Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Heads with and without Bodies

Debbie says:

I was delighted out of all proportion to learn that the Easter Island heads have bodies. (This is partly because when I was a pre-teen, I read Thor Heyerdahl’s Aku-Aku, which is entirely about Easter Island and the heads, an inordinate number of times.)

This one even has a belly.

More pix of the bodies at the link above, which also says:

There is controversy surrounding why the bodies are buried. Was it time and erosion, or were they buried on purpose?

Aside from sheer delight, and complete surprise, the story made me think about body parts, headlessness, bodilessness, etc. The Easter Island heads seemed fully complete in themselves to me until the bodies were unearthed–maybe because of their size, maybe because of their somewhat inhuman shape. I must not be alone here, because it apparently took hundreds of years for anyone to think that there might be bodies there and dig to find out.

Bodiless heads are somehow less disturbing than headless bodies. Sculptural busts and head shots are everywhere in art, and have been so (in Western art, at least) for centuries. When fiction or film includes bodiless heads, they are often intelligent, interesting, bringers of wisdom. (On the other hand, sometimes they’re on stakes outside the tyrant’s castle) Nonetheless, among many other examples, we have the illusion created by the Wizard of Oz, of a head floating in space and making prophecies.

Headless bodies, on the other hand, often conjure up images of murderous rage, revolution, and destruction. They also depersonalize people–the world is full of images of (usually) women whose bodies are showcased and whose heads are somehow cut off, or left out of the picture (in my blog about art in Paris I showed a famous example, The Origin of the World). This practice is common enough to attract backlash. Women En Large contains exactly one headless picture (which happens to be a picture of me when I was pregnant) and exactly one head shot; when Laurie and I were touring with the book and slide show, we would sometimes get harsh feminist criticism of the headless picture (solarized version below), even in the context of more than 20 other full-body pictures, and no one ever objected to the head shot.


Women are not just bodies. Headlessness is often yet another way of depersonalizing women’s bodies–which are constantly depersonalized in so many other ways. I’m categorically opposed to images that remove women’s heads (or anyone’s heads) to commoditize or take ownership of the bodies.

Nonetheless, the Easter Island bodies reminded me that, whether we’re talking about 600-year-old statues or contemporary fine art, individuality resides in the whole body. It’s my whole self that’s “me,” not my head, not my headless body.

2 Responses to “Heads with and without Bodies”

  1. Lynne Murray Says:

    Debbie, I love this too! For me the delight is in suddenly seeing the whole where once we could only see part. Clearly we can’t completely understand everything about the statues, why/how the bodies were buried, etc. But it’s great to know more and the belly on one statue is also very cool.

  2. Lizzie Says:

    The Oz books have another character, Langwidere, who has multiple heads that she can change. I gave that name to my Selectric.

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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