Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Final Wish: To the Class of 2008

Bob Dylan & The Band "Forever Young" (live 1976)

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,

(An impossible wish--I know--but the sentiment remains....)

Thanks for a great year (and the many memories.)

Keep in touch, Mr. G

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Meaghan S
Mr. G
English 12H Period 6
19 May 2008

Contemporary artist Vik Muniz was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1961. In the late 1980’s he left Brazil, moved to New York and began his career as an artist. When his interest in art first began, he was fascinated by sculptures and therefore, had ambitions to become a sculptor. However, as time went on, he began to transition to photography. He would photograph his art and sculptures, and before long, he turned his back on sculpture and focused solely on his photographs (“Vik Muniz.” Museum of Contemporary Photography.) During this time, he also worked in the advertising industry. In an interview in Verona in 1998 with Charles Stainback, Muniz remarked that “[working in] advertising made me aware of the dichotomy between an object and its images. This sort of tension has always been part of my work” (Stainback). Through working in advertising, he truly gained a new perspective in respect to art and modern icons.
According his biography from the Museum of Contemporary Photography, in the last 12-15 years, Muniz has been most widely known for his creative mediums, which consist of unusual, yet common items, ranging from thread, to chocolate, to garbage, to dust. These pieces of art, however, are not completely original; they are recreations of masterpieces that already exist or other pieces of art that a different artist has created. He arranges these various objects and substances in the shape of these previously-existing works, which range from “Narcissus” by Caravaggio to “Venus and Cupid” by Correggio. He also manipulates photographs by delaying the exposure long enough to create abnormal images within the photo, such as clouds in the sky created by the emissions of an airplane in the collection “Pictures of Clouds” from 2001 (Gallery.

In 1997, Muniz ventured back to Brazil for a special reason. He volunteered his time and services to a newly-founded school called Axe. There, Brazilian educators create a safe and friendly environment to keep children and teens off the streets and in school. In an interview with Bomb Magazine, Muniz commented that “children for me are very important. They are in the same class as people who understand power, like magicians and con men,” (Magill). With this inspiration from the Axe school, he returned to his New York studio to create the collection “Aftermath” in 1998, which depicts the children he saw there created out of garbage.

In 2000, Muniz traveled to the town of Clayton, Pennsylvania to recreate images from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. In the collection entitled “Clayton Days,” Muniz catches a glimpse of life in America at the turn of the century. It profoundly impacted him in that he truly got to experience the lives of these people and expand himself as an artist (Feitlowitz).

Currently, Muniz lives and works in New York City. His most recent collection, created in 2008, is the “Gordian Puzzles” series, which consist of famous icons and symbols created out of puzzle pieces. He continues to thrive and generate art, claiming that he has tried many different mediums that have not worked, but will try anything once. His work has been displayed in museums and galleries all over the world. His first exhibition was at Wortlaut: Konzepte Zwischen Visueller Poesie & Fluxus Galerie in Schuppenhauer, Cologne, West Germany in 1989. Since then, he has exhibited in his work in Spain, Italy, the United States, Holland, France, his native Brazil, and most recently, in 2008, Japan. He has been granted three awards in his career so far, including the “Líderes Latino Americanos para el Nuevo Milenio” [Latin American Leaders for the New Millennium] from CNN in 1995, “Ayutamiento de Madrid: Premio Villa de Madrid de Fotografía” [Advancement of Madrid, Award of Photography in Madrid] from Kaulak in 2005, and “National Artist Award” granted by the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Aspen, Colorado in 2005 (“Biography”).

Muniz is deliberate in his choice of medium, even though it may not seem so. By creating these replications of well-known images with common mediums, Muniz calls his viewers to reconsider these pieces in a different light, from a truly different perspective. “Marilyn Monroe” from the Gordian Puzzle series, “Small Change” from the Monads series, and “Socrates” from The Aftermath series all utilize this strategy; “Marilyn Monroe” is made of puzzle pieces, “Small Change” is made from pennies, and “Socrates” is made of pieces of garbage. Because the viewer recognizes items they see frequently in his art, he or she becomes more receptive to the image and ideas that it stands for. In creating this feeling in his viewers, Muniz allows the viewer to generate a new perspective on an idea or theme that has always been held as commonplace.

Artists like Muniz often draw inspiration for their theories regarding art from many different sources, both past and present. In his essay “The Unbearable Likeness of Being[1],” Muniz acknowledges the philosopher Aristotle and his beliefs about art. Muniz writes that “Aristotle (perhaps out of annoyance) considered that form could only be known through its content and content through its form” (Muniz). Muniz’s art is founded in these principles in that he places an emphasis on the materials that he uses and what they come to represent. Furthermore, Aristotle defined art as “the realization in external form of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love of imitation which characterizes humans and the pleasure which we feel in recognizing likeness” (“Art.” Aristotle.). This is also characteristic of Muniz’s style because he chooses works of art to reproduce based upon their familiarity with his viewers. The final aspect of Aristotle’s definition of art is that it should “portray events which excite fear and pity in the mind of the observer to purify or purge these feelings and extend and regulate their sympathy” (“Art.” Aristotle.). Art, therefore, is heavily tied to playing on the emotions of the viewer by using a subject that will arouse sympathy or pity. This is a major foundation of Muniz’s piece entitled “Marilyn Monroe” from the 2008 Gordian Puzzle series.

Marilyn Monroe is easily one of the most recognized faces in America. In 1999, she was acknowledged by Time Magazine as one of “The Time 100 Most Important People of the Century.” According this article that chronicles her life, rise to fame, and tragic downfall, “there have been more than 300 biographies, learned essays…tattoos, and Warhol silk screens,” (Rudnick) of her. “She has gone from actress to icon,” Rudnick concludes. Therefore, Muniz uses such a readily recognized face in order to create an emotional connection to the viewer and exemplify the complexity and intricacy that surrounds the image. “I favor images that are mainstream,” remarked Muniz in an interview, “easy to know. Or images that people don’t feel threatened by,” (Feitlowitz 6) he added. Monroe is one such image. Her face is so popular to viewers young and old that she can convey a message to anyone, “not just [in] a private world of the artist,” (Rosenberg 181).

The original photograph of “Marilyn Monroe” was taken on May 6, 1957 in New York City by the photographer Avedon. Upon first glance from far away, the new image that Muniz created from puzzle pieces looks so real that it is hard to tell that the pieces are even there. However, closer up, the pieces become more evident. They are lined up so meticulously that the lines between colors and shapes are not blurry, but perfectly straight. The use of puzzle pieces as a medium for an image of Monroe implies that there is a complexity and depth to her; there are many different ‘pieces’ that make up who she was. These many facets include the fact that she “died a suicide at 36, after starring in only a handful of movies” (Rudnick). The viewer, therefore, relates to the piece because he/she feels empathy at the tragedy that surrounded Monroe’s life. As for the puzzle pieces, they also reflect the theme of they are not arranged so that they fit together in the typical fashion. They are layered in multiple directions so that the defined shape of each piece is more prominent. They almost appear to be thrown haphazardly onto a board and then painted. The picture, however, contains all three dimensions of her figure, as compared to some older style portraits that seem very flat.

The background is varied shades of grey, with the lightest grey accenting around her body and face. It is darker, almost black, toward the edges of the photograph. Her skin is very pale in contrast to her dress and the background, but her lips are the darkest feature on her face. Her eyes are also very much defined in contrast to her light, flawless complexion. Her hair is textured in curls that frame her face, while her dark, halter-style dress is low-plunging with sparkles on the top. The dress is somewhat revealing for the time it was taken. Monroe’s expression is vague, as if she is distraught or confused. However, this longing stare is very common in her images that can be seen all around the world. According an essay about the emergence of the Pop Art movement, which featured Monroe as a highlight of Andy Warhol’s silk screens, “the sense of hidden meaning is enhanced by public tragedy. There is the gay, familiar, open-mouthed face. Surely lurking somewhere behind it is some cue, some information communicating a private agony,” (Antin, 288). This look is meant to draw the viewer into her world of tragedy through a new set of eyes in order to understand the complexity of her life.

Overall, Muniz thrives on the fame of Monroe to embellish the intricacy of her life and the downfall of a Hollywood starlet. When it comes to “popular culture imaging and its highest-performing icons,” (Benitez Duenas 148) which is a prime focus of many of Muniz’s works, Monroe is a strong example of this. As author Roland Barthes concludes in his essay “That Old Thing…Art,” “nothing is more identifiable than Marilyn,” (Barthes 371). And that’s exactly what Muniz was looking for in his quest to create a strong connection with the viewer and create a likeness to an image that would trigger a viewer to take a deeper look from a new perspective.

The theme of a change of perspective is not only prevalent in the Monroe piece, but in Muniz’s other collections, as well as his life. He draws a large amount of influence from the tale of Metamorphosis by Ovid. “I read it everyday,” (Feitlowitz 6) he remarked in an interview. Ovid drew his inspiration from the changing rule in Rome and Europe. In a lecture on Ovid, Professor Ian Johnston clarified that “Rome’s very success led ultimately to the city’s downfall. The northern Germanic tribes, once Christianized, moved in to establish medieval Europe out of the remnants,” (Johnston). Therefore, in a time of political chaos, Ovid made his feelings known about the changes that he was experiencing living in Europe. However, it is the first line that grabs Muniz the most. “‘My mind is bent to tell of bodies changed into new forms,”’ said Muniz, “What a perfect way to start a work of art!” (Feitlowitz 6). This philosophy of change is evident in Muniz’s art in that he desires to change an existing piece of art from its original form into something new so that it can take on new meaning of its own.

