Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Maisie Cousins: Challenging Misogyny and Infantilism

Earlier in the week, I had a conversation about fashion photography and why so much of it is infantile and misogynist in nature. It was interesting how people responded to that. On one level there was a kind of puritan fear-of-the-body response ("that's disgusting") that was strangely misogynist and desexualising. It was strange because even though a lot of fashion work (and I'm talking here in a real general sense here) is physical (it shows the body) it is an asymetrical sexualisation, a virtual sexualisation where men are sexualising women as objects of other an imagined lust of other men. It's really a desexualisation that strips the flesh of hair, the skin of texture and the body of shape.

It's obvious what is happening but people are still affected by it. It eats into their souls and destroys them from the inside - that's what I was told during the conversation. But the most interesting part of the conversation was not the idea that this was a terrible thing, but that this image of women as desexualised, plastic mannequins  with holes was a synthetic idea. It was invented. It's changeable. It is not a given. And that the best way to challenge it is to reinvent how women are portrayed, and the best way to do this is to make work that portrays women as three dimensional beings with hearts and souls and minds as well as legs, breasts, buttocks and vaginas. No part should be left behind, no reactionary hairshirt ascetism should be allowed to get in the way of three-dimensional work that both looks great and has roots in wider visual and political fields.

So that was in the back of my mind when I saw Maisie Cousins work on Seesaw Magazine. The project shown there is What Girls are Made Of.

Cousins says '...she's interested in exploring and celebrating feminity, power, voyeurism, intimacy and indulgence.' Which I guess she is but it might be a bit better than that. The work is pink and pastel and rough with the gels, but it's also direct and visceral and points to a body that is bloody and filled with strength and desire - and it is those elements of physical directness that tips it away from the vacuous. Araki's in there with the fruit but it goes into portraiture, collage and colour and 1940s glamour. It's rough and ready but a lot of thought has gone into the work - on Seesaw especially.

It would make a great book.

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