"Olympia"

My new paintings are referring to the famous work by Edouard Manet's "Olympia" presented at the 1865 Paris Salon. Critics didn't take this work well upon its debut. The audience, represented mostly by  white men from Parisian elites, criticised not only Olympia's naked body (posing a direct threat to the bourgeois male viewer by revealing a wealthy sex worker in her boudoir demonstrating her rather bold and controlled nudity) but also a black maid presented in post colonial style (with issues of race representation), just fifteen years after slavery had been abolished in France.


Manet was strongly influential with this painting that shocked both stylistically and in subject matter. Olympia disrupts the general concept of the male gaze. This painting has its roots in iconic female nudes of Venus by Venetian masters like Titian or Giorgione. The female body is always presented by male artists to confirm authority of male viewers.  In Michael Fried's "Manet in His Generation: The Face of Painting in the 1860s", the author made a point that the painter's goal, in this limited sense, was thus to accommodate the viewer who would in turn, through the gaze, allow the painting to become meaningful. But  the direct stare of the nude in Olympia challenges the male viewer's agency and authority - they 'freeze' him rather than empower him. 


Enjoyment of Olympia's directness made this painting stand out from iconic representations before and the image became iconic.
Referring to Olympia, I created this body of work based on nude selfies from sex dating websites. Mobiles' cameras and access to the Internet give us the opportunity to present ourselves as we want to be presented with the same directness as Olympia. We look at ourselves through the gaze which gives us confidence and sex appeal. Some view these self-created naked self-portraits as proof of cultural narcissism and moral decline. On the other hand, some view them as a by-product of technology-enabled self-exploration. Humans have long had an interest in self-exploration.  From early Greeks to present day, people have used self-study and self-observation to explore identity, sexuality and a sense of self. It’s not a big leap to go from a pursuit of self-exploration to the desire for self-portrait. With self-exploration we self-reflect our bodies and sexuality. With confidence we produce nude selfies to pleasure and satisfy both the viewer and ourselves to the same degree. It is the way we craft a way of speaking about our desires and presenting our body that feels true to ourselves. It has the potential to break down barriers of shame surrounding desire and the body’s appearance, especially among those who have felt pressured to look and act a certain way.

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