Coming up in London this week is an exhibition called The Naked Muse. Pictures of naked men are usually of interest to me, so I thought I’d find out a bit more about it.
Full details of the exhibition, featuring black and white photos of men poets in the nuddy, and the calendar to go with it are available here:
As regular QRG -ites will know, I am a bit sceptical about projects that seek to ‘reverse’ the objectification of women and men. Mainly because, influenced by the work of Mark Simpson, I am aware that men, to use the technical term, are just as tarty as women these days, if not more so!
I have argued against the myth of the female gaze and taken Simpson’s perspective, concluding that really, in metrosexual times, the gaze, (including the ‘gayze’) is polymorphously perverse. It will fix on anything or anyone, so long as they are hot.
HOWEVER! after recently previewing the American Man As Object exhibition, quite critically I may add, I got talking to one of the women who runs it. Conversations with her have persuaded me that in these metrosexy times, whilst men are the objects of many a picture, it is probably worth examining this subject matter closely. Because metrosexual imagery is often very bland and samey. To be considered ‘objects of desire’ men have to have big tits and nice hair and svelt figures – oh, pretty much like women then.
And, even in the 21st century, there are still not enough women working as photographers and film directors, making the images of men and women and people who identify as neither, that saturate our culture.
So back to the Naked Muse project.
The thing I like about it most is how it is questioning the gendered relationship between the ‘poet’ or ‘artist’ and the ‘muse’. Historically, women have been muses, and sometimes quite famously, for artists and poets. Elizabeth Siddal is one of the most famous muses I know of. Here she poses as Ophelia for Millais:
Victoria Bennett, whose brainchild The Naked Muse is, commented on this complex dynamic. She said:
‘As a female poet, I have noticed over the years that male poets are often described in terms of being the romantic hero, dark, handsome, wild, notoriously philandering and accompanied by beautiful (young) female muses to “inspire” his creativity; the same “rule” does not apply to women. So, what if one is a female creator? If desire, and the object of desire and beauty are creative catalysts, then why do we not see that same poetic stereotype?
Instead, the woman poet tends to just have the “mad” bit stuck to her rather than bad or dangerous to know! What is the relationship between creator and muse? And what is the relationship between the observer and the object?’
This reminded me of a post by Elise Moore
where she explored the construction of the woman artist figure as ‘witch’. It also made me think of the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy
, especially her series ‘The World’s Wife’. These poems take the artist/muse dynamic one step further and conjur up the inner lives of women who might, with a bit of imagination, have been connected to (in)famous men in history and mythology.
The Naked Muse then, is not just an exhibition and a calendar; it is also some real relationships between men and women which focus on art, creation, and objectification. As Victoria puts it:
‘I wanted to explore it I guess through a collaborative process, subvert that idea of the male poet, or artist and female muse. So, I approached women poets and photographers whom I respected and admired in terms of their creative work, with the loose theme of the male muse, to which they responded (some with poems already published, some with specially written ones for the calendar), and I approached women photographers whose work I felt explored the territory of the portrait, in all guises, and I approached male poets that I regarded as being quality poets, engaged in inspiring creative work and possessing “beauty”, and I partnered up these collaborations.
1 photographer, 1 poem, 1 male poet and let them have free expression within that response. I wanted to make sure that the male poets showed as deep and wide a range of beauty and the male body as the poems themselves, which is why they range in ages from 21 to 67. I also wanted to include a range of poets and photographers in terms of the writing and approaches, background and experience.’