Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Me too.

2017 . 10 . 17 - Comments / Commentaires (8)

Slightly hazy and pink-toned, the slide of René Magritte’s The Rape was still striking, projected larger-than-life on the classroom’s pull-down screen. I was twenty, and I’d been sexually assaulted for the first time just a few months before.



Magritte's Le viol

René Magritte’s The Rape 1934

As the professor explained Magritte’s work and life, I looked into the eyes in the painting and saw myself for the first time, art history lesson be damned.

Sixteen years later, I still don’t know the artist’s intentions behind this painting. If I had to guess, from what I know of Magritte’s relationship with women, I’d say the artist was not being as much of a feminist as I would have wanted him to be. Still, that doesn’t take away the power of this image.

For me, it represents the way our misogynist culture castrates women, severing our brains and our hearts from our bodies in order to make our bodies easier to use. What’s more, The Rape depicts the very specific silence of sexual assault. The inability to speak up as the attack is happening as well as the inability to say anything long after it’s over.

Until just a couple of weeks ago, Magritte’s work covered it all when it came to sexual violence. I could take an interest in other artworks that address rape, but nothing had the visceral effect that Magritte’s work did. Then I encountered Tabitha VeversWhen We Talk About Rape IV.



Tabitha Vevers' When We Talk About Rape IV

Tabitha Vevers’ When We Talk About Rape IV 2009

And I began crying uncontrollably. Even though it’s been years since a man has assaulted me or harassed me much beyond the daily inconvenience of lecherous old men farting out of their mouths or the perennial poison spewed by anonymous MRAs on YouTube.

My reaction to Vevers’ work has a lot to do with the piece itself. It’s confronting, managing somehow to be tastefully graphic. I feel like if I’d seen When We Talk About Rape as a child I would have been better at protecting myself, because I would have understood more fully what I am and what rapists are.

Vevers’ mermaid makes me see what Magritte’s portrait lacks, because Vevers’ mermaid gives me a sense of community. There is no question what she means by this artwork. Even if I don’t understand every nuance of why she painted it, I know that she loves and respects mermaids, and I know that this painting is a commentary on those who don’t.

Magritte’s work is muddier, purposefully so as far as I know from reading about what he wanted for his art. That’s okay, but it’s not what I personally need when it comes to sexual assault. Right now, I need community. I need to know that other people understand.


RELATED ARTICLES:
- I won’t shut up.
- You make a difference.
- On misogyny, free speech, and that feeling that things are going wrong


CATEGORIES: - English - Featuring artists - Feminism - Philosophy -


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(8) Comments / Commentaires: Me too.

-- libby fife -- 2017 . 10 . 17 --

Gwenn,

I really don’t know anything about Magritte but I know I don’t care for that image. It seems intentionally vulgar somehow which for me, takes away from anything positive (or empathetic) he may have been trying to say.

The second image makes better sense to me though I wouldn’t want to look at it all of the time. It seems like the artist thoughtfully handled the subject of women and rape, making it both poignant and human. I get a very direct message of the destruction of beauty and humanity handled in a very sensitive way.

There is just a lot that women endure silently isn’t there?

Good post, thank you.
Libby

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 10 . 17 --

@Libby: Your reaction to Magritte’s piece is so interesting, and your evaluation of his intentions may be right. Do you think you would respond differently to the image if it wasn’t called The Rape? He was fascinated by the relationship between titles and images, the way they influence each other…

And I can see what you say about Vevers’ work and not wanting to look at it all the time, though I admit that looking at it right now calms me somehow. I get that that’s weird. smile Thanks for commenting, as always!

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-- Sarah Greenman -- 2017 . 10 . 17 --

Thank you for this post. I have never seen either of the paintings until now - here in your post.

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 10 . 18 --

@Sarah: I’m glad I could make these images more visible, especially Vevers’ piece. Hugs to you!

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-- libby fife -- 2017 . 10 . 18 --

Gwenn,

I am not sure if changing the title of his piece would help. I actually noticed that as a secondary thing though I am sure it influences my thinking. Honestly I just didn’t love that image-I guess I thought it was vulgar and maybe too obvious? For me, the other image is hard to view too but is somehow tender at the same time. Beauty amidst tragedy. I guess I just got a lot more out of it.

It’s good that you showed both images though. They are both important to consider so thank you. And thanks, as always, for being willing to have a back and forth. That matters a lot also!
Libby

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-- Francine Proulx Harvey -- 2017 . 10 . 19 --

I really enjoy your work and your blog and have to admit I’ve not seen either of these images before either.

As for Magritte’s painting, I don’t sense any sympathy towards women in it.  I feel that he’s saying that when men see a woman’s face they actually think of her just being a body, that they can’t separate the two.

In Vevers’ work, I see empathy and sadness that the rape has brought upon the woman and there is a kind of death (of something lost or taken) that will always prevail.

It’s thought provoking. Thanks for the post.

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-- Debra -- 2017 . 10 . 20 --

I’ve been reading posts in my Facebook feed for “Me Too….” and am glad I found your blog and the images.  What I appreciate about the first is the disgusting behavior some have of not seeing our eyes, smiles/frowns, our humanity but only what could be ‘used’ by the viewer and this says it all - right down to no mouth visible and no consent possible.  Interesting the fiery red hair that is so beautiful. 

The second image breaks my heart.  This is so much about power over magical feminine presence, and angers me!

These images are of adult female bodies - what about the child body that is violated, hurt and told “it doesn’t hurt!” or other lies and by someone who likely is supposed to LOVE that child and her body, and to keep her “safe” from harm? 

The more conscious part of me can find some compassion knowing how many perpetrators have been preyed upon by someone in their own life…..but the red haired warrior me wants to slash back and vaporize those who have so much to learn about deserving to be human, with humanity.  Grrrrrrr.

Thanks for sharing such powerful images, Gwenn!

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 10 . 22 --

@Francine: Thank you! You’re probably right that there was no empathy for women in Magritte’s painting. At the time when I first saw it, it was because it represented so accurately the way I felt men viewed me that I assumed there had to be empathy there—or at least a certain sensitivity. And I held onto that for years, that feeling that maybe Magritte was at least being honest. Vevers cured me of that and replaced it with real healing.

@Deb: It’s certainly true that many predators have been abused and I do think it’s important to hold space for their hurt. At the same time, I think it’s our culture more generally that allows the cycle to continue. We need to work at giving a clear message to those who prey on others, instead of ostracizing victims and enabling attackers…

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