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Reframings teaches us to reframe

Each chapter in Reframings examines another element of feminist photography and the art of the “other�. Looking through different lenses, the book seeks to allow all women of all backgrounds a place in the art world, and the essays examine what it means to be a woman in art. Diane Neumaier’s discussion in the introduction of photography and art as a means of power and of the archetypal/stereotypical and limiting ways that women are photographed is an apt commentary on the state of women in mass media. “Women are objectified in a way distinct from the ways in which other groups are objectified. The determination of a woman’s sexual desirability by the age and shape of her body is perhaps the most vulgar and common mechanism of the objectification of women facilitated by photography� (2). So if we can see artistic expression and freedom as a type of power and look critically at the ways in with the patriarchy has constructed the gaze within photography, Reframings is a response to the many ways in which women are objectified and rendered powerless/without agency in mass medias. The objectification of women in mass medias has an obviously detrimental effect on women and on our social, political and cultural lives, and I think that Neumaier’s book encourages women (and men) to reframe themselves and their view of self and value, and to consider the ways in which we assign value.

Each section articulates another form that oppression takes. In chapter two, domesticity and feminity are examined, looking at those values as a way of understanding the identity politics of feminism. In the discussion of Saartje Baartman (the Venus Hottentot), we can see the damage of objectification in it’s extreme form and observe it’s persistence through the continued display of Baartman’s genitalia. The ways in which this attitude of value through women’s bodies and the hyper objectification of women of color is perpetuated and can be found in popular magazines and websites at this moment.

Chapter three looks at creating identity through consumer culture, and the photos featured in that chapter explicate this issue and its problems. The photos of teen girls’ bodies fragmented and imitating an exercise video and the portrayal of a search for identity in the pages of a teen magazine serve as manifestations of pressure to be a certain way and identify in a specific way.

Postcolonial legacies in chapter four examine the gaze in a culturally and racially charged sense. Examining portrayals of nonwhite people in photography and responding to them, the photos and essay in this chapter exploit stereotyped “western� anxieties about the other. The photos and the essay challenge the prescribed identity from women and people of color in the United States.

Women’s attitude towards our own bodies and the societal value of alienation from one’s own body are challenged in chapter five. The presenters for that chapter asked how American women’s attitudes towards their own bodies have changed and what the effects are of physical self-realization.

“Reimagining and Reimaging� in chapter six discusses queer gender identities and representations of sexuality /sexual orientation with people of color and what sex and anxiety have to do with both the public and the private sphere. Heteronormativity and assimilation are both themes within the chapter.

In “Turning the tables: Three Asian American Artists� the essay and the art reflects on portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans in the mass media and popular art. Archetypal caricatures of Asians are revisited in this chapter, starting with stereotypes about male and female sexuality and moving on to stereotypes that are excused for their “complimentary� nature (TIME magazine cover). The presenters examined ways in which Asian American artists subvert the colonial gaze and represent themselves in a more real way.

We read this book collectively so that we could reflect more closely on individual passages and share insights with the class. We also read it collectively so as to facilitate a discussion of what these works mean to us and how these reframed representations of self can be used in our own creation of feminist art.

I think that the conclusion of chapter eight sums this up perfectly “ ... one can, justifiably, identify an impulse – widely manifest in the art production of subaltern producers – toward a recuperation, a redemption, even, of the notion of self-representation that makes it something all together different from the dominant modes of self-representations that have traditionally figured so prominently in art history� (310).