Monday, September 1, 2008

4 Contemporary Art Projects Exploring Women: Heroic. Liberated. Classic. Erotic.

From the ultimate enigmatic look of La Gioconda in Da Vinci's masterpiece to Anna Karina in Godard's Vivre sa vie who abandons her family to become an actress – women soul has been the subject for some of the most fascinating and intriguing works in art history. The following are 4 contemporary art projects from different places across the globe. Though their origins, intentions and languages differ greatly, all of them explore womanhood, share similar fascination yet offer original and unique perspective.

JR: Women Are Heroes

Through the portraits of women for whom crime and violent loss of loved ones are part of everyday life, French photographer JR tells the story of brave modern women, testifying of their force, courage and noble struggle to exist in Kenya, South-Sudan, Sierra-Leone, Liberia and recently Favela da Providencia - the first squatter camp of Rio de Janeiro and the most dangerous and deadly of all Favelas.

Using a special technique, portraits are printed to large oversized posters and then pasted on the various parts of the neighborhood with the help of the community, including buildings, stairways and large asphalt spans. While each photo reflects a particular woman’s expression, the overall outcome is as a spectacular thought provoking mixture of earth, urban structures and people into a single slowly vanishing face.

To the limits of contemporary art, according to JR, Women Are Heroes aims to "underline their pivotal role and to highlight their dignity by shooting them in their daily lives and posting them on the walls of their country." Furthermore, by creating a media echo around the images in Western countries, the project encourages everyone to "feel concerned by their condition and connects, through art, the two different worlds."

During the rest of 2008 and 2009, JR plans to continue his project in India, Cambodia, Laos, Marcs and then return to Kenya, where the project has started. Here are a few more snapshots of JR's previous work in Africa.

Above: Liberia. Below: Sierra Leone

For more women heroes see project trailer below, download this PDF or got to the official project website at

For another fascinating projects by JR such as Face 2 Face where Israelis and Palestinians portraits were past on the separation wall in March 2007, go to

LaVonne Sallee: Altered Barbie Dolls

I'm a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world
Life in plastic, it's fantastic!
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation
Come on Barbie, let's go party!
(Barbie Girl - Aqua, 1997)

Nothing can stop the best-selling fashion doll and one of the most profitable toys ever made from keeping its figure and celebrating its 50th birthday next year. Not even the $100M Barbie-maker Mattel Inc. has been awarded yesterday in its copyright fight against MGA Entertainment, inventors of the Bratz doll. Inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli, Barbie is remains a powerful culture icon, a major source of revenue, a desired collector item for hundreds of thousands and - also - a source of inspiration for many innovative artists. 60 of them have recently presented their creations at the Art 94124 gallery in San Francisco during the 6th Altered Barbie Show - an annual reuse celebration of three-dimensional art, photography, dance and music. The Altered Barbie Show also includes quilts, print making, poetry, film, workshops on altering Barbie and alternative wedding ceremonies described as "self-marriages".

We feel all Altered Barbies are really cute but we particularly fell for those from LaVonne Sallee, a 62 years old American artist from San Francisco who runs a website named Sallee says she feels sorry for Barbie because she has no nipples (ever noticed that??) so she became a Barbie nipple expert: "many of my Barbies are bare-chested, so I can give her a beautiful set of nipples. She likes that". This is clearly seen in items from the "Mermaid series" such as Barbie Mermaid Silver Tail on Blue Dolphin and Barbie Mermaid, Burgandy Tailw / White Seal (both shown above). You may also be interested with:

Barbie Finds a Mate with an Equal Body Fat Ratio

Dominatrix Barbie with GI Joe on a Leash

Electrified Barbie

Black Karate Barbie Sets on a 3 Headed Pit Bull

Lastly, while we are on the subject, we simply could not avoid this great bubblegum pop cult masterpiece, voted the fourth "Best Number One of All Time" in a VH1 poll as well as #32 on VH1's "Most Awesomely Bad Songs... Ever" and #27 in the top 50 Guilty Pleasures by MuchMoreMusic in 2007.

For more Altered Barbie art from LaVonne Sallee go to For more incredible Altered Barbies from other artists go to or simply check on the Altered Barbie blog.

Bessie Potter Vonnoh: Sculptor of Women

Best known for her small domestic scenes bronzes and for her garden fountains, American sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955) is for may the leading sculptor of American womanhood of her time as well as a pioneer among female artists. Gladly, this coming fall, the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, will present the first ever (!) exhibition dedicated to Vonnoh's work. We think its just about time.

According to Julie Aronson, curator of American painting and sculpture at the Cincinnati Art Museum and organizer of the exhibition, Vonnoh’s women portrayals reflect "the contemporary social attitudes of her time" and the new exhibition provides a "perfect setting for all generations to converse about the woman’s role, how it has changed throughout history, and how artists have contributed to this global conversation."

The Bessie Potter Vonnoh: Sculptor of Women exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalog co-published with Ohio University Press and edited by Aronson. The 308-page publication is the first ever exclusively dedicated to Vonnoh's art and will be available from the Florence Griswold Museum Shop.

Photos: top - Bessie Potter Vonnoh: Sculptor of Women catalogue cover. Doubles, left to tight: (1) A Young Mother, 1896, Bronze; 14 x 12 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. photographed by Flickr user at the San Diego Museum of Art, California (2) Mildred, Cast bronze, 8.25 inches. Tyler Museum of Art (3) Fountain Figure, 1931, Bronze, Wikipedia (4) Enthroned, photographed by Flickr user (5) House Sparrows, photographed by Flickr user at the Burnett Memorial Fountain in the Conservatory Garden, Central Park (6) Burnett Memorial Fountain, photographed by Flickr user in the Conservatory Garden, Central Park.

Post Modern China Doll: Portraits of the Female Genitalia

From her studio in the center of Beijing, a Chinese-American artist nick-named Post Modern China Doll seeks women ("of all background and ethnicity") for a truly unique conceptual art project entitled Portraits of the Female Genitalia. Obviously, the identities of the models remain entirely anonymous but the models are also offered with nude photographs or portraits of their own as a form of payment. Portraits of the Female Genitalia will be edited into a book to be co-published by Minotaurus (Berlin) and Trolley Books (Berlin).

One of the axes of the Portraits of the Female Genitalia project we find particularly interesting, defined as "Face, genitalia", is the personification of the female genitalia utilizing an ancient theme known as Baubô - the mythical vulva. According to the artist "If we operate a 90° visual rotation of the photograph, we can see, by a visual contamination of sort, a face that superimposes on the structure of the genitalia. The face is often deemed the most human and the genitalia the most animal part of our being". Thus, according to Post Modern China Doll, this "visual confusion destabilizes established hierarchies".

The Female Genitalia Project was also featured in the popular Chinese magazine Hope in its March issue this year. "With the hypersensitive attitude of the government and with the coming of the Olympics" says Post Modern Doll. "I thought it would never make it". So did we, but what do you know - it did (scan above). More information about this project including a making-of video where the models talk about their experience and their views about the subject on

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1 comment:

  1. I love JRs´ works! That´s just awesome, although Photoshop would have don´t it also, but that´s not the same.


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