For this illustration I wanted to create something beautiful and delicate contrasted with something scratchy and obtrusive, I wanted to create an image of re-growth, but with scars still present from an horrific event.
The font was a really important aspect of this piece, I wanted to create something really jarring against the leafy nude.
I also wanted the text to be black as night, so the contrast is as high as it can go, so the nude doesn’t get lost amid this loud text, I decided to paint a red watercolour streak over the figure, it does look like menstrual blood, and alongside the theme of the poem I feel it’s both beautiful and grotesque. I ramped up the contrast on this too, to make the whole composition really pop.
Finally, I played around with the layout of the text, placing it over and beneath the figure, before deciding that in the white space beneath her leg was best, the text looks almost bark like, like the foundations for this blooming nude.
This article is indebted to the work of Mia Fineman, and specifically her landmark essay Ecce Homo Prostheticus of 1999
In Weimar Germany, the classical ideal of the perfect male form had been shattered by the bombs and artillery of the first world war. The government had imposed a ban on the publication of images showing soldiers and mutilated and maimed, yet the public could see with their own eyes “war cripples” propped up on street corners, abandoned by the state. In the turbulence that followed the war, an entirely new industry was born, prosthetics were not just objects to relieve suffering, they became layered with their own philosophies and ideals, the inorganic and the organic merged together represented a new age of man and the masculine ideal.
The state’s censorship of the truth via the ban on images showcased a stance of denial, the allowance of two prostheses per person created a horror of a situation where the worst off had to choose their most valuable limbs. The prosthetics industry boomed, for those who had the cash, prosthetics were slick, efficient and represented a new age of man. Freud’s belief that all man’s weaknesses in regards to productivity could be solved by technology peppered major essays released by the industry at the time.
One such collection of essays, published in 1919, titled “Artificial Limbs and Work Aids for War Cripples and Accident “contains many of the images one would expect, of fresh amputees and shiny new prostheses. The Freudian narrative of ‘better with technology’ is sang and themes of the Nietschian super-man also ring out, the machine man, the “Homo Prostheticus” becomes a new masculine ideal within the industry.
Within the expected images, the reader is confronted with two small photographs that evoke a line of questioning that traces a different line of narrative, one of the history of art and the historical representation of the male body. Shown front on and in profile, the Spitzy Statue is a modern classical sculpture, which prior to the prosthetic accessories, represented the classical ideals of the perfect man. Youth, strength and fertility. The addition of a chest strap and a prosthetic leg, creates a man that is now an Other to the classical ideal. Perhaps intended to represent the improvement and bettering of the classical form, the almost grotesque abstraction of flesh from the use of prosthetics in these images, connote the darker elements of the age of prosthetics. The stigma attached to male suffering in Weimar Germany was severe in regards to both physical and especially mental injuries. The classical form of the Spitzy statue cannot help but be subverted by the addition of prosthetics, the fig leaf, once a symbol of modesty and decency in the archaic ideal, coupled with the prosthetics, now becomes a symbol of emasculation. The cultural fear of the loss of masculinity via mental and physical injury manifests itself regularly in references to castration.
Figure 1 The “Spitzy Statue,” from Artificial Limbs and Work-Aids for War-Cripples and Accident Victims, featured in Mia Fineman’s ground-breaking essay.
The classical masculine narrative of provider, hunter and saviour was being re-written, and even in texts such as “Artificial Limbs”, one can see the struggle to address the problem of physical weakness, even when supplemented and repaired, belittling the masculine ideal of strength.
Where the prosthetics industry sought to re-define the male as the machine man, new and improved, many state images sought to ignore the wounded and maimed. The still from Ways to Strength and Beauty by Wilhelm Prager, showcases the narrative of young, healthy and fit veterans returning from War in noble circumstances, now performing their duty in the world of work. The Free Body movement also gaining momentum in Germany at this time was seemingly ignorant of the mass mutilation caused by war and the Prosthetic industry’s ideal of the mechanised man.
Neither narrative, the gleaming iron-man or the perfect physical specimen, ring true. But within both, one is able to witness the re-writing of the male narrative in a time of huge societal upheaval, and to also witness the fears over the loss of key pillar stones of masculine identity- recreation, physical and mental strength.
Artists such as Otto Dix, sought to shatter all narratives, to abandon the classical ideal, attack the modern archetype of the German Man, proliferated by the state and the Free Body movement and to make grotesque the machine man of the prosthetics industry.
In Dix’s most famous work The Card Players of 1920, three veterans, representing from left to right, British, French and German forces sit at a small table playing cards, seemingly unaware of their own grotesqueness.
