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The naked body as a canvas for self-expression beyond the male gaze

Naked women with their hair braids standing facing away from the camera.

In her essay from the forthcoming Fotografiska Berlin Magazine, Olamiju Fajemisin studies the work of six artists from NUDE: From a female-identifying perspective, one of the first of three opening exhibitions at Fotografiska Berlin.

NUDE, one of three exhibitions inaugurating Fotografiska Berlin considers the current state of nudity in contemporary photography and related artworks by thirty self-identified women artists from across continents, including works by artists Carlota Guerrero (*1989, Spain), Laila Majid (*1996, Pakistan), Evelyn Bencicova (*1992, Slovakia) Angélica Dass (*1979, Rio de Janeiro), Momo Okabe (*1981, Japan), and Joana Choumali (*1974, Ivory Coast). One manifestation of a mutual affinity across the artists’ work – which varies greatly in form, thematic engagement, and how the work is intended for dissemination – is the artists’ separate inventions for portraying the naked body, yielding images in which female nudity becomes virtuous and de-objectified.

Carlota Guerrero
In the work of self-taught image maker Carlota Guerrero, who was born and still lives in Barcelona, groups of femmes are brought together before her lens to engage in simple acts of togetherness – moving, touching, running, dancing – often while wearing minimalist, nude-toned garments. Being that her images are heavily circulated on social media and elsewhere online – Guerrero previously collaborated with recording artist Solange to realize the visuals for her third studio album A Seat at the Table, 2016 – her catalog of images of women have inspired a generation of imitators. Showing on this occasion works from Organismo formado por mujeres, 2019, Guerrero explains her fascination with the “organism” as coming from a desire to realize a “surreal projection of [her] mind,” something she imagines as a “new animal composed of the bodies which feeds back into itself, as if each woman were an organ or a cell that, by joining the others, makes up a whole being.”

Laila Majid
Born in Pakistan and currently based in the United Kingdom, Laila Majid invokes body horror across several mediums in her discussion of body politics. Her frequent use of latex, with its abject texture and unidentifiable squelching liquids between her material and photographic works promotes the desire for a haptic encounter. You might cringe looking at wet sock, 2020, a digital image depicting a foot, tip-toeing to stand and dripping with thick translucent goo. A more curious sensuality emerges with Rosie, 2019: the skin of a disembodied calf bears red marks. Have the shoes been laced too tight? “The body is full of possibilities,” Majid remarked of her scrutinizing fascination with skin, as well as “saliva, eyelashes, and eyeballs” in an interview with Coeval magazine.

Evelyn Bencicova
Bratislava-born artist Evelyn Bencicova’s style emerges from her concurrent interests in contemporary culture as well as academic and art historical research. (Take an earlier photographic series, (an)organic, for example, which sees live domesticable animals – including a Sphynx cat, an English Bull Terrier, a yellow and milk-coloured Burmese python, hairless rats, and red-eyed mice – arranged amongst milk bottles, flowers, glassware, and raw food – fish and vegetables, to the effect of amplified still lives). In the later series Ecce homo, 2015, naked women pile onto each other, creating geometric and relaxed forms that conceal their faces and genitals against sanitized backdrops of drained pools, empty offices and classrooms. Her newest work, Æther, 2023, is an audio-visual project made in collaboration with Samson G. Balfour of Screenoise. Unfolding as a complex map of memories, illusions, and narrative strands, the story is navigated with a protagonist avatar that looks like the artist. Bencicova’s work serves as a retelling of the origin of the Abrahamic religions and aims to symbolically relieve women of the burdens of “sin, shame, and guilt” that have been unjustly placed on them and justified by religious beliefs.

A black and white picture exposing someone's back in a close up shot.

Angélica Dass
Working predominantly as a portrait photographer, Rio de Janeiro-born, Madrid-based Angélica Dass began the photographic project Humanae in 2012. In the work, she creates images of her subjects facing the camera head-on, seen from the point below their clavicles and wearing no clothes. In post-production, she matches a sample of pixels from the person’s skin to cards from the Pantone system. Ultimately, the tile-like images, are tessellated to create color-field grids featuring models of all ages, who are not named, or described beyond their corresponding Pantone code. There are subjects PANTONE 322-4 C, and PANTONE 65-7 C, and so on. The sublimation of the models’ identities to a system of code devised by a corporation, matched only to eleven-by-eleven-pixel patches of skin, is testament to Dass’s polemic against racial categorization. By using a system such as Pantone’s, Dass exposes gaping holes (and overlaps) in the logic of complexion-based differentiation and discrimination.

Joana Choumali
Similarly, Ivorian artist Joana Choumali obscures both the identities of herself and her subjects in her work. Embroidered interventions in the surfaces of her collaged images create textured landscapes out of her imagination, such as in Only for Your Good, 2020, which shows two giant-sized women crossing a bridge across water. Her newest work Awoulaba / Taille fine, 2013-2015, explores the complex notions surrounding contemporary West African womanhood. The work comprises documentation of mannequin manufacturers in the Ivory Coast, whose objective is to produce a so-called “ideal” form with wide hips, and full breasts and arms. This specific form of mannequin is called an Awoulaba, meaning beauty queen in Baule. In highlighting the production of these objects, Choumali draws attention from the self as a “real” thing, focusing instead on the distracting potential of such abstraction.

A woman without clothing is posing, featuring vibrant colours.

Momo Okabe
Photographer Momo Okabe draws attention to the self, through recording her autobiography in images. Perhaps amongst the most self-effacing of the participating artists, she spent over two decades building an archive of personal images through which she explores her personal relationship to romances, reproduction, and grief, specifically within the contexts of her asexual and gender identity. Steeped in saturated yellow, orange, and pink tones, Okabe’s images are naturalistic snapshots of often unstaged scenes. The artist’s consistent documentation of her trans lovers and peers dispels myths of nudity in photography as exploitative, and rather creates an affect of affirmation and intimacy.

The artists’ respective pursuits of what it means to document images of marginalized bodies in the nude trace overlapping personal and political tangents, complementing and uplifting a collective viewing experience of the work. Here, the discourse on nudity-versus-nakedness is restored in the eyes and camera lenses of women artists.

An intimate session between two men.

In her essay in Fotografiska Berlin Magazine, Olamiju Fajemisin studies the work of six artists from NUDE: From a female-identifying perspective, one of the first of three opening exhibitions at Fotografiska Berlin.