By Susan Dunne for the Hartford Courant
For centuries, male artists have created portraits of women, presenting the women as they chose and often using those women to represent concepts that were all about the artist and not about the subject. After a while, women were bound to get tired of that.
An exhibit at the Benton museum at UConn takes on this subject head-on, beginning with the title of the show. “Objectifying Myself” showcases the work of dozens of female artists who have created work that reflected their own lives, their own thoughts, their own self-images. Some of the work takes the form of self-portraits that push the boundaries of self-portraiture. Even if they don’t depict the artists accurately, that was a decision the artists made. They are literally objectifying themselves.
“There are no bodies, just objects. These are not traditional self-portraits,” said Nancy Stula, director of the Benton, who chose 43 works from the collection of women’s art at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. “These feminist artists are trying to reclaim their bodies from the male gaze.”
Artist Julie Heffernan spelled out this philosophy in a 2013 interview. “I wanted to paint the figure but did not want to objectify women. I was addressing that concern during my still life phase; taking my own body out of the painting but calling it a self-portrait anyway, was a way of saying ‘I’m not this physical body alone; I’m this cornucopia of experiences, and pictures in my head’.”