To carry on the sense of “change” both literally and figuratively, “Small Change” which was created in 2003, is representative of Muniz’s critical view of change in society. The picture shows the figure of a quarter. The interesting catch, however, is that it is composed of different types of change, namely the penny. Because the large coin is made up of a quantity of small pennies, Muniz suggests that like the Monroe piece, there are multiple components that make up an image, and in turn, satirizes the plummeting value of American money.

The coin has all the trademark symbols, words, and images of a real quarter. Across the top of the enormous circle is the “United Sates of America” with the image of the profile of George Washington located in the center of the circle. It also has the trademarks “In God We Trust” and “Liberty.” Most of the design is made up of copper pennies, but there are some places that reflect silver, whether they are from dimes, nickels, or quarters. Since its inception, “the penny has been known as the cent, the pence, and minor (for minor or insignificant coin),” (Geer). This is quite appropriate as there are countless pennies that make up the one major image. Also, due to the composition of the piece, Muniz is punning on the value of money and the penny in American society. The composition of the penny was “pure copper from 1793 to 1837,” then to “97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper” (“A Brief History of the Penny.” USA Today.) in 1982. Overall, “the penny has gone through six different compositions since 1793,” (“A Brief History of the Penny.” USA Today.). Because a less expensive metal, zinc, has taken over the original composition of copper, it represents the change that both Muniz and Ovid sensed in society. In recent years, the value of the penny has dropped significantly. It now costs more to make a penny than a penny is worth. A penny costs “1.32 cents” (Geer) to manufacture. Consequently, an innumerable amount of pennies make up this one larger coin, reminding the viewer that something that is so common in everyday life like the penny is still changing and evolving with society.

The details of the coin appear to be in proportion to one another as compared to the realistic version of the coin. The background is completely white so that the places that are left blank for the words and image can be seen brightly and clearly. There are only two dimensions to the image, as it does not appear as a three dimensional coin. It is simply a flat, circular shape. Also, there are two lines left open around the outside of the coin to show where the texture of the metal changes on a quarter. Unlike the Marilyn Monroe, the lines are not as exact and distinct, given that coins are round, but they are fairly accurate. There is a thicker white outline on the left side of the quarter to give Washington a slightly raised effect, but overall, it still looks flat and two dimensional.

Author Marshall McLuhan explains money in the best way that shows Muniz’s take on society, as he writes that “money, like language, a store of work and experience, acts also as a translator and transmitter,” (McLuhan 131). Muniz therefore uses something universal, like money, that appeals to everyone, seeing as money is essential to survival. It is also easily recognized, as the penny can be found anywhere as one of the most common coins. McLuhan concludes with a line from A Treatise on Money by J.M. Keynes, which explains that “gold has ceased to be a coin, a hoard, a tangible claim to wealth, of which the value cannot slip away so long as the hand of the individual clutches the material stuff,” (McLuhun 131). This is clearly indicative of Muniz’s view on money because in this piece, a penny is no longer a coin, but a part of something larger: a new image that surpasses it in value and significance.

Muniz’s work, in light of being a manipulation on an original into something new, has been compared to a substance known as “ruin marble,” (Winston). Ruin marbles are stones that are created by layers of sediment to create “joints, healed joints, and color bonds, which create the ruined character” (Marko et al 243) of the stones. The stones are so similar to Muniz’s work because they “used to be very popular in the manufacture of luxury furniture from Renaissance to succession times,” (Marko et al 241). So, something that looked broken was changed into something new and meaningful, just as in Muniz’s pieces transform commonplace items into reproductions of original masterpieces.

This choice of medium as highlighted by “ruin marble” comes into play most importantly in the third photo is entitled “Socrates” from the collection “Aftermath.” Created in 1998, the piece depicts a young, African-American boy standing in the middle with a vague expression, staring to one side, while holding something in his other hand. The picture is created from countless pieces of “junk” arranged on the floor and then taken a picture. A review of this collection states that “the materials are chosen because the medium has some strategic and critical relation to the concepts of formal problems that concern Muniz, or a social relation to the subject matter,” (Leslie 154). With respect to “Socrates,” it is more likely a social relation because Muniz is highlighting an actual experience that he had. He volunteered his time at a school in Brazil called Axe, which helped children stay off the streets by engaging them in activities ranging from art, to sports, to games. It was from these school children that Muniz drew his inspiration for the Aftermath series.

The boy in the center of the picture seems to be created out of dust or dirt. It is a very grey color with some darker black lines. There are some places that appear to be shaded, which could have been done easily with dirt or dust. The lines are fairly straight, with a slight bit of shading around the edges and in the folds of his clothing to make it look more three dimensional. Muniz explained the choice of making the children out of dust in an interview, where he clarified that “the children [in the Aftermath series] are the same color as the city. They’re dirty. They literally absorb the atmosphere,” (Feitlowitz 8). This exemplifies the children before the influence of the Axe school, which brought them into the light and away from the “junk” surrounding them. In relationship to the whole image, the boy is the brightest image there, and Muniz acknowledges that as well. He also explained that “people referred to them as the garbage children, and I said no, they are the Light Children. They are made out of light, not garbage,” (Feitlowitz 8). Therefore, the children who have entered the program, like the boy in “Socrates” represent the knowledge and truth that they have come to know. They will be the future of Brazilian society, as they will be pulled away from the remnants of their once broken lives and pulled toward lives of fulfillment and education. Muniz concludes, “Children for me are very important,” and this is evident in this collection.

More specifically in the image, the boy is standing up and his legs are crossed. He seems to be holding some type of pole and container, with the pole stretching around behind his back and out either side. His clothes are too big for him, with a baggy sweatshirt and oversized shorts. He has bare feet with no shoes. He has fairly short black hair, and one of his hands is not visible in the picture, as it is behind his back. There are two black, dark lines across his shirt in the upper right hand corner, which could be smears of dirt. The boy looks weary and tired, as if he is unsure of what he is doing or is exhausted and fatigued. The object that he’s holding is unclear, but it is made of a substance that is a different color from the boy. It is a more orange, light brown, almost clay, color, as compared to the gray on the boy and the pole. The boy, overall, seems to be positioned exactly in the middle of the image. Though this exact image may have only been a photograph before Muniz created it from garbage, the image of an impoverished child is a sight that many people are used to seeing or hearing about, whether it be on the news or on televeision. Muniz reminds in a personal interview that “I am not using the images themselves. I am only using what we know about them as raw material,” (Muniz). From the children, he extracted their innocence, their influences, and their struggle to make it in society, and captured them in the light amongst all the dark.

The junk in the background is made up of so many colors that it is hard to differentiate which item is which, but there are a few areas of color that stand out. For example, there seems to be a piece of green hose or tubing running down the right hand side of the image, which looks eerily reminiscent of a snake. There are also some red dots here and there that stand out from the rest, similar to red lights from a stop light or apples straight off a tree. There are many small areas of white, but they are not as noticeable in the primarily dark background as the other colors, including a few lavender points as well. Overall, however, the image has a very dark feeling. In his essay “The Impossible Object,” Muniz defines this dark quality as the following: “We know from experience that everything decays and changes, yet we fail to recognize this in images; their fading or tarnishing does not seem to affect the subjects they portray. The damage is often perceived as simply superficial,” (Muniz 36). By creating the image out of dingy garbage, Muniz brings out this “fading” and “tarnishing” and “decay” of society’s effects on the children in Brazil. They are surrounded by it everyday, just as the boy is in the image, but in the end, they are the light that can pull through and overshadow the darkness.

Muniz drew the name for the piece from a famous philosopher, Socrates. The Greek philosopher “wrote nothing because he felt that knowledge was a living, interactive thing,” (Hooker). In the case of Muniz’s work, the boy represents knowledge because he literally is the living thing that is meant to carry on the knowledge into his future. Socratic thought is also described by “the truth being pursued, rather than discovered,” (Hooker). The child in the image is characteristic of this search for the truth because the child is set on a path to redeeming their life from harsh conditions, not just told how to be. The program allows the child to forge their own path, which is perfectly in line with Socratic thought. Muniz reminds the viewer that “I want to make you aware of how much you want to believe in the image, to be conscious of the measure of your own belief, rather than of my capacity to fool you,” (Muniz). As a result, the image of a child that many viewers would be sympathetic to is supposed to draw a change in perspective. Even though a child is born into tough circumstances, they can still overcome them and develop into their own successful person, and Muniz wants his viewer to see that.

In his essay “Surface Tension,” Muniz divulges that “faith has little to do with pure interpretation. As surfaces emerge, new rituals should follow. The role of the artist is to adapt ritual material to contemporary surfaces,” (Muniz). The new material, garbage, has been regenerated with a new meaning, as a medium for a work of art. He strives for the viewer to place their faith in him to put a new, contemporary twist on conventional thought. Art, therefore, is evolutionary, and changes with the time, just as surfaces do. In “Socrates,” the surface is the key to the piece. After the shock factor has worn off, it provokes many questions in the viewer’s mind, just as Muniz wants.

