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Feminist Art Examines Men

A very sexy art exhibit is now showing at Columbia College's A + D Gallery. It's called Girl on Guy: The Object of My Desire. This feminist art show includes pieces by 24 female artists who all love men. For Chicago Public Radio, Blair Chavis reports.

NOTE: This story contains sensitive language.

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Ambi: GALLERY SOUNDS

Girl on Guy is unapologetic. There's a painting of a naked man in the gallery's street level window. Inside: a red love seat and the 21st century version of mix tape—an mp3 player loaded with love songs. Student Nicholas Spence was wandering through the back of the gallery. He was sandwiched between a case of plaster casts of male genitalia, and the photographs of men in front of their mother's station wagons.

SPENCE: It seems in art, more recent art, that it's very hard to depict something in a softer sort of way. Like, usually, it's either, if it's a naked body it's a sexual reference or there's just not a very large group of people doing pleasant art that is sexually related.

The show juxtaposes sex and domesticity. Curator Marci Rae McDade wanted to create a show that deals honestly with female desire. She says feminism led some women artists to hide their love for men.

MCDADE: You can be a strong, talented, confident, independent woman who loves men; loving men and being a feminist is not a contradiction.

McDade calls this show a “love letter” to men, touching on vulnerability, trust and relationships. Artist and former Chicago resident Julia Hechtman, captures vulnerability on film in her piece, “Air Guitar Series.” She invited male friends and strangers into her studio, to perform air guitar to their favorite music. She took close-up photographs of the men's faces in the throws of ecstasy.

HECHTMAN: We're not accustomed to seeing grown men in emotional states and I was really interested in what it would be like to have these sort of intimate photographs made of people that I wasn't intimate with. \

The photos are almost voyeuristic.

HECHTMAN: The intimacy of the distance between me and the subject would allude to a sexual act—like between the subject and the photographer. It's the same kind of framing you might get for a close up in a porn.

Hechtman says she wanted to blur the line between emotional states: you can cry out of joy or pain. Air guitar is a way for these guys to mimic and embody the sexual prowess of rock stars. South Side native, artist and self-proclaimed groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster, takes rock star idolatry to a different level with her piece “Three Sailors and a Girl.” “Cynthia Plaster Caster” is an artist pen name she developed in the 40 years she's been casting rock stars' private parts. Plaster Caster's pieces in this show—are of three musicians from different eras. Her work began with a simple, art school homework assignment.

CASTER: Trying to figure out one Friday afternoon how I was going to meet Paul Revere and the Raiders and get their attention away from all of the other wannabe groupies, and very impatient to leave my art class and go downtown to the hotel. The last thing I heard from my teacher was to make a plaster cast this weekend of something that's kind of solid.

She didn't cast Paul Revere and the Raiders, but she later met and cast Jimi Hendrix among other musicians. Plaster Caster says her work is a fun a way of immortalizing her love for talented men. Music plays another role in a performance installation in the show,“Vaquera Serenede, The Rise of La Cueruda Negra.” In her work, Nigerian artist Denenge Akpem examines identity and vulnerability. Akpem grew up listening to country music and fantasizing about cowboys. Later, her fascination with Afro-Mexican culture seeped into that nostalgia.

Ambi: INSTALLATION MUSIC

The installation, accompanied by this music, is a scene set around Akpem's object of desire—the cowboy, or vaquero.

AKPEM: Where is the space for vulnerability? Where is the man, in the sense of it's all about him but at the same time, or it's about the maleness and the desire for it—but then, how do you allow space for it?

A large color photograph hangs center depicting Akpem kneeling dressed in vaquera attire, with three female mariachi performers behind her, they stand amidst a kitschy white canvas backdrop resembling a desert scene: real sand, plaster cacti, a wooden gun, and a video screen showing a setting sun.

AKPEM: Everything about it is about these symbols of the absent love. I'm trying to simulate being out on the range, singing for, dreaming of, gazing to the clouds, for that man I love.

Ambi: INSTALLATION MUSIC FADES

Despite being sensitive and sometimes comic, Columbia College art history professor Amy Mooney says the exhibit is still controversial.

MOONEY: We're still not entirely comfortable with this idea of women consuming, desiring, wanting the male body.

Ambi: GALLERY NOISES

Back in the gallery, student Nicholas Spence says as a man, he doesn't feel exploited by this art.

SPENCE: They're portraying men in a positive light, as opposed to just objectifying them. It just seems like a very wholesome kind of exhibit.

This show appears to be taking a step back—asking us to remember the human element in an ever-changing political movement. Like many women today, Curator Marci Rae McDade is trying to find a middle ground between the bra burners of the past and the torch bearers of our present and future.

For Chicago Public Radio, I'm Blair Chavis.

“Girl on Guy” will run through November 3rd.

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