Maria Williams-Russell Art Blog
!IMAGE164!It__™s not often that I have difficulty justifying to myself my own reaction to a piece of art, but I have come upon this dilemma recently when I saw The Full Body Project by Leonard Nimoy at the Michelson Gallery" in Northampton, MA.
The Full Body Project is a collection of black and white photographs depicting a group of morbidly obese women in various poses and dance shots, nude and sometimes in skimpy outfits. The women, in real life, are members of a burlesque dance troupe called the Full-Bottom Revue which challenges audiences to understand what Nimoy calls ___fat liberation___. Nimoy has photographed the women rather ordinarily, using little set-up for these shots and leaving little to the imagination. There are among the works some suggestions of the question ___what is beauty___ in respect to the female body: Nimoy, for example, places the women in the same poses as other famous ___nude___ pieces, which asks the audience to compare and think about what the larger bodies do for the art. But, on the whole, these photographs make no claims about beauty at all. The bodies of these women are not in any way ___beautified___ so to speak, which was what bothered me about the show.
My initial reaction to the work, not having read anything about its process, was that these women were portrayed as not being beautiful. The models, too, seemed not to care about the element of beauty as much as they seemed to be strutting, projecting more of an image of bullish pride.
I walked away from the show disappointed, thinking that Nimoy could have done more and in some way let these women down. It__™s been a few weeks now and I have been thinking about this show quite a lot, trying to understand the importance, if there is any, in this kind of work. I visited Nimoy__™s website and began to read the history of the show and the way in which Nimoy constructed the project.
He says, ___I wanted these pictures to be more about them. These women are projecting an image that is their own. And one that also stems from their own story rather than mine. Their self-esteem is strong. One of them has a degree in anthropology and will tell you that ideas of beauty and sexuality are "culture bound"__"that these ideas are not universal or fixed, and that they vary and fluctuate depending on place and time. They will tell you that too many people suffer because the body they live in is not the body you find in the fashion magazines.___
While this is all well and good, I wonder if ___fat and proud___ is evocative enough a subject to make meaningful art. Doesn__™t there have to be something else to the story? Or, is the power of the show that as a viewer I am allowed to make my own judgement, have my thoughts about beauty and health etc? I am part of the ___culture___ after all, and this show did effect me in some way.
!IMAGE165!Before writing this blog, I took a look at the paintings and photographs of nudes from the artists on ArtId. It__™s true, I didn__™t find too many large women depicted, but I also didn__™t always find the magazine model type bodies either. Unfortunately, I did find one too many of a woman in that pose where she__™s leaning back, her head raised to the sky, arms slightly behind her like she__™s letting the warm sun beat on her chest, which I guess is a cultural idea of beauty that to me is sort of weird "it dislocates the woman™s brain from her body, which is pretty offensive. But I digress. What I did find, in most of the work, was an attempt towards beauty. I especially liked Megan Reilly's line drawings of the female figure, which suggested shyness, and John Sowley__™s Atelier series with multiple nudes in a room. In these works, there seemed to be something deeper to be seen than just ___hey, look at this body.___
!IMAGE166!Anyway, I__™m still not sure how I feel about Nimoy__™s work. Some days I think, yeah, fat and proud is enough, and other days, I wonder if I didn__™t like the pieces because I am fully entrenched in the cultural idea of beauty and the body myself. So, I__™m asking my readers to chime in, check out The Full Body Project online and see what you think.