Heather Cassils And Three Other Artists Present Alternative Narratives Of Female Sexuality And Identity

Heather Cassils

Heather Cassils

Laura Aguilar

Laura Aguilar

Aimee Hertog

Aimee Hertog

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.

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Woman’s Face Photoshopped In 27 Countries To Compare Beauty Standards In Different Parts Of The World

Left: Original portait; Right: Morocco

Left: Original portait; Right: Morocco

Argentina

Argentina

Serbia

Serbia

U.S.A.

U.S.A.

We’ve all seen the “Before and After Photoshop” versions of photographs, displaying the ways in which various media distort our perception of ideal beauty. But what would these images look like in other countries? With her series Before & After, Esther Honig, a radio journalist based out of Kansas City, asked just that. With the help of Fiverr, a website for freelancers, she got in touch with artists from forty different countries; emailing each a self-portrait, she wrote, “Hi, my name is Esther Honig. Make me look beautiful.” When they did not understand the assignment, she simply told them to make her look like the most popular fashion models.

When artists from twenty-seven countries replied, she was astonished with the results. Some edits were so dramatic that she yelped aloud; others, like the image from Morocco, in which she was given a hijab, stole her breath. Some cultures favor a bare face where others apply makeup. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the work is the overwhelming presence of Western feminine ideals: pale white skin, pink cheeks, a dainty nose, and wide eyes contoured with trimmed brows.

In the end, the series expresses the extend to which often oppressive beauty ideals are meaningless; where a woman is declared beautiful in one culture, she might be plain in another. Yet for all women, regardless of ethnicity and background, the pressure to be beautiful remains, propagated by the whims of the contemporary media. Writes Honig, “Photoshop allows us to achieve our unobtainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more illusive.” (via Buzzfeed)

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Mind-Blowing Body Painting Glows Under Black Light

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Fueled by his reverence for the natural world, the Northern Utah-based artist and photographer John Poppleton paints fluorescent landscapes onto the backs of nude bodies with temporary pigments. Photographing his models under backlight, he constructs starry nighttime constellations that conform to the curves of the female silhouette. As a commercial photographer with a passion for fantasy, Poppleton incorporates his masterful painting in this “Black Light Bodyscapes” series. Each piece takes a few hours to complete, and many of them are personalized or custom-made for his subject; one painting includes a teepee to honor its model’s Native American heritage, and the mountainscapes that are visible from Poppleton’s own window make numerous appearances.

Poppleton’s mesmerizing work is both current and timeless. While echoing the electrifying aesthetic of techno raves and the like, it also maintains ancient themes. Like mythologies surrounding the figure of the Mother Earth, the “Black Light Bodyscapes” tie the female to the natural world. In a manner reminiscent of the story of the ancient Greek goddess Gaia, the planet seems to spring forth from a fertile well of female power. Here, as with folklore surrounding the deities of Greece, Europe, Asia, and Africa, the silhouetted woman becomes equated with the moon and the lunar calendar; in darkness, she lights the way, delighting the eye with an irresistible shine. Dotted with radiant celestial bodies, backlight painting may be seen as a sort of divination, reminding us of the splendor of nature that we too often forget in this modern age. Take a look. (via My Modern Met)

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Eddy Stevens’ Magical Paintings Capture The Bond Between Woman And Horse

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In his soulful, surreal paintings, Eddy Stevens imagines a world dominated by intuition and emotion, abandoning the mundane for an ethereal landscape dominated by female sensual power. In his wondrous vision, the woman, a heroine modeled after his wife Sophie, sheds her clothes, forging a primal connection with the natural world. The horse, in his majestic equine glory, mirrors the innocent nakedness of the woman, his massive muscles rippling parallel to her bosom.

In Stevens’s evocative images, raw, exposed sexuality is a source of spiritual strength rather than shame, fueling miracles like levitation and mysterious candle lights. Here, the domestic space of the house cannot contain the divinity of woman, and its walls crumble at her feet; she, like the horse, is free to roam infinite wildness.

Stevens’s cornerstone motifs, the nude female and the white horse, are reminiscent of the work of surrealist master Salvador Dalí, whose 1946 painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony also imagined the gift of levitation. But Stevens’s impressive body of work differs in its treatment of the nude and the equine creature; where Dalí presents them as perverse and frightful temptations, both symbols of the desires of the flesh, Stevens depicts them tenderly, as embodiments of purity and strength. This vision is perhaps most fully realized in “Birth of a Dream,” a painting depicting a trinity of nudes following a horse as he ascends into the clouds above. In a stunning reversal of Dalí’s imagery, the parade is shown from the back; instead of falling to earth, they climb to the holy heavens. Take a look. (via HiFructose)

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Shocking Photos Capture The Last Remnants Of China’s Painful Foot Binding Tradition

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Her toes were broken when she was a kid, then constantly bound to make them smaller until she couldn’t walk straight anymore. At the age of 88, Zhang Yun Ying is among the last witnesses of China’s infamous tradition of foot binding.

