March 1, 2011

"Body Image" Group Show in Fishbowl Gallery

Review by Gail Victoria Braddock Quagliata

Sponsored jointly by Pratt’s Health and Counseling Services and Career Services, The Body Image exhibit currently on display in the Fishbowl gallery unites a variety of dissimilar artistic practices to promote discussion and reflection on the concept of self-image. As stated by the press release, “The culminating point forces us to consider how body image issues cut across the lines of gender, sexuality, cultural identity, age, and time.”

Michael Johnston, The Provider
Silver Gelatin Print, 12.5 x 9.25", 2010
Michael Johnston’s “The Provider,” 2010, depicts the artist as a grim-eyed young man staring almost stoically out a glowing window, the background enveloped in darkness. An awkward training bra is strapped across his chest, with what appear to be bed sheets stretch tautly across his lap. The implications of intimacy are apparent beyond simple signifiers of his bared torso and rumpled bedding, but his almost disdainful, detached gaze speaks of something more visceral than just an intimate moment intruded upon with camera. Johnston states, “This photograph is a documentation of how homosexual males are often looked at as being more female than male,” explaining that the image speaks to the struggle of discovering a sexual identity in conflict with socially dictated gender roles.

Amanda Barker, Untitled, oil on canvas, 2010
Amanda Barker’s untitled self-portrait discusses a similar sense of trepidation, albeit in another gender and shade of insecurity. “For me, this painting is about my constant battle against weight loss and the struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin. The pose is also a representation of the fact that I am involved in a sexual relationship in which someone is able to view my body in a way completely different from the way that I view it myself,” writes Barker. All neutral hues and rather unforgiving oil paint, the artist depicts herself on hands and knees, apprehensively eyeing the viewer as though she may suddenly crawl away or, safe in the gaze of her loved one, remain in this vulnerable, tentatively seductive pose.

Adjacent is Kieran Brennan Hinton’s uneasy, epic-sized, 48” x 72” painting, “Till Human Voices Wake Us, And We Drown.” The artist depicts himself alone in a field of darkness, his skin and garments almost luminous, the white outlines of his bones visible beneath the surface, like a grim rendering of that board game, “Operation,” minus buzzers and jokes. Hinton’s rendering seems a symbol of irrefutable human unity – that, in his words, “beneath our flesh we all have the same colored bones and blood, and all face the same struggles of identity, mortality, expectations, and alienation.” Likening his discomfort in his own skin to wearing someone else’s suit, his image seems to hint at those universal elements that transcend mere surface.

Kieran Brennan Hinton, Till Human Voices Wake Us,
and We Drown,
oil and urethane on Canvas, 2010
Sarah Gordon’s photographic series tackles female body shame with frank, brutal imagery. “Series 1: Untitled” depicts the artist isolated, stripped bare of protective clothing, surrounded by those casual terms of misogyny so pervasive in common speech, like an endlessly screaming schoolyard full of bullies aimed squarely at the soft, vulnerable ego. “Series 2: The Hazing” describes a less subtle phenomenon. “These images,” says Gordon,” are based on a popular hazing ritual done in fraternities and sororities,” in which the aggressor highlight’s the victim’s physical flaws with a Sharpie. Her images depict the cowering recipients of these humiliating marks.

Amanda Elsbree’s “Rogue” reimagines the familiar object of the fashion magazine cover, engaging the viewer in a dialog about the true nature of what we are consuming between those glossy pages. Elsbree states, “At first, the image and layout is appealing to the eye, though when viewed a bit more closely, it takes on a more disturbing nature.” Her impeccably made-up model is crying and visible pained, and the text reveals hideous subtexts, here laid bare in titles discussing the unrealistic standards and bizarre aspirations our culture devours and attempts to assimilate from popular media.

In “Mask-Ara Un-Covered,” Diego Torres combines an array of imagery intended to evoke themes of tribal identity and ritual into a subtle digital collage. Figures pose together in formation along the bottom of the image, as though reaching upward, while disembodied, diaphanous painted faces float above, under the gaze of yet another group in headwear appearing as though caught mid-ceremony. “Here I play with the idea of projecting our camouflaged selves, as if being examined through an x-ray or soaring from the ritualistic smoke,” states Torres.

Lanie Smith’s trilogy of feminine absurdities, “Wonderbra,” “My Short Skirt,“ and “Cover-Ups,” examine the lengths to which women go in pursuit of socially constructed beauty ideals, defying nature and often logic in the process. Where “My Short Skirt” refers directly to the concept of woman as empty object to be viewed, “Wonderbra” frames this infamous undergarment as object to be questioned. Smith layers caulk and enamel to the bras in a process she states adds unnecessary layers to the bra’s own unnecessary layers. “Cover-Ups” find Smith wrapping limestone in pantyhose and lipstick, reference, she says, to the fact that, “nature does not mask or attempt to conceal and minimize its ‘blemishes,’ nor should we as women be airbrushed to hide our own markings.”

Elizabeth Quick, Self Image, Charcoal
andBrown Paint on Cardboard, 2010
Elizabeth Quick’s self-portrait, titled “Self Image,” portrays the artist in tense gestures with charcoal. Her description is a poem, stating, essentially, those perceived figure flaws and details that linger in the mind of their owner when she imagines herself. The artist’s hand seems to convey all frantic lines and motion, as she depicts herself in a vulnerable pose, arms raised to expose her bare torso and hips, her expression almost seeming pained as though the viewer’s scrutiny is overwhelming.

Marta Gonzalez takes a less overt approach to the concept of self-image in her photographs, “Self-Reflection #01,” and “Self-Reflection #02.” These abstracted views seem to depict grit ad muted color, all but abandoning any representation of the figure. The focus on subtle textures intermingling seems to represent a state of mind more than an overt illustration of the artist’s actual, physical self. Gonzales states, “Through these images, the viewer is able to observe my rejection and disconnection from the human form.”

Courtney Astrid Mendenhall’s “The Beautiful People” series dissects the concept of beauty and celebrity through the appropriation of rather iconic movie posters. Mendenhall removes the star and inserts a less glamorous, real character. She says, “The idea of these movie posters is to challenge society’s conception of beauty by replacing the so-called ‘sex symbols’ with real people I found around the city.” In “Some Like It Hot,” Marilyn Monroe’s famed visage is displaced by one sagging and elderly, albeit treated with similar care and adulation, for, says Mendenhall, they are “beautiful in my eyes,” regardless of social notions of what should be celebrated as such.

This exhibition is part of the Student Exhibition Spaces Program coordinated by the Center for Career and Professional Development at Pratt Institute.  All current students can submit work for inclusion in future exhibitions by emailing for more information.

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