Art & Design

Must See: ‘NSFW Female Gaze’ at the Museum of Sex

Art & Design

Must See: ‘NSFW Female Gaze’ at the Museum of Sex

Lissa Rivera, Beautiful Boy Boudoir.
Joanne Leah, The Whole.
Kristen Liu Wong, Come Closer.
Marie Tomanova, By The Waterfalls.
Monica Kim Garza, La Luna.
Nona Faustine, She Gave All She Could And Still They Ask For More.
Polly Nor, It Never Happened.
Amanda Charchian, Celine.
Taira Rice, Perched.
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If you follow enough art heads, feminists, or feminist art heads on social media, it’s likely you’ve seen snaps from The Museum of Sex’s “NSFW Female Gaze” exhibition, which opened on June 20. Curated by Marina Garcia-Vasquez, editor-in-chief of Vice’s Creators as well as the museum’s own Lissa Rivera, the show features over 25 up-and-coming female artists including Brandi Twilley, Polly Nor, Joanne Leah, Marie Tomanova, Monica Kim Garza, and Nona Faustine.

The term “male gaze” was coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975 to describe the way women’s bodies are often depicted as little more than objects for male pleasure across film, literature, and art. And, unfortunately, this assessment remains true today — just take a look at any major action movie, advertising billboard, or network TV show.

“The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness,” Mulvey writes in her seminal essay “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema.”

“NSFW Female Gaze” is an attempt to push back at this by presenting female bodies and female sexuality in a way that removes men and their desires from the equation. The “NSFW” part of the title, of course, hints at the GIFs and Instagram references abound in the exhibition, but also at the reality that society still often deems a woman’s exploration of her own body “unsafe” for public consumption.

“Women use the internet as a tool for empowerment and have become more inquisitive and open about sexuality,” Rivera, who also has an artwork in the show, says in a statement. “The drive to understand our bodies and desires is now seen as ubiquitous–instead of fringe or a sign of bad character.”

Modern art history is full of women trying to buck the male gaze and the inherent inequality that comes with it — from the Guerilla Girls (who once asked “do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?”) to Carolee Schneemann (who once pulled a scroll from her vagina as part of a performance) to more contemporary artists like Natalie Frank, Zoe Buckman, Pipilotti Rist, Mira Dancy, and Petra Cortright. And while we might not be where we’d like to be yet, the fact that we have entire exhibitions dedicated to subverting the gaze shows we’re making progress.