To justify and defend his purpose, Muniz remarked, “I tend to believe in Gombrich’s theory of schemata,” (Muniz). Schemata is defined as “a continuously active organizer of knowledge structures,” (Lawler), and Gombrich’s specific theory “argues that every existing image is a copy of another image ad infinitum,” (Muniz). Many of Muniz’s critics see his work as no less than mere attempts at mimicking or mocking the masters who originally created them, as purely simple copies, but Muniz’s art takes an image in this way and replicates it with a new twist. Gombrich also believed in “avoiding ideology, plain iconography mere sociology of art,” (Gombrich’s Legacy: Art History as Embodiment of Values). This is very similar to Muniz, who wants to create new meaning through new form, not through simply coping something that already exists.

Muniz relies on familiarity to connect with his audience. He uses images that are easily recognized so that the viewer is more receptive to them and is less likely to shy away from digging in for new meaning. He makes his intentions very plain in an interview about his purpose as an artist, revealing that “when people look at one of my pictures, I don’t want them to see something represented. I prefer for them to see how something gets to represent something else” (Muniz). His medium, therefore, is just as important as the image itself, as the process he took to create the image is the most important. “Change” is a major theme across all of Muniz’s collections, whether it is social, emotional, or physical. The materials used are far different than any other artist, and though his works physically change the original form of the image, he challenges the viewer to take on a new perspective and “change” old ways of thinking.

[1] The title of Muniz’s essay “The Unbearable Likeness of Being” is an obvious allusion to Milan Kundera’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” Both the essay and the book acknowledge the meaning of form and content and how those come together to represent something new.

Works Cited

“A Brief History of the Penny.” USA Today. 10 May 2006. 27 Apr. 2008.

  • This short article explains the changes that the penny has gone through since it was created. It gives a timeline of the different metals that have been used over the years to manufacture the penny. It also explains that the penny now costs more to make than it is actually worth. The time and quarter still make a profit but the penny and nickel have become much more expensive.

Antin, David. “Warhol The Silver Tenement.” Pop Art: A Critical History. Ed. Steven Henry Madoff. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1997. 287-291.

  • This essay talks about Andy Warhol’s use of famous images in his art. It describes his images such as Marilyn Monroe and the Campbell’s soup can, as figures that are most readily recognized. It mentions Monroe in particular as a figure surrounded by tragedy, which also adds to the emotional tie of the viewer to the image.

“Art.” Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). 2006. 25 Apr. 2008.

  • This brief article summarizes Aristotle’s definition of art, as Muniz acknowledged Aristotle as a source of inspiration. He defines art as an external form of a true idea and the desire of humans to imitate what they like. It also explains the difference between tragedy and comedy, seeing as Marilyn Monroe and his other subjects seem “tragic.”

Barthes, Roland. “That Old Thing, Art…” Pop Art: A Critical History. Ed. Steven Henry Madoff. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1997. 370-374.

  • This essay emphasizes how the figures in Pop Art are the most easily recognized figures/images in society. According to the article, even if the art makes the person/item seem blander, it just perpetuates its popularity. Especially Marilyn Monroe, one of the most famous faces ever, is a target of the image.

Benitez Duenas, Issa Maria. “Vik Muniz.” Art Nexus. Jan.-Mar. 2005: 148-9.

  • This article is a review of one of Muniz’s shows. The article focuses on Vik Muniz’s purpose and the deeper meaning behind his work. She acknowledges Muniz’s replication of other artists’ works but emphasizes the poke at popular culture. It implies that Muniz is critical of popular culture and is trying to draw attention to the work itself. It really brings the message home and makes it more realistic because the objects used are everyday items.

“Biography.” Vik Muniz. 2007. 28 Apr. 2008.

  • This source gives some details of Vik Muniz’s artistic career. It explains that he’s given many exhibitions since 1989, ranging from Italy to France to Japan. It also says that he’s won three awards since his art career began. It also has a gallery of all of his collections with samples from each.

Feitlowitz, Marguerite. “Vik Muniz: Between Illusion and Memory.” Americas. 53.4 (July 2001): 6-10.

  • This article describes Vik Muniz’s work with children and its impact on his art. He discusses a school called Axe that he helps support and it is in these impoverished areas that he drew his inspiration for the art including children. Aftermath, a series that includes pictures of children made from “garbage” is meant to show the children in a bright light, as the future. It reflects their desires to grow and get out of the slums and into lives of creativity.

Geer, David. “History of the Penny.” eSSORTMENT. 2002. 27 Apr. 2008.

  • This article gives a detailed history of the penny. It includes where it originated, where it got its name, and the different versions of the penny. It also explains the more valuable and collectable pennies. The composition has also changed over time.

“Gombrich’s Legacy: Art History as Embodiment of Values.” The Gombrich Archive. 2005. 24 Apr. 2008

  • This website is created by the Gombrich family to maintain and archive his works. This particular article explains his philosophies regarding art, art history, and sacrifice, all intermingled with morals and ethics. It emphasizes his feelings of balance but also that he sought rational explanations to justify often irrational thinking (namely in art).

Hooker, Richard. “Socrates.” Greek Philosophy. 6 June 1999. 26 Apr. 2008.

  • This source explains that Socrates never wrote anything and that we know things about him because of the writings that Plato did about him. All he claimed o know was that he knew nothing. Plato wrote The Apology about Socrates’ trial and how he defended himself with round-about rhetoric, the process of elenchus. A main focus of his thoughts was ethics, not physical things.

Johnston, Ian. Lecture. Ovid’s Metamorphosis. LBST 301, November 1997.

  • This lecture gives a background on Ovid’s Metamorphosis. It begins with a historical context of the Romans during the time period. Also, it details some of Ovid’s background and his influence on European literature. We learn that it is a compilation of different stories, most of which did not come from Ovid himself, but rather from myths and other existing stories.

Lawler, John. “Definition of Embodied Schemata.” 25 Apr. 2008.

  • This is a short definition of what schemata are (in order to clarify Gombrich). It is an organizer of knowledge structures. It explains its uses and meanings.

Leslie, Rich. “Vik Muniz: Brent Sikkema.” Art Nexus. Oct.-Dec. 2004: 154-5.

  • This article explains why Muniz chooses specific materials to create his art. In his pieces of art, he normally references at least 2 things: the work he has copied (the original) and what he has used to create it. He relies heavily on the effects of memory, as the pieces are meant to trigger memories in the viewer. He wants the viewer to see the “truth” of his art.

Magill, Mark. Interview with Vik Muniz. Bomb Magazine. 73 (Fall 2000). 21 Apr. 2008.

  • This interview is centered around the power Muniz holds as an artist and how light and vision impact his work. He talks about the power children have. Also, he discusses new innovations in technology and his future plans. He tries to compare the way he sees his art to other performers/writers but also talks about those whose style has impacted him.

Marko, Frantisek; Pivko, Daniel; Hurai, Vratislaw. “Ruin Marble: a record of fracture-controlled fluid flow and precipitation.” Geological Quarterly. Warsazawa: 47 (3): 241-252.

  • This geological report explains what ruin-marble is. It is a type of marble that was used in ancient Italy (Tuscanny) and in current-day Italy for luxury furniture. The marble has sedimentary layers of color bands which resemble something broken. Muniz compared his works to these naturally-occurring rock forms, as it is something that appears “broken” being made into art, just like his works.

McLuhun, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Signet Books, 1964.

  • This book explains the effect that technology and media has on everyday life. Ranging on topics from money, to art, to the written word, McLuhun analyzes how human communication alters the world we live in. In essence, it relates how the move into the technology age changes things that are often perceived as common.

Muniz, Vik. “Surface Tension.” Parkett. 46 (1996): 53.

  • This article by Muniz explains that perception from the outside isn’t always accurate. He tells the story of a saint within a church that supposedly still grows and bleeds when people touch her. People do not stop to think about the bigger meaning. They simply want to touch and have tangible proof. He, in turn, explains that meaning lies within. He finally talks about the role of the artist.

- - - “The Impossible Object.” Das Mass der Dinge. July 1998: 35-6.

  • This article by Muniz explains his feeling regarding objects and the images they portray. He discusses the power that photographs hold and yet shows that many photos only capture objects in one light. They only rarely capture the decay of an object, only a semblance of what the object once was. He also touches on the positive impact of the combination of multiple media in a piece of art.

- - - “The Unbearable Likeness of Being.” Vik Muniz. 22 Apr. 2008. .

  • This article by Muniz explains how he defines form and content. It also signifies some of his inspiration. For example, he cites Aristotle and a group called the paesinas who created images of debris. He also acknowledges a few religious references and alludes to myths and legends of gods to explain theories of the universe.

Rosenberg, Harold. “The Art World: Marilyn Mondrian.” Pop Art: A Critical History. Ed. Steven Henry Madoff. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1997. 180-185.

  • This essay describes Pop Art in that it is based on things that many people know and can relate to. It isn’t something that just the artist will draw meaning from. All art, according to this essay, is based in something that came before it. Pop art in particular is centered around this.

Rudnick, Paul. “Heroes and Icons: Marilyn Monroe.” The Time 100 Most Important People of the Century. 14 June 1999. 1 May 2008. .

