‘We have the internet but our brains and many of our third world cultures are left behind in a darker time,’ explains Visual Artist Vasilisa Forbes and mother of the WAXCHICK series. Those familiar with London’s East-end may have already stumbled across images of the artist plastered on Shoreditch billboards. Armed with vibrancy and latex, Forbes has placed herself within the crucially notorious discussion of female freedom, objectification and visual identity.
Forbes’ choice of poses, objects and texture of clothing, bring to attention the masculine ‘gaze’ that has forever been a central motif throughout history. WAX takes a lot of inspiration from artists Bob Carlos Clarke, Allen Jones, Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin in the construction of each image in emphasing and re-appropriating the male photographers’ gaze (and those in general that sexualise female models in their work). WAX questions the difference between a male and female gaze and if there is a difference to be recognised, which for the artist herself, there is. As discussion instigator, it became paramount for the artist herself to be in front of the camera, to take ownership of the ‘gaze’; the connection that needed to be made with the viewer, to inject a personal dimension as well as strong personality.
‘It has to be me in the images as the artist in question. It is about creating self portraits of a female artist 'objectifying herself' to tell the story the way a male artist would…’
The reception however has been varied. The irony came when feminists attended the WAX show and threw waves of accusation in place of support. WAXCHICK was accused of misogyny and sexism. Surprising considering many feminists had praised the work of, male artist, ‘Allen Jones,’ who featured women in his works as sculptural elements; as a table, coat hanger, chair and so on. These women were seen as empowered, something that Forbes did not understand. How is it that a female artist can create a similar style of work and create a conflicting response to that of a male artist?
‘We’re so used to the male gaze, we believe it is our own… that gaze is so prevalent we forget that it isn't how we would see an image, of other women, if we completely let go of all those old associations. Our portrayal of our own sexuality would be so different if we weren't still conditioned to the same associations.’
Ongoing battles between body female freedom and combating male obscenities make physical self expression difficult. Mostly every female has an anecdote of being beeped or whistled at for starters. We asked Forbes what it felt like to be in control of objectifying herself and becoming advertised. The artist explained, that the choice of objectifying herself was empowering, that it was ‘freeing… because it is an expression of an inner angst…If I was advertising my body for somebody else, I would not feel powerful unless I knew I had a sense of control, and by doing this, now I know I can have that sense…’
With the consent of a female subject, the show of the body becomes liberating when portrayed in a ‘free and genuine way.’ This is understandable. But the confusion comes with the assortment of hyper sexual content plastered everywhere from music videos, to daily magazines. We are aware of it and it comes with both good and bad receptions and consequences. The idea of using the body to sell itself or products, is wrong.
WAXCHICK doesn’t achieve its ultimate shock factor in the street, due to ASA (advertising standards authority) restrictions, however does make passers-by question its purpose as an advertisement of sorts, because that is usually the reason for many images we see in the streets... Is this where body objectification comes into play? Where the naked or partly exposed body is being used in advertisement as a feature rather than a personality? We must not confuse authentic (and artistic) nudity with commercial nudity. It becomes difficult to tell the difference between public art and public advertisement.
Many women are speaking out through their art, in exploring the ‘deconstruction of their bodies and existence… to speak out either on larger global terms or in regards to our own female 'becoming'.’The reality of these feminist issues is to create equality between the sexes rather than full out male- bashing.
As creative expression, Forbes does not set out to make a world changing impact on the global issue of female freedom; however this artist is intent on at least making her desire for change loud and clear. An issue that strikes hard is the repression of women (and men) when it comes to sexual freedom in a plethora of cultures, more specifically from tradition and religion. Un-natural taboos are formed and natural existence inhibited without a new wave of education. The discussion of religion will always cause dispute, and be trodden over lightly. Quite openly Forbes explains, ‘we can all see that it is about coming into the modern world and evolving into trying to not rely on religion as an explanation to the unknown, and letting go of awfully horrific ideals, rules and laws that forbid gay freedom and female freedom. I'm Russian and the fact Russia has passed these recent laws just really is horrendous and a huge step backwards…’
The real changing factor will come from the education of gender equality, mutual respect and understanding to create healthier relationships and avoid negative/aggressive behaviour by cause of ‘alienation and repression.’
There is no doubt that WAXCHICK tackles some heavy ideas, there will be those that love it, there will be those that hate it. Judgement is inevitable, but the goal has been achieved by making you think, by making you pick apart details or put pieces together, and add to the ongoing discussion.