Crushing the patriarchy with one look
In her 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey coined the term “the male gaze” and then argued that “the female gaze” is always mediated through this dominant, patriarchal lens. Fast-forward to 2016, when “Transparent” showrunner Jill Soloway offered their own definition of the female gaze, and like Mulvey, broke it down into three parts:
“Part One: Reclaiming the body, using it with intention to communicate Feeling Seeing.”
“Part Two: I also think the Female Gaze is also using the camera to take on the very nuanced, occasionally impossible task of showing us how it feels to be object of the gaze.”
“This third thing involves the way the Female Gaze dares to return the gaze. It’s not the gazed gaze. It’s the gaze on the gazers. It’s about how it feels to stand here in the world having been seen our entire lives.”
So, how exactly do you solve a problem like gendered gazes in visual art?
While Soloway was addressing practicioners of the moving image, “Women Painting Men,” currently on display at the Riverside Arts Center’s Freeark Gallery and Sculpture Garden, is an example of how contemporary visual artists dig into notions of the female gaze.
Featuring the work of six female painters and curated by Gwendolyn Zabicki, the show offers portrayals of masculine imagery that “run from sexual to sympathetic to sentimental.”
“Is the female gaze simply a reversal of the male gaze – that is to say, men rendered as sexual objects for the viewer’s pleasure,” reads the show’s press release, “or is the female gaze best understood as a new generation of women learning to look at themselves and others in a new way?”
Attempting to answer this question with Zabicki are artists Karen Azarnia, Mel Cook, Katie Hammond, Jessica Stanfill and Celeste Rapone. Their styles of painting range from devastatingly figurative to kitchy punchlines that needle Picasso in his grave, pointing towards the limitless ways femmes and women have always met each other’s gazes inside of art spaces. Through June 23, Riverside Arts Center, 32 E. Quincy St., Riverside; www.riversideartscenter.com