Video Preview: Extreme Beauty

This video is a preview for the series Extreme Beauty which contrasts socially accepted standards of beauty with the extreme measures undertaken to achieve them.

Artist Statement: “If tiny feet suddenly became fashionable, would American women subject themselves to foot-binding?” This was the question posed in an article of the Los Angeles Times, denouncing breast implants, with the headline “Draw the Line at the Knife”. Standards of beauty are continuously changing, but what is the often grotesque reality behind the extreme measures taken to reshape women’s bodies? I began to investigate these notions by exploring various bodyshaping practices beginning with ancient Chinese foot binding. The vision of a teetering, helpless young bride was considered erotic, and a family prosperous enough to support a young woman made—by design—unsuitable for any kind of physical labor, gained status within the community. However, the reality of these treasured “golden lilies”, were deformed, painful feet, often malodorous due to rotting flesh and infection. Corseting began at a very early age in Victorian England and North America of the 18th and 19th centuries, and extreme tight lacing had an understandably negative effect on the developing body of young girls, effecting not only outward appearance, but the growth and position of internal organs. The vision of the delicate swooning young woman at this time was considered ideal, but how robust and active could an individual be with a compressed rib cage, gasping for breath? A loosely corseted woman, by contrast, was judged not only to be imperiling her health but to be of loose moral fiber as well. Today, there is no longer a need for girls to be excessively corseted, when they are willing to carve out their own bodies through surgery or self-imposed starvation. The rise in incidence of anorexia, has  made clear how much young girls today have internalized societal ideals of beauty, just as foot binding and corseting of young girls and women were signs of past repression through the idealization of the female form. 

Kindling video

This video, which incorporates first person testimony, interviews, and kindling gathered by local mothers, was inspired by the precarious condition of women in refugee camps who often fall victim to violence as they seek to meet the basic needs of their children. It accompanies my series Kindling. The artist statement for the series is below.

How different are the concerns of mothers the world over? How different are the needs of families—in cities, villages, refugee camps? Children need care. They must be tended to—fed, clothed, sheltered. These essential truths do not change no matter where you live, or what condition you find yourself in. These are the thoughts which occupied my mind as I took a group of local mothers to collect firewood in the town in which I live, and interviewed them to find out what the essential needs of their families are, and how these needs are met.

Traditionally home is the center of the family, the hearth is the heart of the home, a place where families come together for comfort and warmth. The kindling in these drawings echo this ancient ideal of comfort and security, just as the fragile and unsteady piles of wood echo the vulnerable position of women struggling to sustain their families in the most severe conditions imaginable. These drawings of kindling gathered by individual local mothers, and accompanied by their own quotes obtained in interviews, reveal how universal are the needs of families, just as it made clear how precarious and out of reach these most basic of needs are for hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, and their children, world wide.

For Darfuri women, driven from their homes in the Darfur region of Sudan, into refugee camps in eastern Chad, basic needs are as scarce, as they are plentiful for my own children. Since 2003, persecution has driven over two million people, the majority of them women and children, into crowded camps that are scattered in areas with scarce wood for fire. Venturing outside the camps in search of wood to cook their meals often ends in rape and other forms of violence. The search for firewood takes on new meaning, as essential for survival as the quest for fire, food, and shelter from the elements since time immemorial.

New Video for the Perfect Stone

Below is revised version of the video of the Perfect Stone series. I’ve reposted the artist statement for the series below:

This visual essay and collection of stones was first inspired by an interview I read regarding the then recent conviction of a young mother who was accused of adultery, and sentenced to death by stoning. The subject of the interview was the public official who was put in charge of carrying out the execution. In reading the interview I was struck not only by the horror of the penalty—what does it mean that in the 21st century there are still women being stoned to death—but by the thoughtful way in which this official ruminated on the correct way to carry out the sentence: a pit would need to be dug, many volunteers would be needed to throw stones, and the right size stones would need to be decided on. This last item,  though chilling, made me think—what is the perfect stone for killing a woman?

There are few outdoor places where stones are not plentiful, even in the town where I live, so I began looking for the perfect stone. What would it look like? What shape would it be? How large? Little things we take for granted take on new meaning when studied up close. Stones are natural and varied, they are often quite beautiful. They have no malice on their own. When drawing them they began to appear as fragile and helpless as the young girl whose recent death by stoning is described from an eye witness account below each image.

In the end of the interview, the public official drew his own conclusion of what the perfect stone would be as he held up his own closed hand  “about the size of a man’s fist”.

I’m experimenting with video/slide show versions of some of the visual essays on the site. This piece is based on the The Perfect Stone series. Follow the link for more information about the series and my artist statement for the project.

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