The Museum of the Unclothed Body, located in a place of your choosing, has opened a new exhibition on the naked body from the Renaissance to the present, focusing on the Early Modern and Modern periods of the Euro-American tradition with Mediterranean roots (the material we have covered in the last part of our course). The goal of the exhibition is to question stereotypical representations of identity that have dominated this visual production through depictions of the naked body, by pairing works that can be considered traditional, conventional, mainstream, or dominant with works that are non-traditional, unconventional, alternative, or subversive. The director of community outreach has asked you to write an exhibition review for their website. The goal is to help the general public understand the main objective of the exhibition. To do so, discuss three pairs of images of your choice (for a total of six highlights) and explain how, in each pair, one image upholds and the other questions stereotypical identity constructs.
The main objective of the exhibition is to raise awareness about the ways in which the representation of the naked body in this artistic tradition is implicated in the construction of unequal power relations and stereotypical and oppressive identities of the self and Other (for example in terms of gender, sexuality, class, race, ethnicity, culture, etc.) in 850-1000 words. For this reason, exhibited works are organized around a number of sections (for example, on specific subjects or specific identity markers) and in each section, works are grouped in pairs of opposite depictions: traditional versus non-traditional, conventional versus unconventional, mainstream versus alternative, dominant versus subversive. This pairing is meant to highlight not only that the traditional and mainstream representations are limiting, oppressive, and exclusive of diversity broadly understood but also that visualizing alternatives is essential, hopefully, and done by many artists. In other words, the exhibition exposes the distorting effects of traditional identity politics and gives visibility to cultural producers and visual expressions that advocate for and contribute to change.
In order to publicize the exhibition, support its potential to make a significant cultural intervention, and educate the public through outreach in the local community, the director of community outreach has given you the responsibility to write a review essay for the website.
The goal in this essay is two-fold Explain why the overall theme and specific perspective of the exhibition are significant and relevant to the local community (considering the city and country in which your museum resides). Explain how your highlight pieces shed light on the exhibition’s message regarding representations of the naked body in the Euro-American tradition: how do representations of the naked body participate in identity politics, either supporting or questioning stereotypical identity constructs, and therefore erasing or acknowledging the diversity and complexity of human identities and experiences?
Requirements for the selection of your six highlights must come from the third part of our course (15th century onwards) must be different from the ones you explored in your second essay must provide temporal breadth, so choose at least one from each of the following time periods: 15th-17th c. / 19th c. / 20th-21st c. must include naked bodies and be works created within the Euro-American tradition must be grouped in pairs of contrasting highlights (traditional versus non-traditional in each pair) must consider diverse identity markers, including at least one example of gender and one of race
Please note that an engagement with diverse identity markers (e.g. race and gender) can coexist in the same pair of highlights. You still have to discuss three pairs for a total of six highlights.
The comparisons made between each two highlights paired must be meaningful and viable; the two works must have specific commonalities and differences that allow comparisons and contrasts in terms of traditional versus non-traditional, conventional versus unconventional, mainstream versus alternative, dominant versus subversive, etc. Choose the most appropriate of these terms and explain why they are applicable to the highlights.
To develop convincing comparisons, pair highlights that are: Relatable in terms of theme and time period (for example, a conventional and an unconventional depiction of Judith or Susanna and the Elders from the Renaissance). Relatable in terms of theme but of different time period (for example, a Renaissance painting and its reinterpretation by a contemporary artist). In this case, the most straightforward relationship would be that the later work “quotes” the earlier one in terms of composition, theme, and possibly even title, but also introduces a critique of the identity constructs promoted by the earlier piece.
If there is no obvious “quotation” between two works that otherwise fall within the same thematic category (e.g. heroic fighters) you need to explain why a comparison between them is meaningful. For example, if you compare Donatello’s Judith as an unconventional work with Cellini’s Perseus as a conventional one, then you need to consider things like the following: for some time they were both displayed in the same space but projected rather antithetical messages in term of gender; Judith is faithful to the Biblical story but rare because potentially threatening to the patriarchal status quo, while Perseus introduces some innovations in comparison to the story (such as the nakedness of Medusa) which further support the patriarchal status quo.
As long as the above requirements are met, feel free to analyze whichever works from the relevant time periods, even beyond material discussed in class, and to group them under three themes of your choosing. Since the museum has unlimited funding resources, it can borrow for the exhibition any movable paintings, sculpture, manuscript or other object, and it can also order reproductions of any immovable piece, like architectural sculpture, doors, mosaics, wall-paintings, etc. that cannot be moved from their original location.
Detailed guidelines attached below please read them carefully.
Reminders Remember that writing is a social act: you write in order to share your ideas. Always provide all the information your readers need to follow your arguments and understand your thesis. Readers cannot “read your mind”, they can only read what you put in writing, so lay out your trail of thoughtfully and with clarity in your paper. Keep in mind the audience of your essay: the prompt asks you to write an exhibition review for a general public, to encourage them to visit the museum and gain an understanding of the exhibition. You have to use clear language and provide all necessary information to somebody without prior knowledge of the material. You are expected to discuss the material in your own words.
The learning objectives of all essays in this class are similar: the assignments prompt you to reflect on class material, synthesize observations about it and present them in a coherent way that highlights prominent socio-cultural meanings and functions of the naked body in different periods and cultural spheres. As you write down your thoughts according to the prompts, you enhance your comprehension 6 and retention of the material. You have a chance to explore main topics in more detail, and to develop your own observations and arguments about them. During this process, you also cultivate your visual literacy, critical thinking, and writing skills.
FAQ Do I need to mention other objects that I imagine displayed in each section?No. You should focus on your highlight pieces, and only if you absolutely need to mention other works to make a point, you can do that without diluting your focus. Can I choose an existing museum as the site of my exhibition or can I imagine one?Yes to both. In either case, you need to consider the culture of the city and country (or state) in which the museum is situated. If you are using an existing museum as the site of your exhibition, you could consider the character and tradition of that museum and how your exhibition fits in it. Can I use only part of a work for my exhibition, e.g. only one scene from Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling? Yes and no: the ideal would be to exhibit a reproduction of the whole ceiling (even in reduced scale) and even better to provide photos of the entire Sistine chapel interior for context, but in your essay you can focus on the scene that serve your purpose better –while still considering the context of the entire ceiling. Do I need to develop specific display arrangements for the highlight pieces I discuss?No. Your objective is to explain how paired highlights relate to each other, with one upholding and the other questioning stereotypical identity constructs. You can assume that such pieces are displayed next to each other, but you are not required to develop further their specific mode of display. If you want to add such a component to your essay, make sure it serves the required analysis of your material and does not detract from it (for example, does not take up space that should be dedicated to answering the prompt).