watermelon women like projects in their lives. What is stopping you form making your own creative myths? This moment where verisimilitude is broken where the audience become not only passive by stander but are enfranchised into the cast. Is something Forester actively does with her models, they aren’t only props she is writing them in to history. Though her work can be seen as figurative and not veristic, it relies on the same principle as film that of audience by in.

The gaze is central to understanding of Miranda Foresters work as it provides a key primer in deciphering her intentions and ultimately her aim. Which is to make work for women of her community, in a language that is both accessible, but beautiful. Beyond that it moves the conversation beyond the stayed white feminist, game of occupying the same space as white men without evolving past that as a model for liberation. Liberation comes from the freedom to speak in a visual language that is of the community and with consent. Ultimately Foresters work speaks to how beautiful the margins are compared to the dead centre. 

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