Artist's Statement

Sara Terry

“(Re)Thinking the Male Gaze” is my response to the contemporary conversation about gender, power and representation. I’m engaging as a photographer with some of the most famous paintings in art history, made by men of nude women, re-creating the paintings as gender-flipped photos. With that as my starting point, I research each painting, learning about its cultural context, reading feminist critiques, understanding each work’s place in art history. Then I re-stage the painting, assuming the creator’s role as a woman, choosing body types, objects, messages, backgrounds – grounding the work in my own female gaze, creating a new narrative and critique. The project began with my re-creation of Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe. His larger-than-life image of a casual picnic marked a groundbreaking moment in modern art – due in large part to its bold depiction of a female nude, which shocked Parisienne audiences in 1863 at the now infamous Salon des Refusés. But in many ways, what Manet painted was nothing new at all – it was just another depiction of a woman (a naked one), made by a man, for the pleasure of other men, through the lens of the notorious “male gaze.” It’s at the heart of centuries of history of the western world, from the early Christian church to renaissance nobles to Hollywood moguls: the representation of women as objects of desire commissioned by, paid for, created by and made for…men. To be the object of someone else’s gaze: women know that power dynamic well. Even with the #metoo movement’s important insistence that women’s voices be heard, and their stories believed, the power dynamics of who gets to do the gazing hasn’t changed much. But it will. This is a work in progress, and will ultimately include 20 to 25 photos. Each photo is accompanied by a photo of the original painting, with my annotated notes attached to give an indication of my thinking and the narrative I am creating.