The new ideal of the mechanised man is parodied as the veterans adapt their malformed bodies to new purposes, that aren’t more efficient, they are more grotesque and unsettling. The British soldier holds his deck of his cards with his foot and what appears to be his spinal cord, doubles up as a handy telephone perched on the table. The idea of the organic and inorganic seamlessly blending in this new prosthetic man is lampooned and exaggerated by Dix. The veteran is deemed useful, because he now is an electronic mode of communication, not a basic human being. This facet of the picture relates to the prosthetic industry designing prosthetics to aid workers, to close the distance between their tools and labour as they are now the tools of their labour.
The German soldier is the smallest of the trio, an obvious subversion of the pride Dix should feel in his nation and highlighting the failure of the German state in the provision of prosthetics and after war care. The sheer scale of the German soldier also mocks the idea of the strong and healthy body proliferated by the Free Body movement and showcases what really is left of Germany’s war heroes. Dix actively lampoons the narrative of the strong German soldier in the contrast of the Iron Cross medal, a medal for bravery and prowess in battle with the broken and badly put together state of the soldier in the Card Players.
Figure 2 Otto Dix, The Skat Players, Card Playing War Invalids, (1920) Oil and collage on canvas, 110 × 87 cm, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
The narrative of castration anxiety seen in the Spitzy statue is repeated in the German soldier’s prosthetics, he is crudely cut in half, but inserted into his stomach are a tiny pair of genitals. Dix shatters the idea of repairing the broken masculinity with modern technology. The archaic classical ideal of men as providers is showcased to be present in Weimar Germany, so strong an idea, that even soldiers so poorly put together, are provided with prosthetic means of reproduction.
George Grosz, another prominent Dadaist, was also fascinated with mutilation and the changing narrative of the male body in the face of the world war. In his autobiography, he recounts an exaggerated conversation about an unfortunate soldier who had lost his genitals due to a bomb blast, “No more fun with the girls for him,” said the medical orderly. The sergeant was of a different opinion. “Don’t believe it, my boy,” he said. “They’ll bloody well give him a brand new custom-built cock made of bloody wood.”
The idea that the soldier will feel no sexual pleasure, but the girls can still have fun with him, shatters the notion of the male body as active. In this instance, the male body is passive, and the female body, still intact in terms of the classical ideal, is active. The French and British soldiers both are partially blind, the British soldier particularly, may be fully blind as we can only see his profile. The theme of blindness links with the idea of castration, as blindness causes passivity, the once strong soldier now needs assistance from his peers. The active ideal of the male body is subverted, showcased in the reliance on machine in Dix’s work, and the themes of blindness and castration, creating a new, passive male entity.
The ban on mutilated images was lifted in 1920. Perhaps the government recognised that public opinion on the war couldn’t become more sour by seeing images that had already been faced with in their personal lives. Dix showcases the flaws in nationalist, classical and technological narratives. By exaggerating the forms and figures of the maimed veterans, he showcases how the classical ideal of the male body is redundant, but also the new ideal proposed by the state, of a strong, healthy young man, who has performed his duty in battle and now performs his duty in work, is a myth. Dix also creates grotesque images that confront the bubbling Free Body movement in Germany at this time, the movement celebrated the natural body, but the prosthetic body, the body maimed by metal, was ubiquitous and seemed to have no place in the celebration.
Dix’s comments on the male body narrative in his pictures question the ideal physicality of Man, confronting classical ideals, state myths and utopian movements. However, Dix’s questioning of the narrative of the male as a strong minded entity is less obvious, ‘Male Hysteria’ was a topic that questioned the masculine perhaps more than representations of physicality. Yet, Dix as a veteran himself, was perhaps reluctant to discuss this narrative as in a society of stigma, it belittled the credit, sympathy and support due to the veteran.
In the Card Players of 1920, Dix provides a cutting caricature to contribute to the narrative of the male body, by shattering the myths spread by its biggest story tellers. The male body is emasculated, castrated, blinded and metamorphoses into a machine, it is not celebrated or championed.
The male narrative is transformed into a grotesque and tragic tale, with a lampooning of all physical ideals of the male body. A new passive, pieced together male entity is formed, Dix showcases a masculine identity that is to be run away from, far from ideals often narrated in art.
Black trousers, black turtleneck, black Dr Martens with my hair tied up and a black tote bag or backpack. I do vary my socks, striped, woollen or mustard usually, but that’s about it.
Always mostly in black, every day, every evening. No choice, no deviation.
