Friday, February 4, 2011
Farrah and Hannah: In Flesh and Death
I've had this thing kicking around in my head for a while. Its been a few years since both artist Hannah Wilke and actress Farrah Fawcett died in 2009. For some reason when I think of one of them I think of the other, like some venn diagram of two lives. Yes, one was a respected feminist artist and the other was a sex symbol, one was high art one was low. Yet, they both were incredibly important female bodies of the 1970s.
Hannah documented her own body, oftentimes posing like a glamor model to both celebrate female beauty and deconstruct understandings of female vanity and value. Farrah on the other hand was documented by Hollywood and reproduced for teen boys everywhere to hang on their walls. At 12 million copies sold world wide, her image in that bathingsuit is one of the most distributed visual images anywhere.
Having refused to pose nude as a young actress, Farrah did her first nude spread for Playboy for her 50th birthday. It was in fact a photoshoot of her making paintings - she made paintings and prints with her body, like Yves Klein's famous prints but authored by the model herself. Before taking up acting Farrah had actually been an art major at UT Austin and was serious about it when she returned to painting and sculpture later in life. Both Hannah and Farrah took the male gaze into their own hands, creating with their own bodies.
As they grew older both women developed cancer. Farrah had anal cancer, Hannah had lymphoma. Both women chose to document it, Hannah in photos and Farrah on video, creating what can be viewed as art or documentation of the final phase of a female body. Hannah also included photos of her mother's struggle with cancer along her own in her work Intra-Venus. I find it brings both Hannah and Farrah's careers full circle and makes them whole in that they have given us the female experience not only of youth and beauty but of physicality, suffering, and mortality.
I also find it interesting that in Farrah's famous red swimsuit photo she was wearing a one piece bathingsuit because she had a large scar on her stomach that she was afraid to show. I think that her acceptance of her body's imperfections in later life and her refusal to give us only one pleasant view of a woman was inspiring and profound. There are many ways that people live in the public eye these days, with reality tv, everyone getting their 15 minutes, and female existence being so closely interpreted as pornography or struggle. Yet, these women were ahead of their times and in both high and low they managed to give us an experience of physicality in all its glory and defeat.
Hannah Wilke's Gestures
Farrah Fawcett skateboards away from a bad guy!
Sacré Farrah Fawcett !
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