An Inclusive Litany

4/5/02

Jerry Saltz in a Village Voice art review, April 5, 2002:
The shaved, waxed, trimmed, and otherwise depilated female pubis that has become a cultural norm might be called a Pandora's box of conflicting fears and desires. On the one hand, there's the fear of hair, or chaetophobia. Hair is a sign of maturity and strength, which far too many men find scary in women. Removing pubic hair may be a wish to infantilize women—to make them look more like little girls. Which, if taken further, comes uncomfortably close to pedophilia.

For their part, women may internalize a distaste for hair and develop a love of bareness. Some would say this is self-exploitation. But it seems to me—and I'm sure I'm not alone—that women are turning something that objectifies them into a tool of empowerment. This is consistent with lowered waistlines and bared midriffs, which may be surrogates and pointers for the pudenda below. A woman I know describes the bared-belly look as "a way of showing more skin without revealing more breast or being tacky." Either way, visibility is power. The male anatomy has already taught us as much....

Kembra Pfahler, the former lead singer of the notorious cult performance group the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, explained her shaved privates by saying, "I do it because it looks good. Which," she added, "is my basic motivation for everything."

On the night of her opening, a few weeks back, as a crowd pressed close to a makeshift stage at American Fine Art at PHAG, that motivation was on vivid display. Pfahler and the seven members of her band arrived at the gallery wearing only black wigs, body paint, and boots, flaunting their bare yonis like crazy.

Striding to the stage, they performed the circus-meets-de Sade "Wall of Vagina," which culminated in all but one of the group lying facedown, in a stack, butts toward the audience, legs spread. The remaining member squirted white liquid from a turkey baster into this seven-layered crack, from the top down. It was an outrageous money shot á la Julia Child—one that evoked the Vienna actionists, Annie Sprinkle, Jack Smith, Leigh Bowery, and Carolee Schneeman. The group then stood up, walked out, and disappeared naked down 22nd Street....

Beecroft's regimented models, and her predilection for beautiful, blond Aryans, have always made us think beyond the nude, to type; now she introduces race. But with the black women clad, the suggestion is that we're not ready to handle this particular truth—which is that the power of the shaved pudenda increases in direct proportion to the "otherness" of the woman in question. Or does it? After all, the more you see of the female anatomy, the less "difference," "otherness," or "mystery" you can project on it. When difference is accented, it is sometimes reduced....

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