S.O.S. Starification Object Series

Wilke, Hannah

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Photography

Genre: Photography

Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl
  • Date of entry: May-19-2016
  • Last revised: Jun-06-2016

Summary

In this series of black-and-white photographs, Hannah Wilke poses half-naked for the camera, mimicking the postures of female celebrities and models in magazines and advertisements. She is mockingly flirtatious in some images, playfully wearing a man’s tie, tousling her hair, smiling suggestively with her lips parted. In other images, her expression is cold and distant, as the viewer gazes at the sensuous curves of her neck, back, and breasts.

But there is more. Wilke has also stuck tiny chewing gum sculptures of vulvas to her body. These sculptures simultaneously confront and repel the viewer. The vulvas explicitly confront the viewer about their sexual thoughts and desires as they view photographs of a woman’s body. And the vulvas sprout from her face, back, and chest like warty or diseased growths, and causing the viewer to step back in revulsion, thus breaking their lascivious gaze.

Commentary

Hannah Wilke was one of the first artists to use vaginal imagery in artwork to provoke discussion of feminist issues, and the S.O.S. Starification Object Series (1974-1979) is one of her well-known works.

By imitating female celebrities in commonly circulated images, and interrupting those suggestive portraits with unapologetic sculptures of female genitalia, she draws attention to the pervasive objectification of women’s bodies. Moreover, by making her own body unappealing with chewing gum growths or scars, and through her cold, reserved expression, she clearly informs the viewer that their objectifying gaze is not welcome.