Art exhibit explores gender in new light

Man as object exhibit
A woman looks at Judy Gellas's piece "Mid-Life" during the opening reception of "Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze" at at SOMArts Cultural Center, Nov. 4, 2011. Photo by Cindy Waters.

Art is a tool that can change the world, inspire leaders and shape entire cultures. However, can even the best art completely restructure centuries of female objectification? A new San Francisco art exhibit plans to do just that 117-fold.

SOMArts in San Francisco is currently showing the exhibition “Man as Object – Reversing the Gaze,” an exhibition which explores and plays with the idea of art objectifying men in order to realize feminine identity. Containing everything from the phallic to the obscure, 117 pieces from female and transgender artists line the walls.

The exhibition was submitted to SOMArts to be considered for grants and the show space by the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art, an affiliate group of the College Art Association dedicated to acknowledging female accomplishments in the arts community and providing opportunities for women to express themselves artistically and professionally.

NCWCA president Janice Nesser-Chu said the purpose of the exhibit was to change the way that women saw themselves by objectifying the male form through art.

“The intention is for women to take control not only over the gaze but also their sexuality and the essence of themselves because anything that we create is a part of us and defines us,” Nesser-Chu said. “I think it really reverses the role of power and how women see and represent themselves.”

Tanya Augsburg, assistant professor in the liberal studies department at SF State, served as the show’s art historian and also selected the pieces that would be shown from a pool of more than 900. Augsburg said she wanted to be inclusive and have diversity, which shaped her decision for which pieces made it into the exhibit.

Augsburg said that the theme of the show made her think about what masculinity really meant and the myths it held.

“I learned that artists are envisioning new ways to look at men in a way that it is not always represented through what we see in the media,” Augsburg said. “It’s not just about women, it’s about exploring masculinity, who gets to be called a man and who is a woman.”

Although the piece was only submitted in the not-so-distant past, the exhibit has actually been in the works for years and was the brainchild of its co-curator and future NCWCA presidential candidate Brenda Oelbaum about seven years ago.