  • This story explains the life of Marilyn Monroe and how she became to be one of the Top 100 Most Important People of the Century. It explains how after committing suicide at age 36, Monroe became a legendary icon of Americana. She has endured much criticism and controversy since her death, but according to Time, when she was at her peak, she was the pure representation of America.

Stainback, Charles. Interview with Vik Muniz. Seeing is Believing. Verona, 1998:

  • This interview focuses on many different aspects of Muniz’s art and life. It ranges from his influences, his inspiration, and his medium. It also touches upon some of his purposes behind certain pieces and the meaning he looks to create. There are also more personal questions about his feelings on certain artists and his own work.

“Vik Muniz.” Museum of Contemporary Photography. 2005. 29 Apr. 2008.

  • This site gives some background information on Vik Muniz because he is an artist that they display there. He was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and came to live in New York City in the 1980’s to work. He began with an interest in sculpture but gradually shifted to photography of his creations.

Winston, Helena. “Vik Muniz.” ArtUS. Jan./Feb. 2007: 61.

  • This article is a review of Muniz’s collection “Pictures of Junk.” The reviewer notes that Muniz recreates now “meaningless myths.” The reviewer also notices that there is a dichotomy in his work, between “high and low.” The pointlessness of the pieces is also discussed. Lastly, the reviewer concludes that Muniz is hinting that past myths may lurk into the present.

Works Consulted

Benedict-Jones, Linda. “Interview with Vik Muniz.” The Frick Art Museum. Feb. 2000. 20 Apr. 2008.

  • This interview focuses mainly on Muniz’s work in Pittsburgh and the city of Clayton. It describes his experiences there and how he decided to photograph there. It also mentions about his ties to Brazilian culture and tradition, and how he feels looking back on his youth in Brazil. He also discusses future plans and the impact that new technology has had on him.

Drutt, Matthew. Interview with Vik Muniz. Menil Foundation, Inc. 2001:

  • The focus of this interview is the Menil Collection and a discussion of copyright law. The interviewer delves into Muniz’s views on why his works are originals and not plagiarism of other people’s ideas. Muniz clarifies this carefully using Gombrich’s theory of schemata.

Feaver, William. “The Great Dictators.” ARTNews. Summer 2007: 178-181.

  • The article is comparing the portrait styles of Warhol and Picasso. It explains how the context of what was happening in the world at that time impacted the way portraits were done. During the time of Picasso and Stalin, portraits memorialized a person for their achievement, but in more recent times, popular figures are painted because they are so prevalent in society.

Galassi, Peter. “Interview with Vik Muniz.” Natura Pictrix. 20 Apr. 2008. .

  • This interview begins by Muniz explaining what got him into art and what he wanted to do before he became an artist. He talks about some of his influences and the affects of his choices of medium. Also, he talks about failed attempts and what he has learned as a result of his failures. He emphasizes creativity and the focus on the image as a whole.

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: HarperCollins Publishers; 1999.

  • This book is the object of an obvious allusion in the title of one of Vik Muniz’s essays. From the beginning of the book, it seems as though both the essay and the book acknowledge the meaning of form and content and how those come together to represent something new.

Linder, Doug. “The Trial of Socrates.” Socrates. 2002. 27 Apr. 2008.

  • This site details the trial of Socrates, including what he was tried for (teaching leaders of a rebellious group), the proceedings of the trial, and its conclusion. In the end, he was found guilty and was hung from a tree until dead. Some saw it as suicide because he more or less lectured rather than defended himself.

Muniz, Vik. “Mirrors; or How to Steal a Masterpiece.” Blind Spot. 2 (1993): 75.

  • This article by Muniz discusses the photography of artistic works in a museum as reflective. When a person takes a picture, their reflection comes back in the glass casing. Each individual copy of an image is specific to who took it and when. It turns the person who is taking the image into the subject of the image. He cites images of art as art in itself, which will one day be looked at in the same way.

Yakimenko, Olga. “Vik Muniz.” Moscow News. 45 (2007): 27.

  • The author of this article suggests that Muniz’s works are a good reminder of forgotten arts and that people should pay more attention to it. However, she feels that his work has not added anything to the original works. She also feels that the viewer does not appreciate all of the work he put in because it is not always apparent how he creates his pieces.


Angela S
Mr. G
English 12 H Period 5
20 May 2008

Throughout history women have been oppressed in society and have faced issues concerning race, sexuality, power, and individuality, especially in the art world. The collage pieces by Wangechi Mutu address the many issues of femininity. Her collages suggest that the dichotomy of whore and virgin addressing women is an idea which does not need to exist. Mutu uses multi-layers of primitive women who have been distorted with pornographic images and magazine clippings to suggest the struggles that women face due to assumptions made based on culture and media from the West. Mutu, born in Kenya, has witnessed women struggling to survive through abuse, wars, genocide, and the Western perspective of the “ideal” woman.

In these series of five collages Mutu revels that despite the issues such as violence and discrimination; women can rise above and be powerful sexual beautiful beings. Mutu suggests through her use of colorful layers and spotted textures that although women are faced with diseases and trauma they can still be beautiful. Her spotting makes these females seem as though they have skin diseases yet they still are beautiful in a unique way. Also, Mutu uses the image of butterflies to suggest that women share the freedoms of men and despite struggles have the strength to be free. Another important detail in her collages are the mismatched body parts, replaced with machine parts and magazine clippings. This reveals that women are often treated inhumanely in wars and genocide and also suggests that society tells women how they should look and feel when in reality it is their chose. Women are often thought of to be pure nonsexual creatures because they are able to give birth and therefore there body is sacred. It is “suppose” to be unseen and covered, yet is also seen as a sex object. Although woman’s childbirth is a beautiful part of a woman it is not the only important thing that represents the female and her life. All of these different distorted females prove that the world’s assumptions and beliefs about women are false and that there is more to a female than her womb.

The purpose of art is to communicate one’s ideas, beliefs, opinions, and for one’s voice to be heard. Wangechi Mutu is an artist who does just this. Her multilayered collages reveal the issues facing women all over the world and they give women hope that they can rise above these problems. Mutu, born in Kenya in 1972, draws from her experiences and other female’s experiences from Africa to create her collages. Mutu’s female images are distorted and mutilated to reveal, “…the issues that go on in present-day-Africa-the wars, the hardships-specifically wars that have to do with the miming of diamonds and cash crops and things that don’t have anything to do with our needs…”(Shabaka). As a child Mutu was often perplexed at the West’s view of Africa as this “archaic” place. Mutu grew up in a city which was rather modern and after moving to the U.S. she discovered the distorted perspective of Africa which existed. As a child Mutu also witnessed many events which helped create her beliefs and perspective of women. Mutu remembers, form her childhood, “…a group of mothers protesting the imprisonment of their sons on political charges took off their clothes… to shame the authorities”(Kazanjan). Mutu states that this “was an incredible expression of the power of the naked female body”(Kazanjan).

After completing high school Mutu studied anthropology at United World College of the Atlantic and received a baccalaureate. She uses the study of anthropology to help her with her art and the relationships of women to society. Mutu also worked many odd jobs in order to save money to move to America and study there. Eventually Mutu moved to New York and graduated from Cooper Union with a bachelor degree in fine arts in 1996. In 2000, she accomplished her life long dream of graduating from Yale University with a masters degree. While studying at Yale her work was recognized and was featured at two exhibits in New York. Eventually Mutu’s career took off and by 2003 her work was featured in museums from Portugal to Los Angeles. Mutu now lives and continues to create her collages in New York (Saatachi Gallery).

In many of Mutu’s collages she addresses a female’s maternal connection and reveals that women are able to change and not necessarily be a stereotypical mother. This collage by Wangechi which expresses this idea is titled
Yo ‘Mama’. This collage features a woman who is covered with various colored spots which appear to be bruises from abuse or from chemical contamination. Mutu, in one of her interviews states, “…chemical dumping grounds and other places where dirt exceeds human control…it is still often women who do the cleaning despite feminism’s best efforts” (Aldaronado). This suggests that despite the progress of feminist movements women still have to do the “cleaning”, whether it be that of the household or the over crowded landfills which pollute the Earth and harm people. Women are always looked at as the “maternal” figure and this collage reexamines this accepted idea. The woman who is covered with spots is holding headless snake in her hand. The head of the snake is bleeding and is being crushed by the high heel of the woman. This snake is a phallic symbol which suggests that women have the ability to abuse men, just as they abuse women, and that women are powerful creatures. Also the snake is also a biblical reference to Eve in the Garden of Eden. The fact that this snake is being killed suggests that all sin which was previously associated with Eve and all females no longer exists. Women now do not have to carry the baggage of necessarily being sinful creatures. As Wiebe Christable notes in her article, feminists as a whole “have examined and incorporated the feminist values that work for [them] while necessarily and healthily forging an identity of [their] own” (Christable). This quotation connects very much with this collage in the fact that this is an image of a powerful high heeled wearing woman. This woman is strong and has rights, but can still be sexy and choose to wear high heels if she chooses. Although these shoes are alluding to Western culture, they represent the fact that females can manipulate society and media to their advantage and do not always fall victim to such things as media.

