Jewelry, and Other Beautiful Chains
MAY 2 – 7, 2022
Honors Candidate Exhibition
Images of idealized feminine beauty pervade our lives every day, in television, advertisements, and social media posts. Although I understand cognitively that these images are carefully manipulated and fabricated, I still find myself grasping at these unattainable standards of beauty, only to be disappointed and disgusted with myself when I fail. And I know that I am not alone in this. Women, and young women in particular, analyze themselves to an obsessive degree, reaching for makeup, low-calorie foods, and adornments like jewelry in an attempt to elevate their physical beauty. This cycle of striving and dissatisfaction perpetuates as we are constantly bombarded with falsified images and fed the message that we need to adhere to these standards to have value in society. Jewelry, and Other Beautiful Chains visually represents the stifling nature of the standards imposed upon every part of a woman’s body, as well as highlights the dissolution of the boundaries between the female body and passive object.
The paintings, like the jewelry, are small and lapidary; they turn women’s bodies into a kind of decorative property. The close-up compositions put the emphasis on fragments of the body, instead of on the woman as a person, and invite close examination of both the jewelry and body. While the organic nature of the skin contrasts with the hard lines of the crafted chains and jewels, the glitters in the hair and on the skin mimic the shine of the jewelry. The distinction between skin and object becomes conflated; women’s bodies are as much objects of beauty as the chains. In the gallery, they are displayed isolated and spotlit, furthering their association with the jewels themselves.
Like Dutch vanitas paintings of the 17th century, the series is painted in a manner that is intentionally opulent, rich, and alluringly beautiful. However, upon closer inspection, the strangeness of the placement of the jewelry becomes apparent. There is something subtly disturbing and abject about pearls spilling out of stretched lips and diamonds plugging an eardrum. By placing jewelry in and on unexpected parts of the body, the degree to which the suffocating standards of physical beauty are forced upon every part of the female body are revealed. Earrings and necklaces are shoved within the crevices of the ear, nostrils, and mouth, tangled across the eye, and binding the hand; the functions of each of the five senses are inhibited by the oppressive weight of the seemingly dainty chains. Just like images in magazines, these paintings appear beautiful on the surface, but there is an ugly and dark ideal lurking beneath.
The works are carefully constructed images, painted in an obsessive manner. This reflects the way in which the images we hold up as models of beauty are not real, but rather artificially manufactured. The minuscule detail of the paintings encourages a close and prolonged viewing of them, giving the viewer time to ponder the feminine struggle that lies beneath the glittering jewels. It is only when we wrestle with the omnipresent, restrictive, and fabricated nature of beauty standards that we can begin to deconstruct these beautiful chains.