March is Women’s History Month, but if you don’t exactly feel like celebrating, you’re not alone. It’s hard to get excited about how far women have come when there’s still so much further to go. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are signs of real progress, but the battles for respect and equal pay aren’t over — and having to fight for basic human rights can get exhausting.
Art Share L.A.’s “Female Gaze” exhibition is a welcome respite from that battle. It features work by femme-identifying, nonbinary and allied artists, exploring the female experience in art. The show responds to, and questions, the concept of the “male gaze,” as conceived by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey.
The male gaze objectifies women, so should a response to it objectify men? Some of the work in the show could certainly be seen that way — Moy Young’s Dick Sand shows a woman waist-deep in disembodied penises, and Caroline Heer’s oil paintings portray fit men posing nude in scenic locations, tan lines and all. Roni Weiss’ Look me in the eyes literally turns the male gaze back on itself. She uses a pair of circular mirrors to depict breasts, catching the viewer in the act of looking. Instead of attacking the male gaze, though, these pieces feel playful, even funny.
Eliza Day-Green toes the line between the male gaze and the female gaze with the six portraits in Breeches Parts. The series offers an updated take on classic male heroes from British pantomime, where gender roles are intentionally fluid. She paints the characters as they might look were they played by women, with strikingly gender-neutral results.
Overall, men are in the minority on these walls, because in truth they are not the focus of the female experience. Some of the artists, like Maura Latty, turned their gaze on themselves. Her nude self-portraits, created by layering liquid acrylics on stretched canvas, are a highlight of the show. In Latty’s artist statement, she writes, “My goal is to dissolve the influence of the ‘male gaze’ on my self-image, surpassing its rigid aesthetic boundaries.” In a vibrant piece called Do I look fat like this?, she grabs her bare belly in both hands, showing it to the viewer. In another, Cacti is my forever mood, she’s topless, with two middle fingers extended over her breasts.
Some of the artists use their work to represent, and show support for, other people in their lives. Alexis Hunley’s photographs capture shared moments of connection between friends. The subjects of June Harley’s portraits radiate confidence and strength. Amanda Sade’s photo Queen Moves shows a woman dancing in a pageant sash and sequined dress, a joyous blur of motion and color.
In Seeing Red, Paloma Montoya paints the same ponytailed boxer 10 times, capturing how she continues to fight even after she is bruised and bleeding. That fierce intensity is part of the female experience, too. United by a shared feminist focus, the art in this show manages to be not-male without being anti-male. Instead, it explores other ways of looking at the world and emphasizes the value in that diversity of perspectives.
Female Gaze is on view through March 31 — so there’s plenty of time to catch it before Women’s History Month is over.
Art Share L.A., 801 E. Fourth Place, downtown; artsharela.org. Wed.-Sun., 1-6 p.m.; free.