Women’s bodies have always been the medium and message of masculine voyeurism in photography and arts in general. It has been regarded as passive, as a privileged object among others, essential for men photographers and artists to show off their technical and intellectual abilities. Fantasies of control transformed the female body into a muse, a kind of adorable entity involved in the wide-range rites from pure eye-pleasure to sexual abuse.
An exclusive concentration on female bodies as tools able to satisfy the so-called scopophilia (which is the attitude of those who love looking) still perpetuates the concept of the female as exotic. Yet as a relative concept throughout, considered only when related to an external eye. Foreign, alluring (even if also frightening), mysterious or inherently unknowable, resistant to a transparent understanding, the female body, no matter the progress made in the emancipation, still needs to claim its right loudly.
A woman, whether naked or not is, for a large percentage of men, the most beautiful thing they’ll ever see. The female body is the prime aesthetic object recreated in statues and paintings first. Let’s take the Venus of Willendorf from the upper Paleolithic: it may be a fertility figure, a mother goddess symbol, a good-luck totem, or an aphrodisiac made by men for the appreciation of men. In discussions about arts, photography, and cinema, the duality of passive and active has often been critically linked to the distinction between sexes, with no moral judgments. The art critic John Berger observed: “Men act and women appear”. He was drawing attention to the continuity across art historical images, explicitly made for men to look at, as being developed and repeated in the values of the new image industries (e.g. advertising, fashion, and media).
The voice of women opposed to these structures of representation, for example by introducing the concept of sexism, intended to challenge the attitudes of what passed for normal behavior and in the education of image-makers. Who said that women had to be labeled as muses for the creative process of men? Who said that they couldn’t take an active role and be whom they wanted rather than a passive object also accused of exhibitionism?
Only through the body, always the same body, is there recognition and identification.
According to the artist mentioned above, Marilisa Cosello (@marilisacosello), to have a role is to identify the self in society. Her artistic practice is characterized by the participation of the body, and by the construction of performances to activate a dialogue between history, culture and social structures. Her research configures as a reflection on the political nature of a single body as an object, and its impact on the power dynamics on the history of individuals and communities.
Precisely in her imaginary diary Compleanno (Birthday), she represents the five personalities living within her, between past, present and future: the Bride, the Lover, the Man, the Bourgeois Woman, the Children. Those are all archetypes that “come to life by describing the society in which they were born, the identity to be had, the conventions in which to be”, she says.
Marilisa Cosello, Compleanno, L’Uomo; Birthday, The Man 2015-2016, Polaroid, Mixed media 148x210 mm
© Marilisa Cosello, Compleanno, L’Uomo; Birthday, The Man 2015-2016, Polaroid, Mixed media 148x210 mm
A woman is not just an object among others or a masterpiece of design, as in the Victorian age. If the main social fact is the female body attractiveness, the main political fact is its weakness compared to the male body (which is completely wrong, considering the fact that the female body is able to conceive and carry a fetus and to nurse an infant). A woman can be a model of the self, being multifaceted and versatile, equally entitled a human being and political entity with a mind of her own. Hence, rejecting the idea of the muse, she turns instead to her own images and reality as sources for her art.