“Sex sells” is a cliché of modern capitalist culture and still one of the most frequent and disturbing expressions in the contemporary society, but there are artists who prove this is wrong.
If we look back into art history or museum displays, we realize that the male gaze is still dominant and often female forms are celebrated as objects of beauty. It is clear that women have seldom led the way in which they are represented, but since the middle of the 20th century, this has slowly changed. Artists rebelled against sexual objectification by creating new feminist perspectives on women’s flesh and pleasure. Artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Teresa Burga, Paula Rego, Judy Chicago, Barbara Kruger, Tracy Emin, Betty Tompkins, Kiki Smith or Marlene Dumas have paved the way to some of the most powerful art movements, challenging the status quo in contemporary art. Today, women artists continue to play an important role by promoting feminist viewpoints through their work or by exploring the body, its sexuality and insecurities through various artistic practices:
Wynnie Mynerva (b. 1993) is a Peruvian artist who grew in Villa El Salvador – a suburb of Lima, with murder, prostitution, drug raids and women who experienced physical or sexual abuse at her doorstep.
As a non-binary artist, “they” express through paintings and installations the objection to sexual violence perpetrated by men in Peru and around the world. They seek to broaden the canons about the body, sex and sexuality through art, in a society where people associate pleasure with sin.
Vivian Greven (b. 1985) is a German artist who lives and works in Düsseldorf.
Working with a reduced palette of subtle gradations, Vivian’s paintings are characterized by dazzling brightness, fluidity and serenity. Inspired by classical representations of the body in art history, her celestial naked figures expose gestures of love and emotional intimacy. By showing closeness between the private parts of the bodies in a very sensual way, the artist represents trust and vulnerability rather than being explicitly sexual.To Vivian, the depiction of the body is a spiritual process through the act of painting.
Chloe Wise (b. 1990) is a Canadian artist from New York. She is known for her hyperrealism, satiric sense of humor and love of food.
She works in sculpture, drawing, video art and oil painting, using the imagination as a vehicle for exploring the themes of desire, sexuality, power, trends and consumption, embraced by the millennial culture. Her friends are her muses and she’s mostly portraying them in an intimate setting, on large imposing formats, often in groups, suggesting a familiar event such a party or informal gathering. Wise’s figures conjure up the dichotomy of seduction and repulsion, apathism and passion.
Rose Nestler (b. 1983) is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist who takes fabrics to the next level.
Her colorful, soft sculptures are often transformed into oversized clothing and accessories, emphasizing the power of femininity. She adapts historical subjects like surrealism and patriarchal representations using contemporary materials and mediums such as video and performance. Nestler’s practice explores the dualism between sexuality and asexuality, power and attraction, seduction and disgust, while calling into question women’s objectification in our culture.
Gahee Park (b. 1985) is a Korean artist residing and working in Montreal, Canada. Her work is shaped by her upbringing.
She grew up in an exclusively conservative Catholic family where sex and sexuality were taboo. Her move to the U.S. for graduate studies in the late 2000s led to her liberation. This allowed her to question and rethink the female body, gender roles, pleasure and eroticism throughout her artistic practice. Nowadays, Park addresses discourses on sexuality through her paintings and drawings, which are characterized by a voyeuristic approach. She leads the viewer into mysterious fantasies with detailed studies of couples or nude women in lush interiors, exploring the private – public boundaries.
Ileana Pascalau (b. 1985) is a Romanian artist based in Berlin.
Her work explores the history of the body in relation to medical theories, social and religious beliefs which have shaped how women and sexuality are seen throughout history. In her drawings and sculptures the idea of beauty is distorted, blurring the lines between sensuality and grotesque, creating images that are much more than just provocation. They are a vivid exploration of conventional beauty norms and sexual practises like exhibitionism, fetishistic obsessions and BDSM.
Text by Maria Nitulescu