Beth Scher‘s “Female Soldiers” series depicts women in the military adorned with embroidery and other decorative elements. Scher’s mixed media paintings explore ideas concerning femininity and strength. Her images feature women in a variety of military contexts – Scher’s embellishments of her female figures recalls the idea of a “decorated” soldier while also referring to the art of craft and embroidery, concepts normally found within in a domestic setting. In images that include a bulls eye or target image, Scher conceals the women’s faces with black thread, evoking a sense of expendability that must inhabit a conflict-heavy environment. Scher explains, “In my paintings, I portray them as young women who intentionally seek to display their sexuality and vulnerability, yet are trained killers, in a position of power and placed in serious conflicts. I wonder what the consequences are in a society that must deal with this dichotomy.” (via lustik)
Photographer SD Holman uses her talent as a portrait photographer to capture women who fall outside of the traditional gender binary. In her series “BUTCH: Not Like the Other Girls,” masculine women are not oddity or other. These are photos of women who identify as butch captured by a butch woman—they are women defining themselves. In this way, Butch has much in common with the current social campaigns stripping women of makeup, enhancements, and retouching and declaring them more beautiful without the artifice. This is part of Holman’s intent with the show—to use the Butch identity as an example of one of the classifications through which women are objectified. The difference though is the hate and fear that Butch women have faced as transgressors of societal constructs of femininity. Holman says:
“Butches and all gender variant folk walk in a world that is really hostile to them, so we tend to look inward. I was inspired to show their beauty by my wife Catherine, a femme who loved butches, and encouraged me to do this when I started talking about it.”
The rich diversity of butch women is evidenced here. Just as there isn’t one way to be a woman, Butch includes women of all shapes and colors and styles. The fluidity of gender is apparent in each photo.
Holman is an artist. Her portraits are classically beautiful, with their artful lighting and dramatic contrasts. The subjects mostly gaze through the lens to the viewer, unapologetic and authentic. There is no contrivance in these images, no sense of willful provocation nor is there any sense of apology. Author Amy Bloom writes, “Intimacy is being seen and known as the person you truly are.” These photos are intimate and groundbreaking, brave and matter-of-fact, beautiful and handsome.
In the digital age and generation of the selfie, a spiraling and often disorienting importance placed on consumerism and commodities permeates even the most remote of regions. Through the billboard jungles and beehive of mass media, images relentlessly promoting youth and sexuality haphazardly depict ideals of femininity. Creating a wormhole of inadequacies, the female form has found itself in a constant tug-of-war in either defending its natural state or scrambling to correct propagated notions of aesthetic shortcomings. As Barbara Kruger famously stated on one of her notorious gelatin silver prints from the 1980’s, “You Are Not Yourself”.
The following artists featured turn these preconceived notions on their head while reconstructing a refreshing narrative of female sexuality and identity. Featured artists include Laura Aguilar, Aimee Hertog, Heather Cassils, and Marina Santana.