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© 2019 Francesca Harris. All rights reserved.

Gender as a Social Construct

Western society has placed constricting boundaries on gender identity and how these social norms operate. My work explores these boundaries to gain a deeper understanding of the individual and how society has viewed them because of their gender. Gender is a complex idea that defines how people perceive their own identities, whether they fit into the binary roles of male and female, or defy traditional definitions. Gender as a Social Construct examines how women in Western art have been portrayed, especially in the nude. Taking famous female nude paintings from Western art history, I replace the female body with a male. 

The historical paintings I have analysed are Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, (1647), Raphael’s The Portrait of a Young Woman (La Fornarina), (1518–1520), Francesco Hayez's Susanna at her Bath (1850), Édouard Manet’s Olympia , (1863) and Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus, (1863). By removing the context of the scene in which the female nude lies, I allow the focus to be placed solely on the position of the male nude. I further reinforce the idea of the male body being the most important aspect by removing the context of colour, and showing the art historical reference of painting in grisaille(greyscale). This was largely inspired by seeingJean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Odalisque in Grisaille (c.1824-18).

The Raphael reimagining explores the feminine and masculine in a different way. Inspired by the art historical term pentimenti (alterations made to a painting during the process of creation, shown when x-rayed) and Jenny Saville’s contemporary reimagining of this practice, I have created my own interpretation of it. Designed to highlight the differences in what we consider to be feminine and masculine, I asked my model to take the feminine pose of La Fornarina and make it masculine. The comparison between the two poses is displayed in a triptych of drawings that show the poses as individual and as a direct comparison to see what changed.

Initially I started by taking photos from advertising campaigns by fashion designers Versace and Suistudio as they both explore the difference in how men and women are shown in advertising by showing the female model in clothing and a position of power over the nude male model. A project for university, however, led me to explore the possibilities of commentating about historical paintings and how they sit in today's time frame and therefore led to me reimagining of historical female nudes.