Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Century Project

On Monday I went to see the Century Project for class. If you ever have a chance to see this exhibit, you should. Basically, it's naked portraits of women from birth to 100. The exhibit starts with a photograph of a baby girl's head crowning as she's being born, and then goes chronologically through different women's photos. Each photo also has a written statement by or about the woman.

One of the first thoughts the exhibit invoked in me was the sheer resilience of women and women's bodies. Women go through a lot of shit in life. Sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, disconnection from their bodies, eating disorders, etc. But even so, women are resilient. In some ways the exhibit was saddening because of all of the women who had been abused and hurt, but in other ways, I found a lot of the portraits to be reclamations of their selves, their dignity.

One interesting point that was brought up in class was whether the portraits were nude or naked. Amanda pointed out that nudes tend to be docile, art for consumption by the "male gaze" while naked implies action and self-ownership. In Chandra Mohanty's article, she talks about the fact that in order to build something new, we first need to deconstruct the old. In this light, I think Frank Cordelle's photos are doing both. They are helping to deconstruct and show that the view of women in media and art has been false and doesn't tell the whole story or let women be their imperfect but beautiful selves. And the photos also build something new, a new way of viewing women, a new way of women having agency in their bodies.

I also think that the photography relates well to how Mohanty criticizes Western feminism for collapsing all women's experience into one larger experience. Clearly, from the Century Project we see that even in the United States, women have many different experiences that can't be reduced to one description of "women's experience."

Unrelated to the Century Project, I think that Mohanty is right when she criticizes Western feminists for placing boxes around "non-Western women" and assuming that they live under oppression, and that they don't know how to theorize about their oppression. So what do we do. What do I do as a white, Western, feminist tranny? What can I say or do that will help and not harm, something that will attempt to heal, or at least to acknowledge and to break down the bullshit surrounding colonialism and empire. And this is where I'm stuck. Right now, I think all I can do is keep educating those around me about colonialism, to try and make my friends and family realize that "those people" aren't less intelligent or less human than us, to show how the economic policies of the West have shaped the global context in a not so nice way. To continue with the border metaphor, to push the borders of understanding of the people around me.

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