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19 janvier 2010 2 19 /01 /janvier /2010 11:56


Pre-feminist lore often boiled down to a simple slogan: men are wolves and women are bunnies / men are predators and women are prey. But a countervailing reality is that some women can be eager to be consumed and some men can be ambivalent about attacking. Such confusions among sexual personna and sexual motivations inspire fashion imagery in which women are stylized and posed as alluringly but non-threatening as possible...like a bunny that roasts and garnishes itself and then climbs into a lazy wolf's mouth. And the ramifications of images like these are the source of much feminist scholarship, as well as feminist art.

As Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin said in "Pornography and Civil Rights," the image of the Playboy Bunny was an essential tool of women's subjugation. "The use of women as objects in Playboy is part of how Playboy helps to create second-class status for women," the feminist icons wrote. "Women in Playboy are dehumanized by being used as sexual objects and commodities, their bodies fetishized and sold. The term 'bunny' is used to characterize the woman as less than human - little animals that want sex all the time, animals that are kept in hutches."

Belgian artist Nathalie Pirotte's lovely watercolor paintings tell a different story. Her beautiful pin-ups exemplify the strange and enticing imagery of vintage soft-core pornography and fashion photography by melding slinky, lingerie-clad or girly-dressed women's bodies with animal heads. An artist in her forties, Pirotte has witnessed the deconstruction and re-configuration of traditional feminine and sexual imagery in mass media. Today, girls appropriate Playboy Bunny insignia with little intellectual investment or only a thin level of irony. Yet the images in today's Playboy and other soft-core magazines are often saturated with self-consciousness and cloaked in ironic posturing.

The images that Pirotte appropriates or references are different. Whether it is genuinely old or just anachronistic, the styling and look of her source material is straight from an era when sexual roles were carefully prescribed. To make that point, Pirotte paints a girl in a pretty, full-skirted strapless pink dress and very a la mode yellow-shoes - both clearly contemporary - while the face that she shyly turns away from the viewer is that of a gentle gray mare.

In her 2006 painting "Lionne," Pirotte implants a wild cat's head into a lush Betty Page-style pin-up in a Bavarian-style corset pulling a ribbon. While the feral beast would seem to be an even match for any randy man, a wild cat still wouldn't measure up against a skilled hunter. Thus, the gorgeous creature is not a competitor, but a challenge to the male viewer. And the bunnies that Pirotte paints have sweet, pretty faces to match the charming outfits and soft, lithe bodies of her female models.

Represented with Pirotte's exquisite technical skill, these mythic creatures are not really subjugated. Think of them as unthreatening animals with very effective human bodies. Think of them as stunning familiars for randy girls willfully playing grown-up cat and mouse games.

To see more of Nathalie Pirotte's work registered on Saatchi Online click here.

ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is a Berlin-based critic and curator. She writes on contemporary art and fashion for publications including Artforum.com, Sleek, V, TANK, Art in America, Artnet.com, Art Journal, Whitewall, The National, Dazed & Confused and British Vogue. As a Senior Correspondent for the Saatchi Gallery's online magazine, Ana contributes exhibition reviews from Berlin, New York and elsewhere, as well as an interview series. To contact her, email anahonigman@hotmail.com

Published on 11-01-2010

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