The Body as a Battleground

By: Alissa Lopez – Editor-in-Chief

An art exhibition that embodies experiences of race and gender through the female anatomy recently opened at the Ben Shahn gallery.

In “The Body as Battleground: Nona Faustine and Joiri Minaya,” the artists challenge gender and racial stereotypes of their roots through photography and installation art that can be viewed until March 17.

As an African American woman only three generations removed from slavery, Faustine’s work focuses on the history of African American slavery in New York City.

As a Dominican living in the global North for six years, Minaya’s work centers on the Western perception of Dominican women.

“There’s a mainstream idea of identity that has been crafted in this patriarchal society that, as a woman of color, you’re reminded of the disadvantage,” Minaya said.

University Galleries director Kristen Evangelista co-curated the exhibition with philosophy professor Stephanie Rivera Berruz.

The exhibition was brought to the William Paterson community because these artists of color “address the multiplicity of experiences that come with being such a diverse student campus,” Rivera Berruz said.

The exhibition is reflective of the university community which is the third most diverse public university in New Jersey and recently designated as a Hispanic serving institution.

Minaya’s work draws attention to the way Dominican women are portrayed in Western media and particularly through Google.

The installation, #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016), depicts distorted images of what Google defines as the female Dominican body juxtaposed with tropical textiles inspired by Minaya’s upbringing in the Dominican Republic.

The disembodied images of Google’s Dominican women and tropical patterns dangle illustrating stereotypes and imposed identities for Dominican women “through a simple Google search… Drawing attention particularly to the way that Dominican women experience the processes of objectification and as sexual objects,” Rivera Berruz said.

Ideas of self-identity and race are explored even in their contradictions throughout the exhibition.

Faustine’s photography series, “White Shoes,” particularly challenges these ideas because her work is comprised of nude self-portraits.

Faustine poses nude at former sites of African American history in New York City emulating the ways that her female ancestors were exposed and historically forgotten. In one image she poses on Wall Street which was a slave market and in others she poses at Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan and the MTA Bus Depot in Harlem, which were formerly African American cemeteries.

The historical significance of these sites is overlooked in many cases possibly because “some of it is amnesia and some of it is lack of information. The history of slavery is not something that most people feel comfortable talking about,” Evangelista said.

In all of the images there is a recurring symbol: “…white shoes to represent the white patriarchy that people of color can never escape,” Faustine said in an interview with Mic.

“She’s going against the norm,” said Jaylene Torres, a senior broadcast journalism major. “It’s something that women in this day and age do. We test our limits because we have none.”

Both Faustine and Minaya interrogate the female body and redefine what it means to be a woman of color in the 21st century.

These statements are especially relevant in today’s political landscape as women protest for equality and social justice in demonstrations like the Women’s March.

“Our nation is changing… Minorities are going to become a majority, and these artists are part of that,” Evangelista said.

And through  #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) and “White Shoes,” Minaya and Faustine further challenge the representation of the female body in art history where male artists portray female nudes for their beauty and where few women of color are represented, Evangelista said.

“It’s not something people typically do, but someone needs to take a stand at some point and believe in what they believe in,” said Kyle Delahanty, a sophomore PR major.

Both artists are currently artists in residence at the Smack Mellon Residency in Brooklyn and will be returning to the university exhibition for public artist talks on February 16 with Faustine and March 9 with Minaya.

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