Flipping the binary doesn’t solve all the problems of the objectification of women in art, but it does provide an entertaining start. I use humor to inspire viewers to consider that passive representations of women for the heteronormative male gaze are neither natural nor universal. In response to the abundance of dehumanizing imagery I am expected to appreciate for art’s sake, I invented the brodalisque. These oil paintings feature masculine men who recreate the poses and passivity of historic odalisques. Western Orientalist painters typically portrayed odalisques within the harem, a place where unrelated men were not allowed. To update the trope of creating a “realistic” painting in a prohibited space, I place my subjects within the hidden mysteries known as the man cave. I render these forbidden environments representationally to persuade the viewers that these compositions are factual and not at all fictitious. If the original odalisque paintings that I reference really truly are about form and aesthetics, not sex and ownership, then these paintings are completely serious and not remotely silly.
The concept of femininity is vastly complex and absurd, consisting of modern expectations paired with old social customs. From an early age, girls are inundated with rules and mores of what it means to be feminine, and they are expected to learn how to become women. These rigid gender roles are perplexing, especially since women are often obligated to fulfill multifaceted roles dictated by religious institutions, families, and communities. My paintings are a way for me to explore the unnatural expectations of femininity. The women depicted in my paintings are portrayed life-sized in order to express to the viewer that these subjects represent actual people. The scale of the paintings allows the women to be seen as monumental and intimidating, especially since they look down towards the viewer. To highlight the contrasting roles women are supposed to fulfill, such as chastity and sexiness, the women wear a combination of modest clothing and provocative footwear. The women also wear aprons to highlight the absurdity of requiring women to be tidy at all times, even though they are often responsible for dirty work. The subjects and their environments are painted representationally with oil on canvas to allow the models’ expressions to be clearly seen, which permits them to share their displeasure about trying to fit in the role of femininity set by our culture.