My experience with dressing myself and my journey of self-discovery through fashion and style is not an unusual one. Desperate to carve out an identity for myself that was one I could be proud of, I floundered and panic bought items for their pure aesthetic quality and the stereotypes they connoted. So obsessed was I of my appearance to others, I spent sums of money on clothing I never really wore and that just perpetuated my insecurities as surprise, surprise that one pair of boots didn’t fulfil my hopes and dreams.
As a consumer of ‘alternative’ media, such as feminist zines, publications such as Oh Comely and an interest in Esoteric Art and systems, I was smitten with the idea of being on par creatively and intellectually with the people featured. Mass media in my case cannot be blamed for my over consumption, and perhaps it cannot be blamed for anyone’s. The ease of purchasing and consuming only encourages a basic human trait that can be crippling- to affect how others see you in order to project and shape your own filtered idea of selfhood.
Actual progression and production requires hard work, attaining an aesthetic is easy, you just need the cash. So if there was an illustrator I admired featured in Oh Comely, I would want to look like them. It takes time to work on a talent or to make things, but it takes just days for a pair of horn rimmed glasses to arrive in the post so I can look like that artist.
It took me a long time to realise that what I really admired, and what all people admire in others, is what they do, not what they look like.
Imitation is not the best form of flattery.
My interest in wearing a uniform sprung from the idea of characters in fiction, they are memorable and instantly recognizable from that same outfit they wear in all scenarios. So, initially, the idea of a uniform for myself was perhaps a vain one, to be remembered.
I cannot pinpoint when the vanity dissipated, perhaps when I reached an all-time low in my mental health, which coincided with a nasty car crash. I needed to feel in control of my self-hood and my body. I floated around for months, and then I began to make choices, which deliberately made me feel uncomfortable like not wearing makeup- so I couldn’t hide my blemishes and scars- so I had to accept them. Cutting my hair, so I could not hide behind swathes of locks, so I had to face the world and it had to face me- with no distractions. And finally, wearing the same thing, all the time in order to force myself to not consume, to not lust after things and to really look at my body and my face with no variation in the material that cloaked it from the world.
For a while, the things I owned slightly disgusted me, I hated the idea of being chained to anything through stuff. The initial vanity inspired idea of the uniform morphed into wanting to own less and less stuff. To separate myself, my real self with the stuff I consume.
My uniform is all black, I decided on black because it is the most transitory colour. It can look arty, classical, morbid, casual, formal, youthful or archaic. Other people can project what they wish onto my body, but I am making no effort to shape what they see. Black also blends in, bright colours rebut against the grey Edinburgh buildings, black reflects the greyness. I wanted something that transitions easily from day to night, something I could wear to university lectures and to go dancing. Black is never inappropriate, you’re never over or under dressed.
Wearing the same thing perhaps makes little impact on strangers, but to the people who see you every day, it changes how they see you- that casual small talk opener of a complement on your appearance doesn’t really work if you always look the same. The beauty of a uniform is people stop noticing what you are wearing all together and thus, you, yourself don’t think what other people look like or wear is important.
A huge aspect of my way of dressing centres around my ideas on gender, which developed through numerous experiences and factors, I identify as completely gender fluid and I am attracted to people, not their assigned gender or societal roles. Clothing started to become an issue as I found it a land mine, androgynous dressing assumes you want to look more masculine, and that masculinity is heteronormative. Deciding to wear the same thing, every day was empowering for me, as I don’t have to think about it. I am a static body cloaked in black, my gender fluidity represented by my rejection of clothing as a representation of self-hood. Others can assume certain things, but at some point, assumptions will have to be replaced by discussion and connection with me, as my aesthetic is static.
I have realised that my physical self, my biological and anatomical body, is a tiny part of my self-hood, it ages, tires and betrays my mind and soul, it does not define me nor should it anyone. In a world where your self-hood is judged by your appearance and what you choose to cloak your skin with, wearing a uniform is a punk statement. A uniform escapes the allures of consumerism and forces the individual to look at themselves, their real selves and work on that.I always wear the same thing, because I want to do, not appear as if I am doing.
My friend Mayowa, the editor and creator of Venus Magazine tasked me with creating images based on the Free the nipple campaign. Usually my work is tongue in cheek and especially in regards to movements like this one, but the challenge of drawing to a brief was something I wanted to accept!
As an art-historian, representations of the male and female body have always interested me and in particular the images and ideals that are perpetuated by the classical canon. So, in this work, I decided to mimic the classic torsos of white marble statues, forms which are heralded as ‘physical perfection’ and manipluate them to prove a point. The male figure as a nude is within the socially accepted area of the mustard circle, yet the female figure is outside social acceptance. Because of a tiny bit of skin that the male form has too! The Nipple!!