The background of the collage is a pastel pink and the whole setting seems very whimsical. Now in the modern day art world, “‘Feminine’ materials and the color pink, orgasm, menstruation, childbirth, menopause, domestic labor, all took on a new rebellious significance as did central imagery and explicitly sexual imagery from a female view point”(Lippard). Women now use their art to express what they believe is feminine. Mutu uses this powerfully abused woman and places her in this fantastical pastel pink world. Mutu is saying that woman can be “pretty”, yet have complete control over their lives and what they want as human beings. There are also orbs and spheres sporadically placed throughout the collage. Some of them appear to be bullet wholes form war or genocide, but there is one that is pure and white. It almost resembles the moon which suggests that it is connected with females and their ability to procreate. This woman is strong and in control and can also give birth. This reveals that although childbirth is a huge part of a female she can still have other characteristics that are not directly related to being a maternal figure. This female has many options and will not be called a whore because she is wearing provocative high heels and also has a baby. She is a woman, and Mutu creates this image which allows females to no longer be judged. No longer is it a female’s job to give birth and “clean” up what society has dumped all over them. In the next collage childbirth is also addressed and Mutu will continue to reveal that women are now able to create their own identity.

Another collage, which is
Untitled, features a woman who similar to the first, is covered in spots which appear to be bruises or a skin disease. This woman is being stabbed through the stomach with what appears to be a stick. This suggests that the woman is facing domestic violence and is being hurt. There is also a butterfly which is beautifully draped around the woman’s only open eye. This image represents this woman’s ability to see the truth in the world and being allowed to have freedom. There is also a bird resting on her leg which also suggests that this woman has the ability to take flight and be free of the abuse and pressure of society. Mutu’s collage style is “…an esthetic that willfully takes apart what is or is supposed to be and rearranges it in ways that suggest what could be…”( Lippard). This quotation reveals that in this collage and all of the others women are taken apart yet are not left in pieces but rather, through images of butterflies and birds, suggest that they will rise above these obstacles. These collages show possibilities for women and that there is a bright future ahead. The female in this collage is also missing the bottom halves of her legs. One of them is replaced with a tree branch and the other with the head of a cheetah. They appear to be images from the National Geographic. Mutu states in an interview that, “In fashion, in porn, in National Geographic in all these places women are recycled constantly, they’re still underground. This is a way to keep the above ground”(Tate). This quotation clearly states that these collages are being used to keep people aware of female issues in society and letting their voices be heard. This woman although covered with bruises and gushing with blood will be free from turmoil and does not have to live by societies standards.

Mutu’s use of nature is clearly evident in all of her collages, but is especially noticed in another one of her
Untitled pieces. In this piece there is a woman sitting on a giant rock which is covered with butterflies. Her body, similar to the other collages is covered with white bruised like spots. In this collage her body is also composed of tree branches and what appears to be moss. She also is holding a bleeding snake and has a spider on her head. This connection with nature reveals that this female is very much connected with nature and is pure as nature. Feminist, Carol Duncan argues that, “Man/culture tends to be one term in a dichotomy of which woman/nature is the other: ‘Even if woman is not equated with nature, she is still seen as representing a lower order of being, less transcendental of nature than men”(Duncan). In this collage Mutu suggests that the idea that women are “less transcendental” than men is not true and that a female’s connection with nature and nurturing qualities in fact make them more transcendental beings. The female’s legs in this collage seem to be constructed of tree trunks or roots from a plant. This suggests that this woman, despite her bruises, will be able to grow and be strong. She also is wearing high heels which are an influence from Western culture. She is influenced by the West but not in a negative way. She is a woman who can be in tune with nature, abused, and still wear high heels. She does not have to choose or be categorized as a poor hurt woman; she has the ability to form her identity. The snake which she is tightly grasping in her hand represents men in society who have constantly dominated. This patriarch society that woman have always lived in has caused them to struggle but Mutu shows that now, this snake, or phallic symbol is no longer manipulating women. This woman is holding this bleeding snake and is not afraid of it. She seems to looking at it and saying, even though men have brought pain to women they will forgive them because females are stronger than the abuse that they have faced. The snake is also rather small compared to the rest of the images in the collage. The large mass which the woman is sitting is on is the largest image in the picture and it is covered with butterflies. This suggests that the snake or, negative male influence is no longer dominating this woman’s life. She is sitting on this mass, which is connected with nature and in a sense it will free her. These many butterflies suggest that she will be free and no longer be taken advantage of. The rock is composed of pure white spots and also a mixture of earth tones and a light pastel pink. This suggests that women can be pure and feminine, but still be connected with nature and be naturally sexual beings.

In the background there is blood dripping from the snake but there is also pink mist which suggests femininity. Also there is a large black spider enveloped on her head. This suggests that similar to the spider this woman has the ability to create her own identity or symbolically her own web of life. Spiders also symbolize rebirth and this clearly reveals that through these collages Mutu allows females to take a stand for themselves and start new lives in which they can decide who they will become. Also, sources have noted that when one sees a spider it can “…manipulate our thinking in order to construct the life we wish to live.” This statement directly relates with Mutu’s message and her beliefs about females in society. Mutu accepts the problems that females face but shows that women can “manipulate” society and abuse to their advantage and allow them to develop who they are as women. Also, female spiders have maternal qualities they spin webs and take care of their eggs. Spider’s functions are “limitless” as are the actions and functions of women.(“Spider Symbol Meaning”) This woman is feminine, powerful, abused, maternal and still sexual. She is one with nature, yet is not weak and passive. All of these women share similar characteristics: they will be free despite the regulations in which society has set.

Another collage, which is also
Untitled, is of a woman whose legs are bruised and spotted and her torso appears to be that of a Barbie doll. There is blood everywhere and it appears that this woman is living through a war or genocide. Many parts of her body are from magazine clippings which once again allude to the Western cultural influence. All of these “…stylized female bodies are metaphors for the discourse of war, representing crimes of genocide, rape, mutilation and a myriad of hardships”(Muhammad). This especially addresses genocide and war. There is a long orange image which almost looks like a canon or a bomb which has landed on a woman wearing high heels. The woman in the center although bruised appears to be strong. She is covering her breasts and has a look on her face which says this is her body and it needs to be respected. There is also another little female image which is attached to the back of the larger woman. This smaller woman has the hands of an insect and her legs are thin and she is wearing high heels. The most interesting part about this mini image is that there appears to be these entangled threads in the place of the woman’s genitals. This may be alluding to female genital mutilation. In Africa female genital mutilation often occurs and in a sense strips females of their sexuality.

An article from BBC News states that many Africans believe that “By allowing your genitals to be removed you are heightened to another level of pure motherhood-a motherhood not tainted by sexuality and that is why the woman gives it away to become the matron, respected by everyone.”(“Changing attitudes to female Circumcision”). This quotation reveals that in Africa females are basically thought to be mothers and to feel the pain of labor, but are not allowed to have the pleasure of sex. When a female becomes a mother she is no longer pure and virtuous and stripping them of their genitals allows them to maintain purity. This procedure should not exist and women should not have to endure this kind of pain. Women should not be judged base on their ability to have children. If a woman’s life is at risk than aborting the baby or removing the womb is necessary. Mutu uses this collage to reveal that despite these mutilations that are performed on women, they can still be strong and fight for their rights. The little woman who appears to have genital mutilation is holding on tightly to the larger woman and her facial expression suggests that she is not going to give in. Another article form BBC also states that “in Somalia…a hospital…was forced to shut down for five weeks following threats to a doctor who removed a woman’s womb”(“Is a woman worth more than her children?”). Women should not be judged base on their ability to have children. If a woman’s life is at risk than aborting the baby or removing the womb is necessary. Women are worth more than just their children and this needs to be acknowledged by society.

The larger woman’s eyes, lips and upper body are from magazine clippings and are parts of the “ideal” woman. Women are always told how to look and feel, and this woman, despite the affects of society is still beautiful in her own way. It is also interesting because there appears to be a dark foggy cloud surrounding the woman and the light in the collage seems to be coming from her bruises and mutilations. This suggests that all of these woman’s flaws which have been created by society can be used in her favor and can shine truth on the things that really matter. There are also butterflies which are flying through the blood form war and genocide. Women similar to these butterflies will eventually be free and will rise above their obstacles. This woman has suffered through war, genocide, abuse, and genital mutilation, yet she can rise above. Her scars will not make her unattractive but will remind her of her strength and that she has the ability to change her life. Another theme which Mutu touches upon is the fact that women are suppose to have babies but not be sexual and are suppose to be beautiful creatures while society uses and abuses them.

