Pushing boundaries

The role artists play in society is to push the boundaries of what is normal, creating pieces that reflect the lesser talked about views in society in political and non political atmospheres. As you gaze over these pieces I have selected, I know what is going to pop into your mind, ohhhh noooo, another crazy feminist lady. Please drop all your judgments now because this blog is not just about that. Its about the change in women’s roles in society and how artists have captured that. The rise of feminism in the arts really started in the late 1500’s portraying women in non formal roles such as the ones below holding more “masculine” objects like swords and knives acting in non feminine or mischievous roles.

The period I chose to focus on for this post was the Baroque period which was one of my favorites during this semester. This period used exaggerated motion, clear detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance in their style within their paintings and sculpture.

Carvaggio was born in Milan and was soon to be considered one of the most famous painters in Rome. His pieces Santa Catalina de Alejandria and Judith Beheading Holofernes shows women in slightly more powerful roles outside of the usual scenes you would see in this period. Below Alejandria is holding a sword with a look showing no remorse that it is obvious of a crime she committed, the sword is covered in blood. This creates a sinister and ominous persona for her and this piece. The texture is highlighted throughout the painting especially in the textiles that are wrapped around her, the painting specifically highlights a halo around her head and the glimmer from the part of the sword that is not covered in blood. There is natural light coming from the side showcasing the dark haunting room that she poses in.

In Judith Beheading Holofernes the painting tells the biblical story if Judith who saved her people by seducing and beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. I think the story enough highlights the power of women and how that is usually a male figure in similar stories. Carvaggio was not afraid to portray women as powerful beings who were able to instill fear into the eyes of the viewers. Similar to Santa Catalina de Alejandria, Carvaggio uses the same bold highlighting and texture to draw your attention to the painting. He really takes advantage of the negative space by using that to really create the dark scene you see happening while using pops of color (the red textile) in the backdrop of the scene to add to the drama. The shadows highlight the muscle definition and the facial expressions of the piece adding to the emotion of the painting and the satisfaction you see on Judith’s face as she watches the blood pour.

Finally, in Nicolas Regnier piece you can see his adopted style by Carvaggio. The piece shows the powerful subject matter of Irene posing in a “medical” scene which was usually uncommon to see women in for they were not even allowed to go to school. He also takes advantage of the strong lighting of the space really honing in on the negative space. Again, the shadows and the knowledge of the human body really bring the piece to life, showing the dramatic expressions shown by Saint Sebastian as calm and collected Irene digs into his leg with her dagger.


Michelangelo Merisi de Carvaggio, Santa Catalina de Alejandria 1599

Saint Sebastian being cured by Saint Irene, c.1625

Nicolas Regnier, Saint Sebastian tended by the Holy Irene 1630


Michelangelo Merisi de Carvaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes 1599, Rome

Heading into the 21st century there is still a need for feminism. Not talking about the “wage gap” but about sexual assault, the sensory of women’s bodies, and the influence of media towards women’s bodies and appearances causing various physiological and physical disorders that disrupt the lives of so many women.

Zoe Buckman is one of the first artists I had picked because I thin her work is simple and packs a punch (literally). Her focus is on exploring themes of Feminism, morality, and equality and I think she executes it very well. Here is a link to her latest exhibit http://www.zoebuckman.com/exhibitions/. Using minimalism and light on a blank wall she is able to show her true emotions towards the piece, that women are strong and they are fighters. The picture shows ovaries that have boxing gloves, how much more bad ass can it get. In this exhibit which the piece is shown in, Zoe’s goal is to show the complexities of traditional femininity and female empowerment by prettying female medical objects and imagery. She is able to explore the complex aggression’s that women face each day. The use of silk (feminine) and tough objects shows that women can be both feminine and ferocious but only because they have to be that way due to the seemingly endless cases of sexual assault on women. Zoe creates some of my favorite pieces from their simplistic appearance that says paragraphs.

Su Yang is another rising feminist artist that used surgical procedures to shed light on the changing notion of Chinese female beauty and the prevalence of cosmetic surgery among many young Chinese women. She related cosmetic surgery to the foot-binding that occurred in the Chinese Qing Dynasty and argued that both procedures aim to make the female body conform to the patriarchal idea of beauty. In her piece Double Faces she uses contrasting colors on a pale skin tone to show the heavy amount of bruising that happens after surgery including blood. The use of different hues and blending really creates a cringing and emotional look, almost like you cannot look away but feel incredibly sorry for her pain.

Finally onto Marina Kappos, not much is written about this artist or her feminist agenda. She studied at Yale School of Arts and currently works in Queens and most of her art shows seem to be bordered around bigger political and societal arguments. Peep Show really draws your attention when looking at it, you see a pale feminine figure surrounded by poppy flowers. You can see the texture from her brush strokes that highlight the lady like figure and body hair. Her artwork promotes positivity about womanhood through her uncensored pieces. The bold and rich colors create so much contrast and a heavy focus on the porcelain like skin on the canvas.


Zoe Buckman, Re-Imagining a Safe Space 2017 New York, NY

double faces pre and post cosmetic surgery 2016

Su Yang, Double Faces, Pre and Post Plastic Surgery 2016

144 Peep Show

Marina Kappos, Peep Show 2011

My personal journey with art has changed dramatically throughout this semester. The one thing I really learned about was how to understand a piece of art when looking at it instead of scoffing at it and thinking oh, thats just modern or contemporary art. Now I can actually sit and analyze the work really getting into depth about what is going on from the lines to the hues used and understanding the emotion from the piece on a smaller scale. Even going into this final blog post, it really changed the way I research and look into art. Understanding the rise of female empowerment and equality and what certain artists views were on the subject. Then, being able to compare art of the 1600’s to present day (something I do not think I would have ever attempted) I can see how far women have come overall, even though the fight for equal rights globally is far from over. My relationship with art has become more emotional rather than just what scratches the surface and I have really been able to connect with certain artists like Frida Kahlo who I had no idea about until taking this class.

“St Sebastian tended by the Holy Irene.” St Sebastian tended by the Holy Irene | Ferens Art Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.

Caravaggio Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.

Marina Kappos. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.

“Su Yang’s Artistic Website | Su Yang on WordPress.com.” Su Yang. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.

“Zoë Buckman Art.” Zoe Buckman. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.


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