Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

What is Art and To Whom Does It Belong

Laurie says:

I posted about this article by Junko Fukazawa when she first wrote to me about it:

I just got an email from Junko Fukazawa, who (among other things) writes, curates and gives workshops on feminism and art. She is one of the core of people that I work with on my Women of Japan Project. Her thoughts and support are very important to the work.

She is going to write a short article about Women & Art in the journal We Learn. It’s published by The Foundation of Japan Association for Women’s Education. The foundation is highly respected by the women’s groups and women’s centers in Japan. She will be writing from feminist perspective about a self-portrait of Alice Neel at 80, and an image (not yet chosen) from Women En Large.

I was very interested in what she had to say.  After I received the magazine, I took a while to have a translation (everyone’s life is very full). When my friend Becky (Professor Rebecca Jennison from Kyoto-Seika University) was here, we went to a local cafe to catch up. She didn’t have time to do a professional translation but she translated it line by line at the cafe table and I wrote it all down. Then we did a fair amount of copy editing and emailed it to her to check. And I went over it again for this post. So the article that follows is an _informal_ translation that gives a reasonable sense of what Junko wrote.  When one of the very busy women I work with has time, I’ll have a proper formal translation. But that may take quite a while and I’ve been wanting to post it.
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Junko Fukazawa says:

If art is a white christian men’s form of visual expression?

So long to answer the question. Consider theology, classic music, opera, church architecture, wall paintings, portraits of important men, tales, myths, bible, Greeks, Mary Magdalene, prostitutes…

I first had doubts about art when I entered art school in 1970. How few paintings and drawings of nude women did I learn about? The school had no male models.

It is really interesting to look at the human body, so I kept going and graduated from Art College, but without an answer as to why all the models were women. But as a student I had looked at Western art and saw that since long ago there were male nude models. So in Western art the male body was/is the standard of beauty. The woman’s body was in fact considered to be below that standard and was looked down upon, and therefore became the expression of male sexual desire.

When we look at feminist art and feminist performance art outside of Japan, we can see that women in the west have strongly felt the need to become {not} subjects – to take back the expression of the female body that has been the object of the male gaze.

To go beyond the repression that is art.

I was blown away by the one self-portrait of Alice Neal did. (She had done portraits of other people all her life.) We see a nude, an aging woman holding a brush. There are many examples of Western art of each of these things, but here for the first time they are all in one painting. Here is a way that feminist thought can be concretely expressed: A famous 80 year old artist sitting on the same striped chair that many nudes have been painted in, wearing glasses, holding a brush and looking in the mirror. That she is wearing glasses is proof that she is looking actively and that this portrait is in progress. You know that she is looking in the mirror. What a brilliant intellectual way this is of critiquing history.

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Women En Large is a project that is intelligent and gentle to people. These are portraits but they also include the words of the models. Photographer Laurie Toby Edison and editor and model Debbie Notkin very gently and strongly convey to the viewer the individuality, the interior feelings, and the body self image of the women. How they understand and accept themselves is communicated very considerately, strongly and clearly. The viewer becomes conscious that the strength of this expression and their strong existence is what they see.

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April’s words: I decided that I was never again going to allow someone to victimize me because of my size. Furthermore, I decided to enjoy myself the way I was. body and personality both.

Junko: You yourself decide who you want to be.

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