*Reflection will be right at the bottom of the page!
(click here for original proposal post)
Chosen subject: Indian Buddhism
Group Mates: Chio Jo Inng, Alfred Yeo, Evangeline Ng, Lu Jia Xian
Museum Visited: Asian Civilisation Museum
Chosen Object: Gateway Bracket with four shalabhanjikas
Identified by her bosom and buttocks, the person identified in the sculpture is Yakshi.
We decided to appropriate this particular sculpture that we saw at the Asian Civilisation Museum.
Yakshi was traditionally considered a goddess of fertility because of her figure. However, in modern context, such a voluptuous body would be linked to the idea of sexuality rather than fertility and baby making.
As such, we thought it would be interesting to remove Yakshi from her past context to bring across the exploitation of a woman’s body for sexual purposes. To make this point stronger, we decided to create a FHM cover featuring Yakshi.
After the presentation, I thought I should address some questions that Sujatha mentioned.
Although most local magazines don’t have double covers (the back is usually reserved for advertisements), we felt it was necessary to have two different versions of our cover page.
We felt that audiences would have different thoughts and interpretation on the dressing style when the identity of the figure was changed. We thus wanted to play around with the irony that Yakshi would be seen as fertile and child-bearing (and generally positive thoughts), while Naomi Neo might be slut-shamed for having the exact same body and dressing. We felt that this was in line with our aim in conveying the idea that the same object/form could be interpreted very differently depending on the context of the culture & audience.
The image shown is a modern interpretation of the Indian Buddhist Goddess, Yakshi. Traditionally associated with the idea of fertility and nature in ancient India, she was identified through her large, round breasts, small waist and large thighs and hips. These days, the voluptuous body that Yakshi possesses may be interpreted in a totally different way. In the modern world, sexual objectification of women have become much more commonplace, and a voluptuous body such as hers may be seen as a tool of pleasure in the eyes of men. It is no longer associated with the idea of being fertile or baby conceiving, but instead as means of sexual gratification. As such, we decided to remove Yakshi from her traditional context to show this shift in perspective towards the well-endowed body. To effectively bring across the point, we placed her into a modern piece of media that portrayed women in a more provocative manner that man would find sexually attractive.
The ambiguity created in the poster is also intentional, and meant to make viewers question the state of modern female sexuality in media; is the woman’s sexuality being subverted as part of a man-made construct, in the same way religion is sometimes criticized as a man-made construct? Or is the Yakshi/model exerting power with her sexuality, in the same way a goddess attracts worshippers? Just as how we have no idea if the models in FHM covers are happily and willingly doing their job, and as we have no idea if Yakshi is an influence or a result of influence, the state of female sexuality in the modern day is in a state of undefined flux.
Known for featuring the ‘hottest’ women on the planet, FHM was our choice of medium on which we would appropriate Yakshi. To localise it, we designed a Singaporean FHM cover featuring Yakshi in the form of Naomi Neo, a popular blogger known for her voluptuous body and outspoken attitude about sexuality. As such, we have created an artwork that appropriates Yakshi as a social statement and reflection on how much the meaning of a woman’s body have changed over the years.
- Manipulating Cultural Idioms.Sirhandi, Marcella C.. 1999. “ManipulatingCultural Idioms”. Art Journal 58 (3). [Taylor & Francis, Ltd., College Art Association]: 40–47. doi:10.2307/777859.http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/pdf/777859.pdfRepresented in sculpture since approximately 200 B.C.E., the yakshi has always been conceived as a voluptuous creature with large globular breasts, small waist, and exaggerated hips and thighs. Bhattacharya’s female fatale, entwined by the vine that signifies her tie to nature, has tubular arms that echo the essence of the creeper. Her partner, emerging from the center of the flower, is literally the spirit of the plant-a common definition for yaksha/yakshi
- Unclothed sensual, feminine figure as one of the most canonical motifs of Indian art.“ART HISTORY AND THE NUDE: ON ART, OBSCENITY, AND SEXUALITY IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA”. 2004. “ART HISTORY AND THE NUDE: ON ART, OBSCENITY, AND SEXUALITY IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA”. In Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Post-colonial India, 237–67. Columbia University Press.http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/10.7312/guha12998.13.Over different periods and genres, the voluptuous feminine body in sculpture came to be endowed with a variety of meanings. The figures came to be read as symbols of growth, bounty, and fertility, as the embodiment of a divine maternal spirit, or as classical literary ideals. In the process, the sexual form moved from its initial primeval association with nature and fertility rites to its later, more complex divine and aesthetic connotations.
- Interacting Like a Body: Objectification Can Lead Women to Narrow Their Presence in Social Interactions. Saguy, Tamar, Diane M. Quinn, John F. Dovidio, and Felicia Pratto. 2010. “Interacting Like a Body: Objectification Can Lead Women to Narrow Their Presence in Social Interactions”.Psychological Science 21 (2). [Association for Psychological Science, Sage Publications, Inc.]: 178–82.http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/41062184.Sexual objectification occurs when a person is viewed as a mere body that exists for the pleasure and use of others (Bartky, 1990). This treatment targets women more often than men. For these reasons, women are theorized to willingly participate in their own objectification and become preoccupied with appearing as “good objects” (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997).Drawing on these ideas, we predicted that when objectified, women would try not only to appear as good objects, but also to behave like ones.
- Contemporary Indian Art: A Question of Method. Sinha, Ajay J.. 1999. “Contemporary Indian Art: A Question of Method”. Art Journal 58 (3). [Taylor & Francis, Ltd., College Art Association]: 31–39. doi:10.2307/777858.http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/pdf/777858.pdfTaking reference from contemporary Indian art, much of which centres around adapting Indian cultural symbolism, was an important stepping stone in our process. Ravinder Reddy and other contemporary Indian artists’ works subvert or transform the meaning of traditional religious figures such as Kali and Yakshi into modern-day works into modern-day contexts, which served as an inspiration for our project.
Interview with Yakshi on her ever-changing roles (click on image to expand):
Cover & Back Page:
I think this last project was a very appropriate one to close Art History with. Armed with the visual analysis skills we had learnt throughout this module, it was really fun to try interpreting and re-interpreting different artworks.
While visiting the ACM we came across the Yakshi sculpture and immediately realized that someone who did not know who Yakshi was could interpret the body in a very different way. Taking her out of context and just looking at her body visually, one would see her voluptuous figure and associate her with being seductive instead of being fertile.
We thus settled on the idea of appropriating Yakshi into an FHM cover. Because we aimed to show how perceptions change based on the identity of the body, we wanted to merge Yakshi with another figure who was know to be sexy. We settled on Naomi Neo, a famous local blogger who is voluptuous and known to dress provocatively. We also used FHM because the ladies that appear on the cover are deemed as desirable and sexy.
Even to a non-art person, the presence of a sculpture might be associated with some sort of deeper meaning and purpose, and placing the head of Yakshi on Naomi’s body would imply this supposed purpose. Upon removing the head, however, that purpose is removed and the body merely becomes one that is provocative and scantily clad.
Making use of our research material, we formatted a mock interview with Yakshi. We felt that it kept in line with our cheeky tone and helped strengthen our message.
All in all, I really learnt the importance of both visual and contextual analysis because they really do influence the way in which you understand the image. This is one take-away that definitely applies to more than just art history, and it’s a skill I hope to keep for a long time!