Porn Flowers

I recently found the website for the  Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, a section of the Brooklyn Museum entirely devoted to the feminist art movement.  I was particularly impressed by the large database of feminist artists and their work, a resource I have found to be unmatched by any other on the internets.

A recent search through the site introduced me to artist Yun Bai.

Look at the work below. Wait, what, is that a vagina? a tit? Thats right…

One of Yun Bai’s Porn flowers

She uses clippings from recycled porn magazines and acrylic paint to create these innocent looking, peaceful pictures.

“A Porn Flower symbolizes that “All women are flowers”, exemplifying that something beautiful can come out of a situation that most would deem difficult.” She explains on her website.

In this statement, she explains how she uses Craigslist’s “women seeking men” section to seek out old porn magazines.

“While pornography is a classic example of women’s objectification and exploitation, I use the imagery as a form of empowerment, thereby celebrating the spirit of all women.” She gives these images of women new light by transforming them from pages utilized for sexual pleasure, into a part of a beautiful image.

Needless to say, I tend to find her work as positive and innovating ( I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t itching to get my hands on an old porn magazine to give this a try)

My first reaction to this project was incredibly positive. In fact, it still overall is. There are only a few conflicting thoughts I have had.

First I question the morality behind re-displaying porn images which devalue and objectify women into a forum for even more people to see them. These pictures are a violation of women who are often manipulated into the industry, be it by economic hardships or other influences. Does simply changing the context in which these pictures are used justify the display of them, or is she simply continuing the abuse and manipulation for her own artistic needs, no different than how people originally used the images to fulfill sexual needs?  Your thoughts on this are invited.

Second, Would it have made a huge difference were they not recycled magazines? Would it be different if she had walked into a store and purchased the magazines? I think her statement would have been lost in the hypocracy of funding the very practice her art work is condemning.

Does she succeed in her pursuit of empowering the women in her work?

As I wrote before, I am interested in works social implications.

Yun Bai was an exotic dancer during college when her family fell on hard times after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. The sexual exploitation of women is clearly an issue she is entwined in.

Please share your thoughts and feelings.

Advertisements

3 responses to “Porn Flowers

  1. Chris Zivalich

    Thanks for the interesting post, Sara.

    First and foremost, I want to commend Bai for her creativity; I didn’t even notice the images of pornography at first and had to inspect them closer to see the shards of kissing couples and genitals camouflaged as pedals. Very interesting from an apolitical perspective. Of course, there is no such thing as an “apolitical” anything, so moving on…

    I can see why this would be a contentious project for feminists and non-feminists alike. It reminds me of the debate on reclaiming words like “cunt” or “bitch” as positive identities. Patently offensive language, like pornography, is traditionally used to objectify, undermine or belittle women, but when “reborn,” seems to be rendered empowering. However, I’m not sure if I buy that claim, and I certainly don’t know if I buy it in relation to pornography.

    My main issue with this version of empowerment is that the entire debate on pornography and how it shapes our understandings of gender and sexuality is almost lost in the hypnotic pictures. The paintings are beautiful, but, to me, seem to say sexually explicit and controversial images are aesthetically pleasing if you cover them up with colors and remold their shape. The politics of pornography–including the debate you alluded to on what may or may not constitute a “free choice” among women to enroll in the porn industry–isn’t a part of these flowers. I understand her message that something beautiful can come out of horrible circumstances, but I’d rather discuss why those circumstances emerged.

    In the end, this conversation requires us to define what “empowerment” means. If empowerment is secured by simply redefining old forms of sexist thinking, then perhaps this artist’s work, which does challenge the typical use of pornographic images, is empowering. However, I believe empowerment demands critical thinking and self-evaluation; I think until we face the uncomfortable challenges that systems of oppression produce, we can’t fully empower ourselves to move beyond them, and I’m not sure if Bai’s work can accomplish that. I think it’s a praiseworthy effort but it falls short. Empowerment might not arise by replacing a billion dollar industry based on the commodification of female bodies with some ambiguous\, albeit creative, manifestation of “women’s spirit.” But this is just an initial reaction, so maybe if I think about it more, I will come to a different conclusion…

    Fabulously yours,
    Brother Chris

  2. I agree with you on a lot of fronts. Bai, in no way, solves all the reproachable aspects of the porn industry, nor does her work balance out or neutralize the existence of the individual pictures. That is to say, if, as I believe, it is a violation in MOST cases for these pictures to exist in the first place, then by making art out of them, does not justify their existence or neutralize the harm.

    However, I do think that there is some good that comes from the attempt. To begin with, this conversation. There are very few pieces of art that immediately force you to jump into the politics of pornography. Also, subtlety is important sometimes. If she would have created an epic bold piece that articulates all you would want it to, it would be less likely to be as well received. If less places show the work, and less people purchase the work, then less people see the work and are likely to have the conversation we are having now.

    Maybe it is important to decide what we expect from art, or what arts role is in the feminist movement.

    Your parallel to reclaiming words is an important one. The part that makes Bai’s move even more bold and questionable is that through trying to reclaim women in general from exploitation, she is reclaiming specific women and their bodies. What right does she have over these women specifically. Is it wrong for her to use their bodies to make her point.

    I would be curious to know if she does any work to follow up on her empowerment, or does her contribution end here.

  3. Oh wow Sara,

    Somehow I came upon your post today and I am so honored and flattered. Always great getting feedback to push myself in developing the work, thank you to you and Chris. I so look forward to sharing new work with y’all. Yee! *Excited squeal

    Happy & humble,
    Yun Bai

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s