Another one of Mutu’s collages which is again
Untitled, addresses this theme. The woman in the collage is in a sexual center-fold pose. She is bleeding from her stomach and she has the uniform bruises and spots that all of these women have. She is composed of magazine clippings and car parts. The interesting thing about this woman is that despite the blood releasing from her body she appears to feel no pain. There is also a butterfly which is flying from her from her blood and wounds. This suggests that this woman will be freed from this pain and abuse and she will not allow it to weigh her down. Also, this woman despite, her bruises, blood and influences from the West she still appears to be strong and sensual. Many times in the art world, “the equation of female sexual experience with surrender and victimization is so familiar in what our culture designates as erotic art and so sanctioned by both popular and high cultural traditions that one hardly stops to think it odd”(Duncan). Mutu completely disregards the idea that this quotation suggests. Through her art Mutu reveals that women can be sexual and beautiful without having to look weak and passive. This woman in the collage, although she was clearly hurt she does not look as though she has been victimized. She looks sexual and powerful and does not have to surrender or be passive to be this way. Women no longer need to be the damsel in distress and are capable of being in control and satisfying their needs without necessarily having a man in their life. Another interesting part of this woman is the car parts which are attached to her body. This reveals that the fact that a lot of times, especially in countries such as Africa women are stepped upon through war and abuse. Their bodies are treated like objects in order for others to trade goods that they need for materialistic purposes. Mutu states in an interview that, “Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than male…anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body (Merrily).” This statement is correct, woman are desired by men as sexual objects, but are despised if they are overly sexual. Women are suppose to be these pure nurturing creatures, but yet are scolded if they are not beautiful or thin enough. This collage and all of them are giving a voice to women. They are suggesting that women may have to carry certain things with their body and culture, but they will not let it them control them and bring them down.

Women realize what society expects and has created, but women will no longer let any one or anything manipulate who they are. Mutu states that she “sees these goddesses as critiques that are very much embedded in the problematic itself. So some of them have issues that we haven’t broken through, but they’re also sincere about that and still strong”(Tate). Mutu is not using these collages to say that women’s problems are over, but rather is accepting these problems and allowing women to take control of them and allow them to create their own identity. The woman in this collage has clearly been hurt, but is now trying to free herself from pain and create a better life. All of these “goddesses” are staring war, abuse, genocide, rape straight in the face and are showing them that they can be beautiful powerful sexual maternal beings without any questions asked. They are human and feel the same as men do and have the same rights as men.

These disgustingly beautiful women all share similar stories and all live in a society which basically has been created for them by men. Through Mutu’s collages and allusions to Western culture she reveals that women are now able to create their own identities. Women are no longer either whores or virgins or pure or sexual. Women are now allowed to be powerful maternal and sexual beings. It is true that women have biological differences than men and other characteristics, but in the end females are human beings and should not be subjected to violence and abuse. Women all over the world, especially in Africa have suffered through abuse and are still living and are strong. There is an article which states, “ a female born in South Africa is more likely to be raped than to learn to read” (“Female only Trains for SA”). This statistic is appalling but artist Wangechi is taking a stand and is educating the world about women’s issues. She is giving a voice to every woman who has ever been hurt or injured through abuse and who has been pressured by society to be “perfect”. She is saying that women no longer have to face the dichotomy of whore or virgin. Women have the right the right to be free sexual powerful and strong. As Linda Nochlin feminist art historian stated, “Our desire is simply this: ‘To be sufficient to stand but free to fall,”(Christable).

Women want the basic rights that all humans deserve. Women want to be strong enough to be independent and want to be allowed to make mistakes and not questioned when something goes wrong in their lives. Women have been denied many things throughout history and Wangechi Mutu is allowing females to create things other than children. Women can create art, literature, music, and most importantly they can create their identity.

Works Cited

Aldaronado, Cecilia. “Ghada Amer & Wangechi Mutu: Minneapolis.” ArtPapers (2007): 66. Wilson Web Boston Public Lib. 23, April 2008

  • This article discusses works of art by Wangechi Mutu and Ghada Amer. Both of their art focuses on the female body and how it is depicted in society.

“Biography.” Saatachi Gallery 14 May 2008

  • This website contains biographical and other facts about artist Wangechi Mutu.

“Changing attitudes to female circumcision.” BBC NEWS 8 April 2002

  • This article discusses women affected by female mutilation and the steps that need to be taken to end it.

Christable, Wiebe. “What’s a Girl to Do?.” Border Crossings 26 (2007). Wilson Web. Boston Public Lib. 24 April 2008

  • This article discusses the new “WACK!” exhibition of female art. Women are still fighting for equality through art, but are starting at a different place in history.

Duncan, Carol. “The Aesthetics of Power in Modern Erotic Art.” Feminist Art Criticism An Anthology. Ed. Raven. Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1998. 59-69.

  • This anthology discusses feminist criticism and how now women have many new doors open and will be able to explore the many sides of femininity that were often deemed unacceptable by society.

Duncan, Carol. “Virility and Domination in Early Twentieth-Century Vanguard Painting.” Feminism and Art History Ed. Broude, Norma. New York: Harper, 1982. 293.

  • This book focuses on art throughout history and how the art world has been dominated by males.

“Female only trains for SA”. BBC NEWS 2 July 2002.

  • This article discusses the creation of all female trains to avoid domestic violence in South Africa.

“Is a woman only worth her children?” BBC NEWS 4 June 2004

  • This article discusses a doctor who was threatened because he saved a woman’s life by removing her womb. In certain parts of the world women are believed to serve the purpose of childbirth and nothing else.

Kazanjan, Dodie. “Fierce creatures; Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu has brought her fresh and vividly energetic vision to figurative art-spinning fantastical tables of folklore and modernity.” Vogue (2006): 214. Infotrac. Boston Public Lib. 23 April 2008

  • This article discusses the life of Mutu and how she discovered her love of art.

Lippard, Lucy. “Issues and Commentary: No Regrets.” Art in America (2007): 75-9. Wilson Web. Boston Public Lib. 24 April 2008 http://www.bpl/org.

  • This article discusses different perspectives of feminist art throughout history and where the movement is today.

Merrily, Kerr. “Wangechi Mutu’s Extreme makeovers.” Akrylic 27 April 2006.

  • Wangechi Mutu is an artist who expresses ideas about females and their role in society as well as violence which occurs in war zones. Mutu creates disgustingly beautiful images of women. She creates women who have suffered in this world and remind people the tragedies which exist.

Muhammad, Erika Dalya. “Body Politic.” Art Review (2004): 60-63. Wilson Web. Boston Public Lib. 23 April 2007

  • This article discusses Mutu’s work and how genocide, mutilation and wars have served as inspiration for her art.

Shabaka, Onajide. “Multilayered Wangechi Mutu.” Miami Art Exchange 31 July 2005

  • Mutu discusses how she creates her and where her inspiration originated. Her art reveals what life is like in other parts of the world and what other people especially women, experience.

“Spider Symbol Meaning.” Your Guide to Symbols and Signs 14 May 2008

  • This article discussed the multiple meanings of spiders and how they affect how one makes decisions in every day life.

Tate, Greg. “Regal Depravities and Other Cavities.” CODE Z

  • This article is about Mutu, her art and her view on hip-hop culture.

Works Consulted

Cotter, Holland. “ART REVIEW; An African Diaspora Show Asks: What is Africanness? What is Diaspora?” The New York Times 21 Nov. 2003

  • This article discusses the origin of African Modernism. It also reveals differences between European and African artists. Overall the article addresses the question of what African art is being considered in the U.S.

Dublin, Steven. “Continental drift: the largest exhibition of contemporary African art ever assembled, “Africa Remix” revealed a startling range of practice, much of it little know till now to the world at large”. Art in America (2007): 90. Infotrac. Boston Public Lib. 23 April 2008

  • This article discusses the art show “Africa Remix”, various African artists and the purpose and messages of their art.

Freeman, Judi. Picasso and the Weeping Women The years of Marie Therese Walter and Dora Maar. Los Angeles: L.A. County Museum, 1994.

  • This book discusses Picasso’s fascination or rather obsession with weeping women and the state of the world in which he painted these works.

Harness, Kelley. Echoes of Women’s Voices Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006.

  • This book discusses art such as music and paintings, during early modern Florence and the role of women in society at this time.

Isaak, Jo Anna. Feminism and Contemporary Art. New York: Routledge, 1996.

  • This book focuses on the many aspects of feminist art and explains how women have been portrayed throughout history.

Nochlin, Linda. Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays. New York: Harper, 1998.

  • This book analyzes many different works of art throughout history, how women are portrayed and later on when women begin to create art and how this affects their place in society.

Passeron, Rene. Introduction. Phaidon Encyclopedia of Surrealism. Trans. John Griffiths. New York: Dutton; 1978.

  • This introduction discusses Surrealism how it began and the many branches of it.

Puliti, Gea. “Wangechi Mutu.” Flash Art (2008) Wilson Web Boston Public Lib. 23 April 2008

  • This article focuses on one of Mutu’s shows. It discusses how Mutu created beautiful, yet disgusting images of women to reveal the female’s everyday struggle.

Raven, Arlene, Ed. Feminist Art Criticism an Anthology. Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1998.

  • This anthology discusses feminist criticism and how now women have many women have many new doors open and will be able to explore the many sides of femininity that were often deemed unacceptable by society.

Sischy, Ingrid. “Letter from the editor.” Interview (2008): 100 Infotrac. Boston Public Lib. 23 April 2008.

  • This article discusses a photography show which focused on the issue of freedom and how people in society have progressed, but also digressed. Art, culture, and music are things which will help educate people in the future.

Valdez, Sarah. “Naked Truths.” ARTnews March 2003

  • In this article artist Wong challenges the stereotypes of females in the art world. She uses pornographic images and other images to suggest that women can be nor than how society views them.

Vogel, Lise. “Fine Arts and Feminism.” Ed. Raven Feminist Art Criticism An Anthology. Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1998.

