Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Object Of Desire

My work is often criticised because it objectifies women. From my very first paintings, it was always intended to do so.
All woman are conscious of when they first become objectified. It happens at puberty when our physicality begins to come into focus. And as soon as we are in our teens, we encounter problems with men who only care about the possibility of bedding us. Over and over, older women told me I should think it flattering, instead of inappropriate or abusive.
We're so used to being objectified we don't really know how to look at ourselves any other way, especially sexually. In every culture and subculture, the physical ideals for women are far more codified and rigid than those for men. I try not to reduce women to either sex toys or trophies (at least, not without some irony) in my work but I do try to explore women's real desires and fantasies, starting with my own.
My generation of women is the first to be able to speak openly about our sexual experience, and to experiment outside the conventions of it, without being cast out of society. I objectify women in my work in the same way that I think young women now objectify themselves – as an attempt to harness and reverse the power that men have had over us. I'm also trying to reflect society's values back on itself in the hope that it illuminates the darker aspects of its sexual mores.
If my recent drawings of headless schoolgirls fingering their pussies look like some teenage fantasy, it's because they are – mine, from when I was in my teens. Women's sexuality is often denied. Just as often, we're denied a chance to express it. My drawings trace a younger reality for me: what I did alone, shyly, feeling partly silly, partly ashamed, and yet totally turned on by whatever fantasy was inside my head.
The developing sexuality of young girls, starting with fumbling, self-conscious masturbation, isn't accepted as matter-of-factly as that of young boys'. And if women are still ashamed of their bodies and desires, what chance do they have to get beyond society's over-amplified projection of both to gain a real understanding of themselves?
Without acknowledging and expressing the needs and urges deep within us, we'll continue to allow men to do it for us – and to expect us to live up to their misplaced, totally mistaken ideas.


artcanyell said...

The new release movie "Towelhead" touches on these issues Hazel has raised very visually and potently. Its not an easy movie to watch but it blows the lid on teen innocence, sexual awakening, adult culpability and the folly of denial and 'protectionism'.

Paul Martin said...

Hazel, I think your post touches upon so many issues of depth that I can't really respond adequately. Objectification is a given. Men objectify women, women objectify women, women objectify men and men objectify men. The nature of the objectification may differ, but it is there nonetheless.

Men have oppressed (and continue to oppress) women and vice versa. Again, the nature is different. Sometimes we limit our definitions of power or control, because it suits us. Sometime people like to play the victim, because there's power in that. Men generally don't like to play the victim - even when they are - because it either doesn't suit them, or because they can't even acknowledge that they are.

I'm not claiming a right to victimhood here; I'm just saying that it's not simple, and that virtually every criticism that one gender can claim against the other, there is a comparable reverse.

As for the potentially confronting nature of your work, I don't have a problem with that, even if I'm challenged myself. That's the nature of art, and the day that it stops us questioning our beliefs and values, we need to ask why.

Anonymous said...

Paul, i think your post is very confused. Hazel had been sharing a her personal experience and what she thinks about it now. Simple. What you are on about is clouding it all with psychobabbling male defensiveness.

Paul Martin said...

Pardon me, Anonymous. I frequently talk shit.

Jay said...

Great post.

A lot of 'objectifying behavior' has to do with biology and the nature of our species.

>>My generation...

Factually untrue. In fact there were many societies which were more 'liberated' in terms of giving their women more space.