Constructing The Female Figure
As one of the essential foundation practices for artists, mastering the human figure allows for the artist to honestly engage with the human form. In the case of local collage and mixed media artist Sue Katz, it’s a chance to use this honest interaction to present the human figure through the lens of societal standards in breathtaking pieces.
“I’ve always loved figure drawing and I loved the theme I had set out for myself – women in different forms, love for women, the perception of women and femininity,” she said. “For me the female figure is a lot more interesting to draw.”
“I don’t make figures how I exactly see them or how other people may see them – my figures are exaggerated,” she added. “It’s always been my specific style and I think it has to do with my illustration background.”
Indeed her collection of work on display at The Central Bank of The Bahamas, “Bodies of Eve” present anonymous women with distorted bodies in her specific signature style, causing viewers to confront the space between reality and expectation in conversations about the female figure and femininity at large.
“It’s important to me to take on this subject matter in my work because women struggle with body acceptance issues,” Katz explained. “Ask any woman and she will find problems with herself and I think that’s one of the reasons I don’t make figures as-is.”
“I think that perception is a big problem worldwide, though not too much here – it’s one of the things I really love about being here, that attitude of here I am, love me as I am. But often I see the images of women’s bodies are distorted, and I have a problem with that.”
Katz takes this message to the extreme, presenting figures in which thighs, hips and breasts are distorted beyond proportional possibility. The facelessness of these figures conveys the idea of the “every woman”, addressing the very real and shared anxieties of female body shame. Yet they teeter dangerously on the edge of fetishism, asking viewers to question the line between sexualization and brutalization of the female figure in a society rife with gendered double standards.
Adding to this is Katz’ use of material – from a collection of decades-old magazines and books, she builds a palette of retro ads that harkens back to a carefully constructed era of complex feminine ideals.
“I tend to use a lot of retro pieces,” said Katz. “I’m fascinated by 1950s and 1960s ad culture, the idea of modern items to make your life easier and perfect.”
“Everything I put on has a specific place. I think some people think collage is slapping paper randomly on, but it’s not true. It means something in terms of color balance and color impact and focal points.”
In such a process, Katz deconstructs these patriarchal mid-century realities and uses it as raw material for her own constructions in a post-female-empowerment world, suggesting a disconnect between modern philosophies and practices – pertinent in a time where the female body is a heated political stage both locally in the marital rape law and next door in an all-out attack on female reproductive rights by Republican lawmakers.
What do the fragments say about ownership? What do they say about the constantly shifting construction of femininity? About boundary? About fragility? Do they need to say anything at all? What does the female body say? Does it ask, through its unabashed nudity to be approached? Does it ask to be shamed? Does it ask for approval? The reality is, the female body can hardly just be a female body anymore.
At the end of the day, though never addressing current gender these struggles directly, the nude figures nevertheless inspire powerful conversations surrounding the politics of the female body, destined always like its biblical predecessor to suffer not for its own free will, but for that act in a time where women suffer simply for the possession of female bodies themselves.
“Bodies of Eve” is on display now at The Central Bank of The Bahamas, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The official opening commences Friday, April 20 at 6 p.m. The show will close April 30.
The Nassau Guardian
Arts and Culture
Published: Saturday, April 14, 2012