Women looking at women
Illustration : Regina Rivas ©
This online exhibition started with women watching at themselves. To finish, Kuña Jesareko shows women seeing at -and being seen by- other women. Most importantly: You are looking at them but they are not looking at you, and that means something.
Why is it important to dedicate a section to women portrayed by women? How is that portrayal different from a male perspective? Far from an essentialist view, this subject was included considering that representation matters. For this reason, the spotlight is on women as protagonists of the gaze: as the ones who look, and as the subjects -not the objects- of the look.
In Paraguay, there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality. Part of the path involves the acknowledgement of women as creators, as social actors, as key agents in the construction of a better society. The other part of the process implies changing the way in which women are represented. Understanding that the relations of looking are relations of power, this section is an exercise to empower women through the lens of photography.
According to John Berger (1972, p. 47), ‘men act and women appear’. With this statement, the art historian suggested that the relations of looking are dominated by men, from European oil painting to contemporary photography. This feature is reflected in the way painters and photographers portray women. Always in a passive pose, always looking at the observer, as objects which aim is to satisfy the male pleasure.
In these pictures, the opposite happens. The relation of power is subverted by making women ‘not only the bearers of meaning but its makers too’ as Laura Mulvey (1989, p. 15) has said. The strongest symbol, however, is that neither of the women depicted look at the camera. They stand backwards. They don't care about the observer. They are the ones who choose what to observe.
They inscribe diverse femininities, with different bodies, lifestyles, ages. The little that we can learn about them is from surroundings revealed by the picture. What the photographers allow us, as spectators, is to have a glimpse of a crystallised moment from their everyday life, and the atmosphere where it happens. The habitat where these women have the central place -the river, nature or home- suggests a sense of ownership. That this place belongs to them and we are just invited to watch without disturbing. The other common feature on this selection is that it comprises intimate portraits of women without sexualising their bodies.
In a sense, Kuña Jesareko aimed to disturb the patriarchal relations of looking by challenging the male gaze. On the other hand, the project was driven by the need of giving more visibility to the work of female creators in Paraguay, and to expand their imagery in the digital sphere. Finally, it was thought as a celebratory exhibition of the female gaze. Therefore, for closing the project, portraits of women who look forward as a message of hope have been chosen. #TheFutureIsFemale
Berger, J., 1972. Ways of Seeing. London: BBC and Penguin Books.
Mulvey, L., 1989. Visual and Other Pleasures. London: Macmillan.