From the adobe-style buildings, to the textiles, to the silver and turquoise jewelry, regional Native American peoples have created the basis of the “Southwest” style.
Santa Fe is chock full of museums. Now, I love museums. Wherever I go, I seek out museums, and can spend an almost distressingly long amount of time in them, reading every interpretive panel and label as I go.
Museums are different than when I was young (heck, everything is different than when I was young!) All educational materials were oriented from a white, male, European-oriented point of view. This has really shifted.
The Palace of the Governors
Now, back in 2004, Jim and I visited Santa Fe and went to the Palace of the Governors. I remember seeing exhibits in the long, rambling adobe building situated on the main public square.
There, I learned in great detail about the clash of three groups; Native Americans, the Spanish, and later the “Americans” (I wish to goodness I could call us “United Statesians”- far more accurate!)
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
Contemporary artwork is included along side of the historical objects, giving an even larger sense of it being a living experience, not a dry report.
The main permanent exhibit is called “Here, Now & Always” The title is appropriate, because it used to be that Native Americans were described in past tense, like they didn’t exist anymore.
Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
What have I learned?
I understand that what I am about to say is going to be a cliché, so please bear with me.
European culture is very compartmentalized. Emphasis on the individual, especially here in the US, is unusually important. On top of that, artists and art are seen as being apart from the rest of society, as being “special” and isolated.
As I was immersed in and experienced what these museums were offering, two main themes emerged.
One, that for these Native American creators, communal identity is a part of what goes into every form of expression.
Two, that the things created and displayed were often regarded not as “objects,” but as living things with an energy of their own.
One terrific exhibition at The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery. The collection of pots and sculptures displayed are from diverse places and times, and were curated by a group of Native American potters, historians, and educators.
In one video, a potter said “Each pot has its own journey. Each pot has its memories.” (See video below)
It seems to me that the act of creation for many Native American artists is not merely an attempt at personal expression, but is an essential tool. A tool not only for cultural survival, but for their communities to thrive, and communicate who they are to the outside world.
Yes, but what about Moi?
Warning: this post has pictures of bare-naked ladies.
My newest piece, Boudoir II, may be called something of a "boudoir painting"- a bit of campy fun for me. I find myself drawn to appropriating and playing with traditional forms of displaying the female form.
What is a boudoir painting?
It is a painting of an object of desire, for the purposes of private viewing, rather that public display. In other words, for the bedroom, not the drawing room.
However prurient the motivations creating and owning such art may have been, boudoir painting has an august history, and are often considered to be some of the worlds greatest works of art.
The examples of boudoir paintings shown below differ from Boudoir II in one important way: my lady has got clothes on. But what it does have in common with them are: a prominent female figure, who usually addresses the viewer directly, in an intimate setting, that includes props that infer meaning. The trappings and props create a narrative, and often, the artworks raison d'etre.
At any rate, the inclusion of "Venus" in the title provides the necessary bona fides that made this an acceptable work to own.
"Orientalism" is another way that western painters could legitimize depicting the female nude. Imperialism and colonialism created a blank canvas upon which a European artist could depict sensuality not permitted by polite society in Europe.
Grand Odalisque by Ingres is one of the most famous examples of this.
Interesting fact: the word "Odalisque" means an enslaved woman, or a concubine in a harem. It's French, derived from the Turkish word, odalık, which derived from the word oda, meaning "room". As in, you can't leave your room.
Then things started to get really interesting.
In 1865, Edward Manet painted "Olympia". It was transparently referring to The Venus of Urbino, shown above, but with oppositional elements. It was shocking to society at the time, not because she was naked, but because of her frank, direct gaze, and accoutrements that indicated she was a prostitute, not a goddess or an exotic "other". She is depicted as a woman in charge of her sexuality, not a receptive, docile plaything. (An interesting and related subject is the difference between "nude" and "naked" in traditional art- but that is for another blog post!)
Though the veil may have been ripped off the pretense of female nudity, the racist depiction of her black maid, who literally disappears into the background, was entirely conventional.
For some interesting background about both of the models in this painting, go to these articles: Victorine Meurent and Laure.
As time went on, the ability to mass produce imagery developed, so the boudoir picture moved from the salons of the privileged few to the Everyman. Depictions of nudity, and specifically female nudity, became more and more acceptable in fine art and in popular culture.
For a great example of this, check out Vixen Pin Up Photography, whose tag-line is "Be the Girl of Your Dreams"
In 1975, Laura Mulvey, feminist film and culture critic coined the phrase "The Male Gaze" to unpack the phenomena of the preponderance of female nudes in visual culture.
In 1985, an anonymous group of female artists called The Guerrilla Girls formed to fight sexism and racism within the art world.
So, what does this all mean? I don't pretend to be particularly enlightened when it comes to feminism and art. I am still very beholden to The Male Gaze myself. But part of being an artist is following where our inspiration leads us. My relationship to sexualized images of women is an inexorable part of who I am. The question is, what do I do with it? How does it reflect my individuality? Does it resonate with others, and if so, how?
Here are the hotsheets with the sordid details, the true confessions, and the inside info on my artistic process. Learn how it all happens right here!
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