It has been recently brought to attention by a British photographer Jo Farrell who is already known for documenting endangered traditions and cultures. Her ongoing project “Living History” captures the lives of some of the last remaining women in China with bound feet. According to Farrell, in the past year alone, three women she’s been documenting have passed away so she feels it is “imperative to focus on recording their lives before it is too late”.

Tiny feet (with the ideal being no bigger than 3 to 4 inches) were once considered to be the symbol of beauty and social status. Young women would crush and bind their feet hoping to marry into money. Concealing the bound foot from men’s eyes also instigated an erotic approach towards it. Even though the inhumane custom was banned in 1912 by Chinese government, it was still practiced behind closed doors.

Apart from showcasing the shocking photos to the public, Farrell wants to make a point that modern women are not so different from the elders she works with:

“In every culture there are forms of body modification that adhere to that cultures’ perception of beauty. From Botox, FGM, breast augmentation, scarring and tattooing, to rib removals, toe tucks and labrets.”

The project was successfully funded on Kickstarter and will hopefully develop into a full documentary. (via The Huffington Post)

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Women Take To The Streets Wearing Menstrual Blood Stains

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Fed up with the shame surrounding their periods, the Spanish performance collective Sangre Menstrual took over the public streets in sets of white pants stained with menstrual blood. This performance artwork was politically motivated; as the group writes in their “Manifesto for the Visibility of the Period,” the taboo surrounding menstruation serves to oppress women and reinforce patriarchal systems.

By making a public display of their shedding uterine linings, the group hopes to reclaim the female body and free normal bodily functions from shame and judgement. Since the earliest books of the bible and before, menstruation has been viewed as unclean, and often women have even been kept separate from men during their periods. Sangre Menstrual, whose name literally translates to “menstrual blood,” intends to change all that. In their manifesto, the group of women write, “I stain [my pants], and it doesn’t make me sick. I stain [my pants] and I don’t find it disgusting.”

The implications of Sangre Menstrual’s street performance extend beyond menstruation and into larger debates surrounding reproduction and the female body. Like the feminist artist Barbara Kruger and her legendary print “Your Body Is A Battlefield,” the blood-stained performance aims to present the body as a political act of defiance. The manifesto states, “the visibility of the period [is meant] to increase the visibility of the body, as political space.” Do patriarchal, sexist institutions persist in part because of the repulsion with which we treat menstruation? Is this work of art a groundbreaking innovation or a silly shock tactic? (via BUST)

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Grotesque Photos Capture The Pains And Joys Of Womanhood

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In her visceral, raw still lifes, the 21-year-old photographer Madison Carroll captures the grotesque remains of meaningful moments gone by. Used condoms, pregnancy tests, and blood stains grace her compositions, punctuating a narrative that skips dizzyingly from girlhood to womanhood, from innocence to experience. As if plucked from last night’s waste basket, these soiled items emerge; in the context of Carroll’s clean, immaculate technique, they become all the more haunting.

As if part of some unusual crime scene, waste products are left out, forensically archived by Carroll’s lens. Here, rotting fruit and old bandaids mark not a murder but the more gradual, subtle trauma of growing up, of being woman. Like a pool of blood, tea spills from a delicate, shattered china cup; a lemon, once fresh and aromatic, rots. An egg cracks, the yoke spilling out into a satin pair of Victoria’s Secret underwear like a giant, monstrous ovum released during menstruation.

In Carroll’s disturbing yet thrilling realm, the dangers and joys of femaleness collide in a moment of brutal self-reflection. Death and fertility become indistinguishable. In a frilly, feminine doily, a cockroach lies dead, rotting beside a snuffed-out cigarette. A Clear Blue pregnancy test sits on an old rust-stained rag, the urine and tissue in the toilet simply a blurred afterthought.

Like a hoarder of significant items, Carroll’s lens seeks out that which might be thrown away, forgotten by time. A male lover, sprawled on the bed, is captured asleep, in a state of heightened vulnerability, his pale nakedness pressing against the border of the frame. At the artist’s feet, a condom evidences the intimacy that occurred minutes or hours before. (via Feature Shoot and iGNANT)

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Guia Besana’s Series Reflects Pressures Faced By Contemporary Women

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Guia Besana, born in Italy and based in Paris, has created a photography series titled “Under Pressure” that portrays women in contemporary society with its neuroses and complexes, but with an artistic and stylistic flourish – one evocative of tales from a storybook. Besana stages scenes, creating single, still images that are representative of a fictional story reflecting the pressures women face to be perfect including themes of marriage, burn-out, conflict with body aesthetics, excesses, and other questions involved in a woman’s identity. Besana’s thoughtful series is at once dark and playful and demonstrates the photographer’s artful vision- she has an eye for composition, patterns, and style, and creates a striking fine art aesthetic that pairs beautifully with the theme of contemporary women’s identities. (via dark silence in suburbia)

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