Posts tagged art
Posts tagged art
Jo Spence … the image troubles as it awakens a politics of cancer
Who’s breast is it now?
I do too. Spectacular Breasts have not perished - they’re just taking a well-deserved rest! I’ve been spending my freelance time writing research applications for the past weeks and haven’t had much time for the blog. More later!
Good news is, I’m currently guest blogging for Tou Camp 2012 - an eclectic multi-media, cross-cultural, intellectually hybrid festival based at Tou Scene, a culture factory in Stavanger, Norway. This year’s theme is identity. Most of my posts are in Norwegian, but I’m also catering for a wider audience from time to time.
You can check it out here: http://toucamp.posterous.com/
Loving this nipple project, mapping artifacts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The man behind the work is James Cabot Ewart - and you can check out his tumblr page/nipple display here.
The photos have the effect of de-sexualising the nipple through repetition and framing (circle in a square). Instead the work shifts attention to texture and colour.
Ewart explains the project to the Huffington Post:
I’ve taken all the photographs and am planning on capturing all the nipples at the Met. I had to create a set of ground rules: I’m only photographing exposed human nipples, but am still on the fence about the inclusion of human/animal hybrids (so many fauns…), and there’s no photography allowed for the traveling exhibits which is a shame, but at the same time a relief. I’m still working on the project, but hope to be done photographing by the end of April. So far I’ve photographed 832 nipples, and only have the Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arms & Armor wings left to do. There will be many more.
@ Natashja Blomberg
La Liberté Guidant le Peuple. 1830. Eugène Delacroix.
Beautiful birthday gift from my friend, Saffron Tree.
It comes down to several factors, most of which tend to overlap each other. It means that “the breast” is both an overdetermined organ and a social construct. On the one hand, breasts are part of the human anatomy, usually associated with women´s bodies (though not exclusive to women - more on this later). On the other hand, they are also simultaneously a culturally (linguistically) produced concept, carrying centuries´ worth of discourses, ideas and ideals, values and associations.
Breasts as sustenance - mammae and Mamma
Throughout history women´s breasts have primarily carried meaning because of their reproductive function: they sustain life in infants. Suckling the breast is a fundamental aspect of our evolution as a mammalian species. We wouldn’t be here today if it had not been for breasts. Until the end of the 19th century, when pasteurization was discovered, there were no safe alternatives to breast-milk. Other means of infant feeding were of course practiced, but the results were devastating, reflected in high infant mortality rates.
Headless goddess figurine nursing two infants. Sicily. 600 BCE.
The historical baggage that breasts carry through to our own time is therefore of a considerable weight. A milk-giving breast becomes a powerful symbol, representing the victory of life over death. In accordance with this life-sustaining function, breasts are prominent in sacred artifacts from regions across the globe: from the Venus of Willendorf (see below) to the nursing Madonnas in medieval and renaissance Italian religious art. Perhaps the ballooning breasts of post-modern culture are just re-worked versions of an ancient theme?
The goddess/Venus of Willendorf. cirka 20-18 000 BCE
Breasts and sexuality
Sigmund Freud, for one, was clearly aware of this historical and mythological aspect, as he based his entire theory of sexuality on the importance of the breast for the suckling infant. And the breast wouldn’t be what it is today, if it weren’t for Freud (more of this later).
Which brings us neatly to the other dominant idea about breasts: their erotic and sexual allure. Archaeologists and historians argue about early representations of the feminine, unable to decide whether these figures functioned as sacred or erotic objects. Although it is impossible to know today why a sculpture was made thousands of years ago and how it was put to use, we can speculate. The life-giving maternal properties of the female body are clearly present in representations of nursing. But there are a number of breast-baring figurines that do not reveal a clear reproductive symbolism, rather they appear to connote several things at the same time: power, danger, force and might, as well as overt fecundity and sexuality. You wouldn´t mess with a Minoan Snake Goddess!
Minoan snake goddess/priestess. Crete. Cirka 1500 BCE
Breasts in ancient and historical art
In terms of representations, breasts (and feminine bodies) have been depicted in art for a very long time indeed. Some of these ancient representations are clearly depictions of divine creatures, like the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar (see below).
Ishtar or Lilitu (Lilith). “Queen of the Night” relief. Babylonian (Iraq). 1800-1750 BCE.
The Sumerian goddess Inanna is the goddess for sexuality and fertility but she is not a mother goddess: she is a divine, powerful, childless creature. Ishtar and Inanna also bear relations to the Hebrew mythological character - the demonic Lilitu or Lilith. It is sometimes unclear which of these divinities is represented in art works from the period - in other words, they might be seen to represent cultural variations on a similar theme.
The Lady of Galera (or Astarte). Spain. 7th century BCE.
This sculpture is special: the breasts are have holes which allow milk to pour out of Astarte´s body and into the bowl she is holding out. There would have been wax plugs inserted into these channels, and warm milk poured into her head. The hot milk would then melt the wax plugs and pour out of her nipples in an astonishing display.
Unknown artist. Unknown photographer. 1959. Postcard from Leeds City Art Gallery.