There’s an adage we throw around whenever we want to make the point that a complex idea can be expressed through a single, still image. You know the one, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
After an exhibition by Inez & Vinoodh I got to thinking about whether or not this is really true.
I got nothing. Well, atleast not a binary answer.
The following will be my semi-coherent thoughts on the experience.
The theme was sexuality and gender roles. Most of the images had some kind of element that made you feel slightly uneasy about it. The proportions were a little off, the colors were too intense or something else that made you go “What the hell is wrong with this picture?”, like, literally.
While walking around I found myself almost wanting someone to explain what the thought process behind the pieces were. Why they made the choices they made and what the “happy accidents” were.
Honestly there were very few images I felt I could really relate to. They were good but didn’t really hit me that hard, so I busied myself by looking at other people’s reactions.
What struck me were the reactions from the women to some of the images. I recognized them from my childhood.
Growing up around with a ton of women (aunts mainly) around I got to see that reaction quite often. Especially when unknown men approached them.
They pushed their shoulders slightly forward, chest inward, crossed their arms and leaned back. Some lowered their chin as well. A defensive position.
Weird. The overtly sexual pictures gave them the same kind of reaction.
The thought got pushed back for a while.
Then came this image.
While I mainly reacted to the skin being rubbed raw there was something else that started bouncing around in my mind. Why did this “censored”, uneasy, image not give the same defensive reaction?
This might not be the case but it’s the best I could conjure up.
From a very early age women are sexualized. It’s probably even worse for those who develop early. The compliment “you’re beautiful” isn’t just meant as an aesthetic observation. It also carries with it the connotation of desire.
All of a sudden you’re dragged from childhood into maturity and the transition is in no way your choice and you don’t get to decide the pace. “Oh, I noticed you’ve grown tits. Congratulations! Now, stop playing around and come sit with the adults!”
I can’t pretend to know what that’s like, but I wondered if the people looking at that picture felt a slight sense of relief?
With the “naughty bits” edited maybe we could actually see past the exterior. Without the desire to own or force a role on them, maybe we could focus on the person? And in some way, see them more completely?
Looking at people’s reactions to the images triggered a torrent of words in my mind.
So which is better then? Images or words?
Maybe we should go to extremes and take stands. I mean really pick sides. Maybe the two need to be at odds with each other? To challenge each other to reach new heights?
I want to see them push, shove and scream louder and louder at each other. I want to see the passion. The joy and pain of both.
It feels like we’ve had enough of a “it could be this or that”–debate when it comes to culture. Sure, let’s keep things civil in art. But I want the experience of being taken by the collar and asked: “Do you understand? Huh? Do you?”
Whenever there’s been debate about reacism, feminism etc I’ve been insisting that we should be focusing on egalitarianism. Maybe I’m in the wrong though.
What got me thinking about this was both the exhibition but also the fact that “Black Lives Matter” has been met by the phrase “All lives matter”.
While totally true it also diverts the attention of a more pressing problem. The fact that racism is a big-ass problem.
The same goes for feminism. By saying that we should skip that part and plunge straight into egalitarianism then I’d be ignoring the issue that’s going on right in front of us right now.
To be fair, both sexes get the emotional shit beat out of them, it’s just done differently. And right now we really need to be focusing on getting women to stand beside men.
I’m willing to “take a hit” when it comes to success. There are plenty of women better at writing, coaching and mentoring than I am. If the reason they aren’t getting through is because of the fact that I was born a man then that just isn’t right.
In the end it doesn’t matter if my future wife ends up making more than me and/or I get to be a stay at home dad, taking care of the household.
I just hope that it means a quickening of the process. That our future children do not have to worry about equality or having to live up to some stereotypical norm from way back in our evolution and that no longer serves a purpose.
Words can also become a power struggle in a way I don’t know if images can.
We want to define what the other person means to us and we want them to fit into that box. What if they don’t want to? And what if they do it just to please us?
We’ll effectively rob both them and ourselves from ever experiencing their full selves. I don’t believe that’s what anyone of us wants.
Now, these thoughts might be depressing as fuck, but I think we all need to reflect on these things from time to time.
How often do we fulfil a role simply because that’s what we believe people want.
That is until someone tells us: “I see you, and I believe there is more to you than that.”
I’m so lucky to have experienced those moments, but it took some time until I believed it myself.
We’re longing for an image that leaves us looking for a word we can’t imagine.