Ruby YatesBachelor of Contemporary Art
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Objects of the Empowered Woman #1-#6 is a series of collages consisting of black and white photographs capturing women in moments of feeling empowered. The women are close friends, my prompt to them when taking the photos was “do what makes you feel empowered and show off your favourite parts of yourself”. Without forcing nudity, naturally the models enjoyed revealing body parts such as their breasts, back, bottoms and thighs. They wore their favourite lingerie or lack of, or their favourite tops and one even enjoyed a glass of wine while being photographed; the process was wholesome and lively sparking love for their stretch marks, scars, and cellulite. Once the images were collected, they were printed and crafted into a collage excluding most of their faces. When arranging the composition, I followed the curves of their bodies and selected obscure placements to create a flowing distortion. The choice of semi surreal collage was to distort the imagery blurring the line between an object and woman. The chosen medium of photography is direct and assertive, quite a masculine artform, an “expression of power”. It was invigorating to capture these women on their own terms through a lens they had power over; I always checked if they were satisfied with the angles and poses. Despite containing some nudity these images were not taken with provocative interests for satisfaction of the male gaze, they uplifted my friends to embrace the movement and details of their unique bodies and allowing them a choice to become in touch with their sexuality and womanhood.
Black and White Photography collaged on card
The two major themes establishing this series was “empowerment/power” and “objectification”. According to Marc A. Zimmerman, empowerment is about exerting control and influence over decisions that affect one’s life. As a woman this means identifying areas of one’s life that may be supressed and implementing change through “goals, aims, and strategies“ to then learn the “relationship between their efforts and life outcomes”. It is identified that the liberation of women through revealing their bodies is being objectified, therefore this series aims to disregard objectification and express womanhood through personally empowering poses and choice of clothing or skin. Objectification is defining a woman’s worth “with her body’s appearance and sexual functions”, disassociating her qualities of being a person to only be viewed as an object for male sexual desire. A large aspect to these images is “we are proud of our womanhood, sexuality and empowerment, it is the viewers responsibility to check their view of these women whether they objectify or support us”. It’s a test to see how a hyper-sexual society influences the viewer’s perception through removing the models faces; are the reduced to an object because a critical identifying feature is not seen or are they still a person?
According to Michael Foucault:
"Our sexuality is the most spontaneously natural thing about us...Through it, we experience ourselves as real people; it gives us our identities, our sense of self, as men and women…Sex has become...'the truth of our being'. But what is this 'truth'? And on what basis can we call something 'natural' or 'unnatural'?”
I took this statement with gusto throughout this project because it is natural for men to be sexual beings but frowned upon for women. This stems into ideologies of power dynamics, feminine and masculine energy. The main point I wanted to convey is empowerment comes in many forms, for these women it was feeling proud of their bodies and appreciating their favourite body parts removing the intention of receiving approval from men. The collage unifies these women yet shows contrast between different body shapes.
What ignited this project is the consistent conversation I have with like-minded women about feeling empowered and disregarding the male gaze or sexualising opinions from men. It should be acknowledged this artwork is very specific to young heteronormative women experiencing a lifestyle exposed to hyper sexualisation; urging to break free from societal norms of acting “lady-like” or being “slut-shamed” for expressing their sexuality and femininity or masculinity. As young women in this modern era we are more than housewives, secretaries or only designed for reproduction; women are leaders, powerful and sexual beings. Many different things empower women, whether that be religion, career, nudity or covering up, being a mother or never having children among many other things; this series is a small snapshot of what empowers young women like myself.
Artists such as Eugenia Loli, Janine Dello, Linder Sterling, Erin M. Riley, and Cindy Sherman were core influences alongside music by Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Beyonce, Ariana Grande and Cardi B. Edward Monet’s Olympia initially sparked the idea of confronting empowerment and objectification head on. Overall, the feedback I received from the women involved in this series confirms they felt “empowered”, “sexy”, “comfortable” and “proud” of who they are as women.
Simon Bainbridge, “British Journal of Photography: Female Gaze,” Issue 7859, Volume 164 (2017)
The Conversation, “Explainer: what does the ‘male gaze’ mean, and what about a female gaze?”
Marc A. Zimmerman, Empowerment Theory: Psychological, Organizational and Community Levels of Analysis, (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2000)
Dawn M. Szymanski, Lauren B. Moffitt, and Erika R. Carr, “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research,” The Counseling Psychologist 39, no. 1 (2011)
Jeffrey Weeks, Sexuality (New York: Routledge, 2003)