A de-contextualized society

Lately I have been examining how female bodies are used to sell things, from advertising (via commercial realism) to how we are socially constructed as we chase a “self-image.” Last night I stumbled upon a magazine online called Colorlines. It was examining war images in Afghanistan. You may have seen the cover of the Time Magazine featuring an Afghan woman named Aisha in the fall of 2010.

Time Magazine was so worried about featuring the young woman’s grotesque nose on their cover and went as far as to consult a child psychologist before running the cover. Once on newstands they did not receive the resistance from the public they had anticipated. In fact, no one mentioned it. Isn’t this odd? No. Especially considering we Americans have been so removed from the war. The media has also not shown many coffins of fallen American soldiers anywhere since the war first began. Have we completely de-contexualized this war to the point we are desensitized to it?

During the height of the Iraq war, the U.S. media paid close attention to troop deaths and fatalities, often making casualties among American soldiers leading stories in newspapers and on the airwaves. You may have noticed a shift later in the war on many news channels as they stopped focusing solely on U.S. troop’s casualties and began calculating the death tolls of insurgents—often immediately after announcing the U.S. troop death toll. Of course, the insurgent death toll was always higher. That manipulation psychologically forced viewers to juxtapose the tally themselves. “5 U.S. soldiers died today, 22 insurgents killed.” Is an example of this sort of representation that began to happen almost telling that 5 in exchange for 22 is pretty good—be happy America.

Today, the American press has essentially withdrawn from covering the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the Pew Center finding that the media only devoted four percent of its coverage to the war during 2010.

Colorlines argues that the shock and outrage Time never received regarding the cover of Aisha is  a result of a visually saturated culture like ours, one that may reaching a point where we can no longer see violence without putting it out of context.

Rosemarie Romero, a young graduate student and artist pursuing an MFA at the University of Florida decided to critique this very subject by creating photomontages. Photography, war and women’s lives are the focus of Romero’s new solo exhibit, “Sexual War Politics,“ which opened last year at the World Erotic Art Museum in Miami.

“The exhibit is a series of photomontages in which white women’s bodies have been visually escavated and scenes of war have been placed where a pale belly or breast or buttock once was. In one piece, a blond woman stands with her legs spread, her hands on her hips, hair tousled. But her torso, including her breasts and vagina, have been replaced with the image of what appears to be an alley or hallway that’s been bombed and where soldiers are gathered. A rifle is propped up against the wall, which in this case is the woman’s right thigh.” Colorlines reports.

“I wanted to make a commentary on voyeurism, how victims are photographed, how women are photographed. The way they seem in the media,” says Romero. Part of what makes “Sexual War Politics” so successful artistically and politically is that it takes into account the degree to which both porn images and war photos in and of themselves now largely fail to move us.

Colorlines continues, “War photography, women’s faces and race have a long, complicated relationship, one that has taken some decidedly bizarre turns, as in the case of Rita Hayworth. Hayworth, who was born Margarita Carmen Cansino (her father was a Spaniard), changed her name so she’d stop getting minor “Hispanic” roles in films. She also had her hairline altered through electrolysis and her wavy hair dyed red so that by the time she became a coveted pinup girl, she was white.”

Soldiers favored Hayworth’s image during World War II and millions of copies of her picture traveled with them into war. She was considered a “bombshell” and so when the first nuclear bomb was tested in 1945, an image of her decorated the missile. ?She hadn’t given her consent.

“The story has a science fiction quality to it: A biracial woman makes herself white to get work and her image ends up on the weapon that will be used to kill people of color.” Colorlines persists.

“Granted, a cover photo can’t serve too many purposes, not even more than one really. But placing the image of a young woman who’s been mutilated outside of the context in which the horror has happened obscures the reality of the situation and conceals those who are responsible.  In the cover photograph, Aisha’s hair is thick and wavy as if it had been carefully arranged in a New York studio. The camera has captured her at a moment when she’s staring at us from the corner of her eyes, her lips slightly parted as if she’s about to speak. The light falls across her pale brown cheeks, picks up the contrast in the shawl covering her dark hair. The nose, cut away, the flesh having healed as one commentator wrote into a “heart shape,” is the only indication that this young woman’s life is endangered.” Colorlines writes.

Like the bombshell that Rita Hayworth was Romero creates a photomontage called “Bomb Shell” in “Sexual War Politics” that is very disturbing and equally de-contextualized. Please look below at pieces of her work and visit http://rosemarieromero.com/home.html for more.

A description of the photomontages on Romero’s personal website describe them: “American pornography and fashion shoots are cut, scanned, and juxtaposed with war photography from the Middle East, Africa, and other distant countries. Manipulated, fragmented, and decontextualized, disturbing scenes appear on the flesh and garments of glamorous models and female nudes who pose seductively for the viewer’s gaze, thus becoming unsettling metaphors of conflict in the 21st century. Satirically called Lysistrata- a Greek comedy about women who use sex as a weapon for peace, the viewer is faced with titles that are pulled from porn magazines, which taken from its context, exposes violent undertones of carnage and sadism. As a spectator of warfare taking place through the omnipresent eyes of the media, this grotesque series of photomontages is a meditation on the imagery of war, a critique on voyeurism, pop culture, and the politics of representation.”

It is a fascinating way to see more uses of the female body. Please visit her website. Thanks for reading.


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