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by Tasnim Ahmed

The female form, as an object or a subject, dominates all realms of the canvas. She is convoluted and in fragments, as Picasso exhibits, and she is raw and exact, as Marilyn Minter’s paintings will depict. But while women have filled the frames, where are the men?

Early 20th-century art, along with its predecessors, depicts the female and her bare body in a manner that is silently assertive. Helmut Newton and Diego Velazquez’s work show the woman as both demure and strong, in a most natural state – nude. She is in total control of her body–dimpled bottoms, rolls of flesh and all–and her sexuality belongs to no one but herself.


Helmut Newton, Evi The Cop, 1996


Today, males and females alike suffer from a porcelain porn star vagina complex. Society’s beauty and grooming standards expect women to have every inch of them waxed, plucked, toned, and sealed. Whereas in Newton’s photography almost never portrays women without pubic hair, a characteristic which today is considered by some to be repugnant.

The female nude is a favorite of mine because she is not strictly there to be objectified or gazed upon. She is there to point out an awareness and love of the natural self, without disguises. The female nude says, “I’ll eat as I please and grow my bush as I wish. I am magnificent, so either learn from me or kindly, fuck off.”

In contemporary photographs and paintings, the naked woman emerges as sexually aggressive, fully aware of the voyeur and willing to put on a show through artistic expression. She goes from teaching the viewer to appeasing the voyeur. And while the voyeur is given the impression that she is the object, she holds the power. Admiration and awe are upon her.


Rachel HrbekSushi

It doesn’t take much to notice that men are often behind the canvas, very rarely are they the stars. While reading about Rachel Hrbek, a young D.C.-based artist and who is often the central piece of her artwork, as the artist and the performer. In a performance piece titled Sushi, a clothed Hrbek eats sushi off of a naked man’s body, making him the object, a mere surface that serves to her. And unlike the naked woman, the naked man doesn’t capture my attention. My undivided focus is on Hrbek, who commands all the attention for her revolutionary act of transforming the man into a disposable plate.

What if men and women received equal celebration for their sexuality? Marilyn Minter is an American artist who is best known for her slithering, glistening depictions of the female body reminds us that women aren’t the only objects, men are too. In her 1989 painting titled Porn Grid, I can’t help but take delight in the disembodied penis for more than one reason, but most importantly because Minter establishes an unseen equality between men and women and celebrates the sexuality of both. With Minter, sex is to be revered while gender roles be damned.


Marilyn Minter, PornGrid #3, 1989


Female artists who use their own sexuality, or that of other women, are given praise and/or sometimes called “sluts.” Artist Tracey Emin is both celebrated and criticized for her expression of sexuality, inspired by her own sexual experiences. Praise, on a superficial level, because that is what a male-dominated society wants to see, and criticism because there is a masked fear of women who control their own sexuality, and power should never be in a woman’s hands.


Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1999


Could it be that women have been put in front of the lens and on canvas while men are typically the viewers and artists because women hold the power to their sexuality, whereas men simply fear that of their own? Could it be that “object” and “objectify” are words that have been coined in an attempt to reduce the woman and label her sexual power in order to give the man a semblance of control and power that he lacks with regard to his sexuality?

I once asked a guy why art has a tendency to overuse the female body as a subject and object. His reasoning was that a woman’s bodyher vagina includedis beautiful, while penises are ugly and worse when they’re flaccid. I think it’s all an excuse. There isn’t a sculpture of a Greek god that hasn’t made me blush, or a male nude that hasn’t made me the slightest bit excited. Flaccid penis in tow.


Tasnim’s penmanship can also be found on her own amazing blog Takes A Muscle

Follow her  Twitter at  @tasnim_aa + Instagram at @tasnimaaa 



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