  • This anthology discusses feminist criticism and how now women have many women have many new doors open and will be able to explore the many sides of femininity that were often deemed unacceptable by society


Ricki Laird
Mr. G
English 12H Period 5
20 May 2008

Being one of the founders of Dadaism and Surrealism, Max Ernst was one of the most influential contemporary artists in his time that created several paintings, collages, poems, and even a graphic novel. Ernst was born on April 2, 1891 in Bruhl, Germany, which is situated near Cologne, the town where Dada, an artistic movement, was first formed. At the Bonn University, Ernst studied philosophy and psychology in 1909, but soon dropped the courses. Before that, he visited an asylum and studied the work of the insane, a study inspired by Freud's theory of the unconscious (Daily Guggenheim Museum). The work of the insane was crucial in his development as an artist, for in manic states, one is supposed to have an assortment of ideas:

  • For example, the birth of new ideas often takes place during the manic phases, but the refinement of such thoughts may occur during the artist's melancholic periods. The creative process requires a certain amount of emotional involvement as well as a more logical perspective in order to put the new ideas into practice. (Jamison Myth or Madness? Mania and the Artistic Genius)

He also took many ideas incorporated in Freud's works and used them to try to identify himself and like other surrealists, used it as a basis of surrealist works.

Max Ernst's life was a one filled with great opportunities as well as grave misfortunes. He was enlisted as a German soldier during World War I. Feeling horrified by the way the world was going, Ernst joined the Dada group in Cologne. The Dada movement was a passive protest against the war (Spies 16). It used several new techniques in the approach of art and rejected norms associated with modern art. Ernst describes his experience as a Dadaist painter, and the meaning of Dada art: "Being a Dadaist by profession was a contradiction in terms. There was no such thing as an unchanging state of revolution. And to put the spirit of Dada on exhibition was no more than a weak illustration, like trying to capture the violence of an explosion by presenting the shrapnel" (Spies Max Ernst: A Retrospective). With the Dada movement, Ernst began experimenting with new techniques such as frottage and producing collages. He once explained in an interview his methods when creating a Dadaist collage piece: "I decided then to investigate the symbolism of this obsession and, in order to aid my meditative and hallucinary faculties, I made from the boards a series of drawings by placing them, at random, sheets of paper which I undertook to rub with black lead" (Solan The Enduring Significance of the Work of Max Ernst). Ernst also made several lasting friendships including Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Jean Arp, and others, some of which he collaborated with and even made movies.

Surrealism began in the late 1920's as it branched off of Dadaist work. Surrealism involves the "element of surprise", unexpected juxtapositions, and non sequitur, for comical purposes (Ades Surrealism). Surrealism incorporated Freud's work and study of the conscious and unconscious mind. Surrealism became an important aspect to Ernst's life in his artistic career.

Ernst's relationships with people seemed to be either good or bad. Phillip Ernst, his father, had been a painter himself, yet Ernst's relationship with him wasn't a steady one. Young Ernst resented his father, and used him as a subject of his paintings and connected him with Freudian ideals. Ernst also had problems with marriages. He met Luise Straus in Cologne, and the couple had a son who was born in 1920, the artist Jimmy Ernst. The marriage did not last very long however. He was married four times until Dorothea Tanning became his wife while living in America until death.

Ernst was not only a revolutionary artist, but he also had great ideas in order to pursue "the myth of the creative genius." After his bird died the same night his sister was born, Ernst had several thoughts of resentment, and even blamed her for taking his pet's life force. Years later, Ernst creates 'Loplop', a bird-man creature who essentially was Ernst's alter ego. Not only did 'Loplop' become Ernst's voice, but in his autobiography titled Biographical Notes, also known as Tissue of Truth, Tissue of Lies, Ernst writes about his experiences in third person, a technique inspired by Freud's revealing of one's on self by understanding the unconscious (Drost 24).

Max Ernst's life, as one can see, was full of hardships, confusion, inspiration, and love. He is recognized as one of the most influential artists, and credited for many techniques and ideas still used today. However, he is not given enough credit pertaining the true meaning of surrealist art and his use of the unconscious as a way to perfect the craft of his skill. His art continues to be an inspiration to other artists.

Max Ernst was an active participant of the ideas that surrounded both Dadaism and Surrealism. Many of his works incorporated these ideas and these pieces also contained Ernst's emotions and parts of his unconscious mind. Surrealist paintings such as 'Oedipus Rex', 'The Elephant Celebes', and 'Fireside Angel' are all pieces of the surrealist and Dadaist movement. All these paintings hold another common trait: all incorporate Ernst's emotions as well as his thoughts and Freudian concepts. Ernst had greater plans of his own when focusing on art: "Yet Ernst stated intention is to sacrifice his own conscious authority. This study explores the contradictions and ambiguities of authorship in an art of the unconscious" (Kavky 367). Ernst wanted to go beyond modern art and create work that would truly expose his unconscious mind by using art. Through these paintings, speaking in third person in "Biographical Notes", and studying Freud, Max Ernst created surrealist paintings not only to express rejection of modern art, but to expose the myth of the creative genius.

Sigmund Freud was one of Max Ernst's greatest influences. While studying psychology, Ernst read Freud's work, mainly pertaining to dreams as subconscious desires. Ernst, along with others, believed one's unconscious could be revealed through works of surrealism. Ernst however, took this idea several steps forward. He worked toward the goal of "exposing the creative genius" using several techniques inspired by Freud's work. Ernst psychoanalyzed himself through art. Psychoanalysis takes years to uncover the unconscious. Ernst spent his entire life psychoanalyzing himself with paintings, writing, poetry; all forms of art. Not only was he creating art with certain messages, but he was also trying to decipher his own unconscious mind.

With an analysis of his life, one can begin to see what areas Ernst was concerned with. From the beginning, young Ernst held responsibility as being the oldest child. Everything he and his younger family members did, he took the praise and blame (Drost 21 - 22). Ernst's father, Phillip Ernst, was a painter himself, who became an influence on Ernst, yet his relationship with his old man was an uneasy one. His father was a fierce authoritarian of the Roman Catholic Church. Once young Ernst tried to convince his father he was the child Jesus. He made a connection to his father as being a symbol of the heavenly "father", thus playing as Jesus was a mockery (Hughes Max Ernst: The Compleat Experimenter). However, it is clear that Phillip gave Ernst the initiative to take up painting. In Ernst's "Biographical Notes", he describes himself questioning his father about the painting of the forest, which becomes a strong childhood memory. Freud's ideas coincide with Ernst's questioning of his father's painting as being the "father-son conflict" (Drost 24). Ernst made several pieces which held the fatherly figure, often holding evidence as a referral to his relationship with his father: "Ernst thought of his father as a fool. The man with the turned-up mustache was not just a Sunday painter, but one with a heavy academic style; Ernst's entire career was a rejection of the middle-class idea of art for which his father stood" (Jones The Guardian).

One painting which could connect to Freud's father-son conflict in which Ernst endured is "Oedipus Rex". It is named after the famous play by Sophocles in which the tragic hero Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother, then blinds himself when he apprehends what he has done. In Freudian studies, the "Oedipus" complex occurs when a boy unconsciously envies and wants to displace his father to attain all the affection from the mother. In Ernst's painting, there is more than the "Oedipus Rex" story being portrayed. In Ernst's painting, a large hand protrudes an opening in a brick wall. The fingers are being pierced by several contraptions and simultaneously squeeze a nut. Two bird's heads are on the right, one has horns in which a string is attached, another against a fence; both are facing the opposite direction of the hand. In the background, the sky is empty except for a tiny balloon floating in the distance. All the details in this piece hold great significance, including Freud's ideas and the unconscious mind of Ernst. The entire painting revolves around Freud's idea of "joke work", which is an object representing something non humorous or in a juxtaposing way creates the joke. For example, the fingers which hold the nut represent the ironies of seeing and blindness in Oedipus Rex. The nut and pierced fingers also represent what may be sexual attachments, a feature associated with the Oedipus complex. The male hand cracks the female "nut", which resembles female sexual organs. To analyze further, even the position of the fingertips resemble the breasts of a woman. This is a representation of Freud's Oedipus complex, but could refer to Ernst's own unconscious. "Ernst took a non extraordinary image and, unexpectedly, brought out its dreamlike qualities" (Stokes 200). Freud stated in his work that the two main purposes of making jokes is to express hostility and sexual desires in situations where direct expressions of these emotions would be deemed unacceptable. "The window is, like the joke, the hole punched in this wall of resistance. Unexpectedly, the feelings come out, like the oversized fingers, in a form of a joke that contains the repressed feelings in a cleverly, if not completely, disguised form. The Joke maker safely exposes himself" (Stokes 201). The two birds in the painting also juxtapose the balloon in flight. The fence around one bird and the strings on the horns of the other represent lack of freedom, birds being the usually symbol of freedom now suppressed to the ground while far away a balloon takes flight. Ernst's personal symbol is the bird; therefore, the painting may symbolize Ernst's own repressed feelings which connect to the Oedipus Complex. Ernst's relationship with his father definitely contributed to his ideas, "Oedipus Rex" being one, as well as the unconscious he was so eager to uncover. His father was not the only influence; several other life experiences completely altered his method of philosophy.

