I've been thinking of making an art project about feminism for a long time. In the beginning, I came up with a rough idea of representing female heroism through photography. At that time, my friend Eric recommended Rubens’s painting as the inspiration for my project idea. Rubens was influenced by Caravaggio, a painter I like, and of course, as a result, in the process of looking through Rubens' paintings, I was fascinated by the religious themes he described and the sharp contrast of light and shadow he used to illustrate group figures.
After seeing Rubens's two works <Raising of the cross> and <Descent from the cross>, I was shocked by the tension of the figures in these two paintings. Returned to the female theme that I wanted to express through my work, I have got a more clear understanding of my project than before.
Indeed, male gaze was the topic that I tried to discuss in the starting point. John Berger has mentioned in his discussion towards male gaze by saying that, “Men observe women, and women notice that they are observed. This determines not only the majority of relationships but also the internal relationships of the woman herself, who is observed by the man and observed by the woman.”Only the male is mentioned as an observer, and the female is regarded as a kind of landscape here. This has also triggered my thinking towards my project to a deeper extent —— no one can escape the gaze from others, no matter male or female.
So, I went back to the two paintings of Rubens. I reconstructed the presences of the figures by redesigning their look and body movements. Within the two original paintings, <Raising of the Cross> illustrates that the crowd took Jesus on the cross, which could be seen as an expression of group violence. In contrast, <Descent from the Cross> is talking about the compassion and mourning of the followers of Jesus after Jesus was descent from the cross. If we take the cross and Jesus as metaphors of faith, the contemporary male gaze with overwhelming influence in the society can also be seen as a kind of belief for many, many women.
Therefore, I regarded the woman in the centre of the picture as a figure who has been subjected to the impression of male gaze for a long time and thus losing her original state of self, aka self-esteem. Besides, different women, as the gazers, all around the central figure, was staring out at the centre of the subject with their eye, body, even their fingertips touch. They acted as the inflicters (undoubtedly, it is assimilated by the aesthetic and dominant position of the male gaze), expressing disregards, ignorance, hate, resistance, and mercy.
After illustrating the group figure through my work, I also want to invite the audiences to think about the following assumption —— if there is a context that completely excludes male gaze, what are the possibilities when the women change their roles from the objects to observers and is there any cultural and social issues could be raised?