• Erika Argiolas

PERCEPTION OF BODIES IN CONTEMPORARY ART

Six contemporary artists that have been changing our perception of the body through art.

I will lead you towards the knowledge of the wonderful Tate Mondern Museum From a Place of Love project.



All of us know that woman's body is the centre of objectification and a common practice that keeps to catch interests of industry. Those industries that have always been dominated by patriarchal system of the white race.


But this objectification attitude has found other communities to address, people of colour and women belonging to the Black Community as well. Six artists traied and kept trying to refute this reductive, limiting and shallow way of rapresentation of bodies, lives and sexuality. They - by picturing nudity and sexuality with their own interpretation and perception - are trying to communicate the deep essence and meaning of these themes that often are marginalized and brutally stereotyped.


Let's try to go beyond the immediate reaction of discomfort that this works usually give and let's try to learn from it. These works can become educational and enriching because they speak and tell us stories, not only about sexuality but also about injustice and violence.

They can be a source of inspiration that can show us a multitude of new ways in which we can love.


Rotimi Fani-Kayode - Sonponnoi

Rotimi Fani-Kayode Sonponnoi 1987, printed c.1987–8 Tate
Sonponnoi © Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Nigerian photographer, explored racial tensions and sexuality through portraiture. He moved to England at the age of 12 to escape the #Nigerian #Civil #War.

Through his work #Sonponnoi, Fani-Kayode analyzes his Yoruba ancestral heritage, eroticism and his homosexuality. Sonnopoi takes its name from the Yoruba orisha, which is the spirit responsible for smallpox. The Yoruba in fact believe that by pronouncing his name a smallpox epidemic could result. Thus reconnecting to this taboo, Fani-Kayode talks about his own sexuality in his works. The subject of his portrait, naked and covered with painted spots indicating smallpox, holds a lighted candle in his hands in the act of covering his genitals. The image thus represented would be a criticism of that situation of otherness that occurs when sexuality is presented in forms that deviate from what is commonly considered "normal" and therefore straight. The candle that continues to burn in this condition of disease, symbolically smallpox in the case of representation, but of homosexuality in reality, is a criticism of homophobes who categorize it as a disease.



Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi visual activist, South African artist and photographer, since the early 2008s has identified as an active part in documenting and celebrating the lives of the lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities of color in South Africa.

Muholi is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, explaining that they "identify as a human being".

In their works Zanele confronts the stereotypes of the black #LGBTQIA+ community, in a work whose attempt is to reformulate and give new life to the black body, this time stripped of any kind of fetishization typical of the white gaze.


Bra - 2003, © Zanele Muholi

In their photographs, the bodies are represented totally or partially, but the heads are cut out of the image. They are intimate and respectful images whose attention is focused more on the variety of bodies, on their natural gestures and posture, in which beauty but also suffering come together. The identities of the portrayed partecipants are concealed in respect of their dignity and confidentiality which in this way are left intact, although Zanele thinks that portraying nudity is not objectification, but rather that these bodies involved in the artistic act are participants and not mere subjects of a photo. The images that the artist offers us show a disarming sexual intimacy and vulnerability.


Sunil Gupta

printed 2018
Ian & Pavlik, London 1984, © Sunil Gupta

1953, New Delhi, gave us a gift: Sunil Gupta, a photographer who through his works carries out real social analyzes, especially aimed at documenting long-term gay relationships. With his work #Lovers: ten years on, made at the end of his ten-year romantic relationship, Gupta decides to document all the homosexual relationships of people who have happened in his life. This series is also a response to a change in public opinion regarding homosexuality in the wake of the HIV and AIDS crisis. Most of the subjects he photographed are friends in the Greater London area, immortalized over a two-year period, portrayed in black and white, in domestic settings and in poses that critically resemble traditional family photos.





Akram Zaatari

 Akram Zaatari Bashasha (left) and a friend. Studio Shehrazade, Saida, Lebanon, late 1950s. Hashem el Madani 2007
Akram Zaatari Bashasha and a friend. © Akram Zaatari, courtesy Hashem el Madani and Arab Image Foundation

The work done by Akram Zaatari, in some way, retraces the intentions of Gupta. His photographs were taken by the Lebanese commercial photographer Hashem el Madani between 1948 and 1982. A series of photographs that includes as subjects some couples in domestic environments, immortalized in tender moments of love that launch into a counterattack , challenging sexual and gender conventions. The subjects of the photos take free poses for the camera, which are occasionally accompanied by props or costumes. Most of them look directly at the camera, while showing various interactions, such as kissing, hugging and acting scenes.


Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin Is Anal Sex Legal 1998. © Tracey Emin

Is anal sex legal?

This work by Tracey Emin refers to the Victorian ruling against homosexuality following the Labouchere amendment of 1885, which made no direct reference to anal sex, but only to "gross indecency". Historically known as taboo, no legal ruling has ultimately ever been directly specified against heterosexual anal sex. A large part of Tracey Emin's work tries to describe sex in a graphic way through the use of words and / or images, trying to break down the bridge between public and private and whose greatest intent is to emphasize that talking about sex is not it should never be taboo.



Kaveh Golestan

Prostitute Series. © Kaveh Golestan Estate

With Prostitute Series (1975-1977), Kaveh Golestan creates portraits of prostitutes in the Citadel of Sharh-e No, a red-light ghetto in Tehran. More than 1,500 women had been employed in the area. In 1980, a few years after the creation of this series, the government demolished the area and now there is a park and a hospital there. Each of the women portrayed by Golestan has a story to tell, and the photographer carefully examines how sex workers are treated by society. In Iran, the punishment inflicted on practitioners of this work is very severe and this reminds us that regressive attitudes towards this work exist in other parts of the world as well. The black and white images he made contradict the performative nature of such violence which would somehow have the purpose of publicly shaming. These photographs show women who often look directly at the camera lens, in attitudes of empowerment aimed directly at the viewer.


From a Place of Love is a program developed by Tate Exchange and UK Black Pride in response to an exhibition of #Zanele #Muholi's works. Tate Exchange explores love in a year-long consideration that reflects on the current issues of our society. To celebrate 15 years since the birth of the movement, the British Black Pride is exploring its territory. From a Place of Love brings these two themes together with a program that values ​​the voices of the QTIPOC community.

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