Mia Cross's Constructed Femininity
Mia Cross' pieces at the Cambridge Art Association as part of the exhibit 'Face It' grabbed me on my last trip into Boston.
It seems that Mia is treating the female body with sarcasm and irony. In the image below she accentuates the soft velvet-iness of it (quite literally) with pink pastel and surrounds it with a dabbed wallpaper-like pattern. She also defaces it. All of these choices strip dignity and power from the female body. The softness of it accentuates it as a sexual object. The wallpaper-like design hints at an interior (the classic location of female entrapment and male aggression. And the defacement depersonalizes it.
To the left of the pink body is a silhouetted body, naked but for a bonnet. The bonnet probably references 1880s fashion trends. "The bonnet, made of anything from linen to straw to silk to cotton to felt, was crafted to cover a woman’s head and usually shield her face from the sun. Pale complexions were considered a sign of health and wealth" (Fleming). As such, it accentuates the female body as delicate, tender, something to be protected (by males). To the right of the pink lady is another female silhouette, this time crafted out of lace. Lace has had a place in women's fashion since the 1500s, especially bridal fashion (Owlcation). Lace was meant to accentuate the delicacy, sensuality, and preciousness of the female body. This being so, all three of these figures highlights a soft, powerless, traditionally male-dominated female stereotype.
Then I got to the thing that really got my attention: a male unclothed manikin that is partially overtaken by floral patterns. It seems the soft, helpless version of femininity Mia is portraying spills out from the paintings onto the male figure. I have no idea if the manikin's placement in relation to the three female bodies is significant. Is he looking away (as if trying not to witness this very luscious, seductive portrayal of femininity)? Whether conscious or unconscious of her decision I think Mia placed him there intuitively. He could be a guard/protector, except he is also very vulnerable. There's something about a manikin that is utterly creepy as well that makes me want to interpret him as a voyeur who has just looked away, but is tainted by the weak-ass image of the opposite gender he has seen and that vision is now obscuring his vision.
But Mia seems to treat both genders similarly, with the same degree of sensitivity and softness. Yet, in each case, she is presenting us not with a body, but with a mimicry of a body - something constructed. It could be said she is presenting us with constructed identities. And this, I think, is what I find compelling about her work. The only question is: is she aware of the construction of these identities as a kind of social satire? I would argue yes.
And I would argue yes because of the image below. Taking the whole display into account, it's clear Mia has a comic relationship with bodies and body-parts. Legs and feet sprout from the gallery floor as if bodies were trapped upside down. Hands dangle from the ceiling at the end of long, floppy arms. There is an edge to this work that suggests Mia is displaying her version of female identity not as ultimate, but as a social image that changes through time (hence the references to Victorian and pre-Victorian femininity).
All this is only confirmed by the paintings below. They show mouthless faces. That is if these can be called faces. They are more like symbols. Or masks. The eyes though are penetrating. It's almost haunting. These non-humans seem to look into my soul and ask: are you okay with this? Are you okay with us being this?
Cited: https://owlcation.com/humanities/History-of-Lace-Making, http://www.katetattersall.com/early-victorian-womens-hats-part-1-concerning-bonnets/