Keira Knightley and the Power of an Image

Last week British actress Keira Knightly took a powerful stand against the manipulation of women’s bodies when she agreed to pose topless for Interview Magazine. Boston Globe Health writer Deborah Kotz explains, “Knightley chose to flaunt her underendowed, uneven breasts to make a point: Using Photoshop to edit celebrity bodies perpetuates the myth that beauty equals perfection….She wants the world to see that she’s not perfect, and maybe women will feel a little better about their own imperfections.”

In my own work, I’ve explored the often grotesque measures taken to reshape women’s bodies. Compared to footbinding or corseting, what’s the problem with a little digital manipulation? Kotz explains:

“The American Medical Association has taken a stand against digital body editing in ads since “such alterations can contribute to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image – especially among impressionable children and adolescents,” the organization states on its website….

….A 2012 British study found that women who viewed images of thin, rich women in magazines and ads were more likely to develop a negative perception about their own body. Another study published last year in the journal Body Image found that putting disclaimers on ads that featured Photoshopped models by stating that they were “digitally enhanced” didn’t prevent women from experiencing more dissatisfaction with their bodies after viewing them compared to a group who saw the photos without any disclaimer. On the other hand, a control group who viewed car ads, instead of models, experienced no negative impact on their body image during the study.”

Standards of beauty are continuously changing, but what is the often grotesque reality behind the extreme measures taken to reshape women’s bodies? A few years ago 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.

One way young women measure standards of beauty is by taking in the images they see in the media. What might seem like a small gesture, such as Kiera Knightly’s simple request to be photographed as she is without allowing those images manipulated, makes a difference.

Stoning in Syria

PerfectStonefigFive72Possibly lost in the tragic news of the summer was story of two women stoned to death in two days by ISIS in Syria. Working on my series, The Perfect Stone, a few years ago 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 question of what would be necessary to cary 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?

I hope the video below, and the visual essay, can serve as a proper memorial to women targeted for honor killings in the 21st century.

 

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.

How do you heal the aftermath of sexual violence?

"I never think of myself as being in danger, I have never been assaulted while getting food, I can't even think of any situation where I was frightened for the safety of my kids." Sara

“I never think of myself as being in danger, I have never been assaulted while getting food, I can’t even think of any situation where I was frightened for the safety of my kids.” Sara

How does someone heal from sexual violence? A recent article from the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/health/therapy-for-rape-victims-shows-promise.html?emc=eta1&_r=0 highlights a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine exploring effectiveness of a new treatment for victims of rape in Congo. The article notes:

Hundreds of thousands of Congolese females, from toddlers to grandmothers — possibly as many as two million, according to one study — have been raped by rebel fighters or government troops. Notoriously brutal attacks have included gang rapes and penetration with guns, knives and other objects that have torn apart women’s reproductive systems and intestines, sometimes beyond repair.

As a daughter, a mother, and a woman, these stories are sadly too familiar. And, at the same time, where I live and work, I am relatively safe. It is this dual connection that I was exploring in the series https://smithgarcesart.com/kindling/.

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.

 

Welcome

Untitled-1 copyMy drawings are an attempt to change the realm in which violence and intolerance are viewed—from often private stories to something for all of us to look at publicly. My current work consists of editorial images focusing on the effects of social constraints, physical abuse, social injustice, and intolerance on women of varying cultures.

As an artist, I love the flexibility and delicacy of graphite and charcoal as I work on these images. The drawings subtlety invite intimacy while the stories themselves can be disturbing. These visual essays are an attempt to recreate for the observer my own experience of dismay over the continued vulnerability of women in the 21st century. These series reflect my own struggle to understand what is senseless, while hoping to raise awareness for the viewer, through the use of sequential images, visual storytelling, and first person testimony.

You will find artist statements and samples of my work in the portfolio section. Off the navigation bar in the the portfolio section, I have uploaded several images from a recent show to give you some sense of what they look like when exhibited. I am eager to hear what you think and am always open to suggestions about where I might share my work. Please be in touch.

Sandy

Veiled Identity

A few years ago while on vacation in Europe, I went to dinner with my husband, walking hand-in-hand on a lovely winding street. The shop keepers we passed on the street were friendly and smiled as we passed. I felt happy and light hearted as we headed to our much anticipated meal. Our spirits were not dampened on our return walk after dinner, despite the rain that had started to fall. I felt proud of my own ingenuity at adapting to the change in weather by tying a scarf on my head. Something had changed though: the shop keepers did not smile at me this time, their smiles were replaced with something else—scowls, angry stares, and flat expressions. One man looked from my face, to the scarf on my head. He took a step toward me, but then seemed to hang back uncertainly when he saw my husband walking briskly beside me. I was relieved when we made it back to the hotel without incident, and I removed the scarf from my head. The scarf in my hand was nothing more than a piece of fabric, and yet it made all the difference in the world to people who knew nothing of me, except that my head was covered.

I am a professional artist, a visual essayist working on editorial images focusing on the effects of social constraints, physical abuse, social injustice, and intolerance on women of varying cultures. Veiled Identity is an art project which seeks to understand what is behind the banning of the headscarf. The news in recent years is full of stories concerning debates throughout Europe about the criminalization of the headscarf. To some, the headscarves are symbol of repression, and banning it’s use is seen as liberating to the wearer. To others, the headscarf is a proud symbol of Muslim identity, and attempts to ban it’s use are rooted in racism. Lost in the debate are the voices of Muslim women, who are seldom asked what wearing the veil, or deciding against wearing the veil, means to them. Is forcing women in a democracy to remove headscarves liberation, or oppression?

I am looking for a number of Muslim women who would be willing to take part in my latest art project, by answering a few questions about issues related to identity and belonging. If participants choose, I am also looking for headscarves to photograph as models for  still lifes. All scarves will be returned upon completion of the drawings. Scarves which you may wish to donate will be exhibited with the drawings at a later date. Questionnaires should only take a few minutes to fill out, and will remain anonymous.

If you would like to participate in an art project that seeks to illuminate and understand these debated over identity, please feel free to contact me at ssgdesign@earthlink.net.

Kindling

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.

"We have never known what it is to have no home, keeping my family warm has never been a problem" Hannah

“We have never known what it is to have no home, keeping my family warm has never been a problem” Hannah

“I never think of myself as being in danger, I have never been assaulted while getting food, I can’t even think of any situation where I was frightened for the safety of my kids.” Sara

“My child is well fed and healthy, I never fear that he is not safe.” Maria

“By this accident of birth, my children thrive while others go hungry. How can this be? It’s not right.” Sonia

“I am not fearful… my children have everything they need, they have all the clothes they need, they have all the blankets they need.” Laura

“My child has never been hungry and been unable to get him food, he does not know what hunger is.” Dana