This Never Ever Ever Ending War Against Women--> The Latest Battle
The Violence Against Women Act took an unnecessarily long road to being signed this past Thursday. Originally enacted in the 1990s, this Act provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent acts and crimes against women and also established the Office on Violence Against Women. Overall, it's an act that purports that the nation cares about women and ensures that women are protected. One of the more noted and quoted aspects of the Act is that men will not be in any more harm as victims of acts of violence. Like almost everything in the government these days, it was an overwrought drama getting this act passed- and of couse the media is all too willing and able to cover the stories. And so, the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act became one of the longest battles in the War On Women that is never going to end. Seriously. There will be peace in the Middle East and China will finish their new millenium Scramble for Africa before women rights' battles stop being fought within America.
And it is in this environment of battles being waged against women, that L'Origine du Monde, an 1877 painting by Gustave Courbet has once again gained attention. The 19th century painting portrays a woman laying on her back and nude. The breasts are covered by a sheet and well- this may be the time when show don't tell is best done by actually showing.
There's a whole lot that is noticeable in this painting. It is freakishly close to a photograph for one. The female subject is also devoid of limbs and a head. Since I am sure I took an art class at some point in my life, I am more than qualified to perform a perfunctory analysis on this work and its re-emerging importance during this all out War on Women. For one, the limbless and brainless body is pretty incapable of knowingly performing any action. In the same way that many women point out men only think with one body part, this woman is only given one body part with which to live. She can effectively have acts performed to her, give birth, and excrete. And yet, amazingly this is the origin of the world. This body, that could also double as a scene of attack in a Law and Order SVU episode is from whence we have all originated and is powerful in its own might. To extrapolate and exaggerate: that which can be attacked, can also be the generation of creation and despite what appears to be a loss of power, is indeed the most powerful part of creation.
This interest in L'Origine du Monde in the wake of the Violence Against Women Act renewal came as I glanced at Artsy to check out the list of art works on display at this year's Armory Show. For those with some glimmer of interest in the art world, the Armory Show is a huge annual event in New York. As I only have that art history class that I quite can't remember, I am not fit to determine the show's annual importance against the various Art Basels and Frieze , but having been a New Yorker I know Armory is huge. One piece of thousand's being shown this year is a take on Courbet's work entitled Origin of the Planet, made in 2009 by Marc Dennis. (If you want to see it, google it.) Origin of the Planet is just as unsettling and possibly even more provocative and realistic. And yet, the subject is even more powerful. Perhaps it's the appearance of limbs (mobility!) and a head (brains!), that puts the woman now in control. If it weren't for the echoes of current events in the background, the question may never come up of who's committing violence against her, because she is in charge.
Another recent interpretation of Courbert's work was Mickalene Thomas's Origin of the Universe, a series of paintings included in her recent Brooklyn Museum exhibition of the same name. Her women had power of a different sense. Bedazzled power. And yet it brings the conversation full circle. Thomas's piece takes the work back to disappearing limbs. In the midst of other paintings, the work is powerful, and losing a lot of the uber-realistic photography qualities, the subject regains the mystical and symbolic power we automatically associate with women as the creator of life force. And perhaps it's in the introduction of vivrant colors adding a form of beauty, that the possibility of violations and violence become real and utterly detestable. And yet, an act combatting these real and imaginable acts, takes way too long to be renewed because of a focus on banal points and an attempt to bring politics as we know it back into the realm of beauty and creation.
An interesting point of these works is the possibility of the titles to mean something super personal – your world, your universe, your planet- or to take on a much larger scale with regards to their scientific meanings. It's a reminder in this age of battle that violence against women happens on both the personal and domestic level -which the Violence Against Women Act attempts to combat- and on national and international scales -laws and rules that systemically deny women rights- which we apparently will be fighting forever.