Newsletter # 6
Let's talk about sex in art and food
Sex and Art and Sex and food, I find both difficult topics to tackle. Our modern brains have been much exposed to imagery that is either very graphic, defined by stereotypical ideas and/or is sexist. (i.e., I still see too many bakery trucks driving around with a half naked woman and full lips biting into a baguette). One can debate about this back and fro, but it's hard to deny, that we are influenced all the time by imagery.
How can we view sexual art with sensual eyes, free of notions related to morals, trends, cultures, or religion?
I once started writing on a concept for an exhibition about Sex and Art, but never followed through, realizing that it would require an intensive amount of research, as well as the expertise from a well-educated art historian. Because I wasn’t going to put on a boob, penis or vulva show. Alas, it’s 10 years later. I’m looking at the drawings of British artist Jo Bondy, which I purchased at Jane England’s gallery in London.
Jo Bondy is known for her assemblage sculptures, sculptural box-works, drawings and ceramics that primarily explored gender, sex and eroticism. I was intrigued by her drawings, not her sculptures. I did find them erotic and surreal.
It’s 2023. We are in the midst of a world-wide public discourse debating about the right terms to address people with various newly defined sexual orientations.
Teenagers may seem confused on one side of the world, freely and naively playing with ‘choosing a sexual identity’, while on other side of the planet, women still get stoned, raped, beaten, imprisoned for showing an inch more body part than they are allowed to. Women in many parts of the world have sexually freed themselves, claiming confidently ownership to their female body, their sexuality, their desires and boundaries.
Why am I writing this? Because I wonder, if Jo Bondy made these drawings today, would they look differently? Would there be pubic hair visible? Would there be less decorative elements, such as the suggestion of leaves, flowers or hearts? Would there be different symbolism for female sexuality per se, other than apples?
In today's visually overstimulating environment, I find pleasure in abstracted or surreal elements merely suggesting sexuality. Looking at these three drawings by Jo Bondy, I’m allowed to let my mind wonder about the possible meanings, the symbolism, the form of the female genital. Bondy never really exposed the details, but instead created an abstract surrounding, an erotic and surreal scene.
I applaud to Jo Bondy for allowing me this freedom in interpretation. In contrast to today’s bombardment of media imagery in the area of female sexuality, viewing these delicate drawings connect me with personal and intimate experiences.
Bondy might be considered as one of the very few British women Pop artists, but she was never mentioned in art historical narratives during the movement. Her work investigated women's sexuality and roles in society. Read more on Jane England's website...
It was actually this project by dutch artist Marthe van de Grift, that led me to review Bondy's drawings. Next to the delicate works on paper, this is much more radical and allows for a wide range of personal interpretation.
I got to know Marthe during the advanced food and design course. Marthe is pregnant and fascinated witnessing how the female body, mind and soul changes during pregnancy. She created an experience, imagining an infant's perspective when breastfeeding. A chocolate breast filled with pudding to drink and eat from, hung on the wall, for somebody to indulge in. The breast is to be sucked on and eaten without the use of hands, to amplify a more dependent state.
Our group watched this video, and emotional reactions exploded amongst all of us. We see a guy licking a female breast. His tongue is carefully caressing the nipple. Within seconds we see the taste buds being activated as the sweetness of the chocolate gets noticed. Now the mouth opens to a sucking motion. But in between the tongue keeps licking the nipple. As a mother who breastfed, this was the confusing part. A baby may use the tongue searching for the nipple and then latches on and stays on the breast. Besides seeing an adult licking the chocolate boob, the use of the tongue makes it sexual too.
We knew that Marthe is pregnant and that this was her topic. Still, on and off, while watching, I thought this is like porn. At the same time I found it very erotic. And it made me feel like a voyeur witnessing something very private. All changed once the first drop of milk poured out of the breast. I started feeling uncomfortable, and suddenly the sexual notion of it all transformed into something very biological. When the breast fell apart and all the pudding plopped out, it was a brutal, almost as if I got punished for watching this very private scene.
In our group, we all had similar reactions and were fascinated, how a single object, the chocolate boob, connected to the single activity of sucking on it, can stir up such a multitude of emotion in us viewers. It depicts a profound human experience, whether we were breastfed or not.
'Breastfeeding' by Marthe van de Grift shows the narrow path our minds can walk on. We tend to switch between the gentle, soft, and natural versus the sexual, pornographic and brutal ways we view female sexuality. Like Bondy, it leaves room for own interpretations and emotional reactions. I find enormous freedom in that.
I thank Marthe that I can share her work in this newsletter.
You can watch the full video here.