During World War I, Ernst was enlisted in the war, which caused an interruption as an artist. He even wrote at the beginning of his autobiography, "Max Ernst died the 1st of August, 1914. He was resurrected on the 11 November 1918 as a young man who aspired to find the myths of his time" (Solan The Enduring Significance of the Work of Max Ernst). Seeing the horrors and transformation of Europe at the time, Ernst decided that the traditional approach to art was no longer up to date. He decided to join other artists in the Dada movement, a movement which protested the war and the way Europe was being operated at the time. "The aim of 'Dada' was to ridicule the art that dated back to before 1914 and was abhorrent to the postwar generation" (Russell Max Ernst: A Retrospective). Most of Ernst's Dadaist works are collages, a mixture of different materials to create one piece. The Surrealist movement came shortly after the Dada period, in which Ernst also became a part of as well. Surrealism involved dreamlike images or hallucinations and incorporated Freudian ideals such as the mystery of the unconscious. One particular piece Ernst completed integrated both Surrealist and Dadaist methods; "The Elephant Celebes" is one of Ernst's most famous pieces that also hold fragments of his unconscious that pertain to Europe and the war.

"The Elephant Celebes" at first glance is a bizarre image featuring what looks to be a mechanical Elephant in which a headless naked woman presents. The background consists of an almost empty sky other than the two fish, the figure, and smoke. Ernst uses dull, almost grey tones for the sky and background. In fact, Ernst barely uses any vibrant colors at all, minus the contraption on top of the massive figure. The "creature" has horns protruding from its side along with a pair on its head. It has a silver apparatus attached to the "trunk" which then seems to extend to the inside of its body. Three vertical objects surround the main subject, one slender with a rounded tip, another small and royal blue, and the last a rigid pole which resembles a hat rack. A small hole exists in the middle of the monster. Next to the beast is a pale naked, female, mannequin without a head. The exposed figure raises its arm toward the beast, and it wears a surgical glove. The surgical glove is a common symbol in surrealist paintings, often relaying surrealism's theme of being out of place. "The Elephant Celebes" is quite intriguing and may trigger an assortment of questions. It combines Dadaist collage methods as well as Surrealism's dreamlike sense. Ernst once said pertaining to the collage effect: "It is the systematic exploitation of the coincidental or artificially provoked encounter of two of more unrelated realities on an apparently inappropriate plane and the spark of poetry created by the proximity of these realities" (Walther 608). In essence, artwork such as "The Elephant Celebes" is an attempt of self analysis for Ernst. The piece has a low horizon line which emphasizes the enormity of the beast. The figures rounded body resembles a clay corn bin used in the Konkombwa tribe in southern Sudanese. The body and the totem pole to the right of the beast's horns suggest African origin. "The painting uniquely combines found imagery and tribal elements" (Jeffett International Dictionary of Art and Artists). African rituals and tribes connected to the idea of primitivism. This was a cultural aspect of Dada, "an attempt to return to an authentic origin prior to the decline of modern society" (Jeffett 865). Ernst was a man opposed to great changes, especially during and after the World War I. Therefore, elements which symbolized primitivism such as the totem pole and elephant were incorporated into the artwork. Elements such as the headless nude woman wearing a surgical glove were common aspects found in many surrealist pieces. The idea of "unreason" is the usual meaning of such symbols, but they could also symbolize other ideas. Surrealism pertains to many artist's dreams and desires. The headless woman could have been a symbol for the desire of sex, therefore, the thought of women being only useful for one thing. This could also allude to the degrading of women in Freudian concepts. Yet the mannequin could also allude to the myth of the abduction of Europa by Zeus disguised as a bull (Klingseohr-Leroy Surrealism). A connection here is "Europa" which means Europe, the setting of the war and of course, Ernst. Another dreamlike image is the "flying" fish in the top left. What looks to be an oncoming airplane appears to the right, and there is smoke in the sky. The mechanical aspect of the piece is a more modern criticism, and the enormity of the creature could represent Ernst's prediction of a large scale modern decadence. These aspects allude to the "mechanical terror of the war experience" (Jeffett). Therefore, "The Elephant Celebes" is Ernst's memories and dreams of the terror and destruction that wreaked havoc on Europe, and he successfully alludes to these ideas using mythology, history, and Freudian aspects.

Another painting in which Ernst reveals his thoughts and emotions pertaining to the war is "Fireside Angel". At first glance, the painting is of a beastly bird creature that seems to be rampaging throughout a vast landscape. The beast is painted with many vibrant colors, the head being a white with tints of yellows and browns, arms and part of body a red – orange, one leg orange, the other a dark blue, one arm forest green, the other a burnt orange, the veil between its legs an orange cream color, and the strange appendage which resembles a smaller beast a forest green. The creature is made up of several parts; a closer look reveals it comprising of different human and animal parts, much like the mythical beast, the Chimera. The head of the creature resembles that of a bird with long, jagged teeth. Its eyes, pose, and facial expression seem to reveal glee. Its right foot, left to the viewer, has a hoof as a foot, while the other resembles a shoe. Ernst's brush strokes are very loose, and it seems to create a wave – like image on the beast, as if its garments were flowing in the wind. The creature doesn't seem to take on any familiar shape or form, and seems to flow with the wind. The creature attached to the main one has no familiar shape as well. It seems to be an amorphous figure, with a hand that has seven fingers. The shape is almost like fire, no real shape, or even resembling water, or wind. The shapes, colors, and artistic aspects of the intriguing "Fireside Angel" all have a meaning in which Ernst wished to portray. The painting was actually an interpretation of what would happen to the world after the war: "The Fireside Angel is a picture I painted after the defeat of the Republicans in Spain. This is, of course, an ironical title for a kind of clumsy oaf which destroys everything that gets in the way. That was my impression in those days of the things that might happen in the world. And I was right" (The Legacy Project). The title is ironic because "Angel" refers to a holy being of God, but the painting suggests a malevolent being of destruction: "Ironically naming this frightening beast an "angel', Ernst evokes the danger of the seemingly innocuous, referencing the surface appeal of fascism but underscoring the evil he perceived in its proliferation" (Kessler The Harvard Advocate). "Fireside Angel" was Ernst's prediction of a world gone wrong under fascism.

In his later years, Ernst ascribes reason to nearly every aspect to his work. He attributes this knowledge of his own unconscious to Freud. For example, many of his paintings such as 'The Robbing of the Bride' have half-man, half-bird characters within them. Reasoning behind such creations is the childhood memory of his little sister being born the same night his pet bird dies, "a coincidence to which he describes later 'confounding the images of human beings with birds and other creatures. The bird part is a symbol of freedom, and free will, while the human part represents the superego, focusing on control" (Foster No Man's Land). The memory of his beloved bird dying also inspired paintings which incorporated the bird-man creatures with women, which Ernst interpreted as the unconscious feeling that his sister took the very life force from it. The most elusive of all the bird-man creations was 'Loplop'. 'Loplop' became the role of the superego, a term used by Freud that describes an individual's conscience that opposes the id's need to satisfy desires. 'Loplop' became the artist's "voice", a reflection and projection who assumed responsibility for Ernst's work (Spies 9). 'Loplop' was in fact, a first step in uncovering the myth of the creative genius.

The mythical bird-creature 'Loplop', the private phantom, became Max Ernst's constantcompanion, indeed, his mouthpiece, Loplop was the messenger of an ironically critical separation of the "creator personality", a detached observation of his own activity, in which Werner Spies recognized the Freudian superego (Drost 25). Therefore, Loplop serves as a symbol of the artist's production and mind, allowing Ernst to interpret himself. Self analysis also developed through his writing, particularly Biographical Notes, also known as Tissue of Truth, Tissue of Lies.

Ernst's autobiography Biographical Notes contains perspective on his life experiences, in which he reworked until his death. However, the autobiography is entirely written in third person. In his work, he completely avoided the possessive 'I' or 'my', and escaped into the impersonal 'he' (Spies 9). Reasoning behind his method of writing is a further reflection of himself, his id, ego, and even superego: "This detachment from his own ego reflects something crucial. It is a skepticism which is to be met with everywhere in the oeuvre, a skepticism fueled by a post-Freudian awareness of the impossibility of disposing over a secure, clearly defined "self"" (Spies 9). These Freudian ideas were essentially the spark that started the surrealist movement: "Surrealists argued that we see only a surface reality. More important was uncovering the reality that, as Freud maintained, resided in the deep seated secrets and desires of the unconscious mind" (Davies 993). Ernst deeply believed in uncovering the unconscious, which is why he worked throughout his entire life as an artist to uncover his deep seated thoughts within the unconscious, the part which remains unknown to most for their entire lives.

In conclusion, throughout Ernst's life, his experiences, and endeavors have given him influence on his work as an artist. Unconscious thoughts and feelings emerge from the result of these experiences and are transferred in the form of art. The myth, in which Ernst worked his whole in pursuit of, is the process of taking one's own ideas to try to duplicate their "vision" of the completed work, and how one's experiences subconsciously contribute to a final piece. Creative process requires a certain amount of emotional involvement. Ernst understood and believed in the works of Freud; therefore, Ernst studied his own unconscious mind in order to expose the myth of the creative genius, that is, his own reasoning behind his artwork.

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