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Arts

Hairy legs and food porn: Female artists question 'normality' through social media

An exhibition in Leipzig shows how artists from the Tumblr and Instagram generation use the internet and social media to reflect on the ideals of female beauty. Here's a preview of some of the works on show.

Sexuality, identity and gender stereotypes sparked numerous debates in 2017. US President Donald Trump defended his "locker room talk," in which he boasted that he could "grab" women "by the pussy" because he was famous; the Harvey Weinstein scandal rippled through the entertainment industry and resulted in the #MeToo campaign against sexual abuse.

The internet and social media play a pivotal role in all controversies today, including the two mentioned above. It is therefore not surprising that a new generation of artists is joining the discussion by creating artworks for the web. 

From Tumblr stars to Instagram queens, 13 influential women artists are now on show at the Museum der bildenden Künste (Museum of Fine Arts) in Leipzig.

Read more: As PiS turns topic taboo, feminists get Poland talking sex

A selfie by Leah Schrager that is on display at Virtual Normality — Women Net Artists 2.0 in Leipzig

A selfie by Leah Schrager that is also on display in Leipzig

Between provocation and self-promotion

The artists from all over the world all use art to question traditional gender stereotypes and ignite a discourse on the ideals of beauty from the female perspective. 

"These artists clearly follow the tradition of feminist art. They create roles and characters that exhibit and emphasize clichés," says art historian Anika Meier, who co-curated the exhibition together with journalist Sabrina Steineck.

While the artists work with established themes and techniques, the medium is different: "Thanks to the internet, they can create their own audience, and, of course, generate a much bigger reach," Meier adds. 

The exhibited artists are not short of public admiration: Leah Schrager, for instance, has a massive following of 1.3 million users on one of her Instagram accounts, where she posts deliberately sexy, erotic and even masculine self-portraits. "She wants to show that a woman can do something like that and that it is normal, without being reproached that it has nothing to do with art or feminism," explains Meier.

Read more: Feminists Insha'allah! - The Story of Arab Feminism

When a few hairs cause an uproar

Schrager's colleague Arvida Byström has "only" 250,000 followers, but she is well-known even outside of the Instagram community thanks to the controversial Adidas spot from 2017 where she posed with unshaven legs.

The 15-second-long clip caused quite a commotion, and Byström even received rape threats.

"When women post something online, everyone feels entitled to comment on it," claims Meier. "And if people do not like what they see, the reaction can be extreme and full of hate."

But Byström is not intimidated by threats — and continues to post photos of her pubic hair or bushy armpits. Those, along with menstrual blood or pimples, are motifs these artists regularly and deliberately use. As Meier points out, they'll continue to do so until "there is no hatred anymore."

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An artwork by Signe Pierce from the exhibition Virtual Normality — Women Net Artists 2.0 in Leipzig (Signe Pierce)

An artwork by Signe Pierce

Pink revolution

Many of the exhibited artists aim for an intentionally feminine look, wearing for instance bright pink or red clothes. But they clearly distinguish themselves from YouTubers posting their beauty tips online. 

The artists "are 'digital nomads.' They grew up with the internet and all of its possibilities, and they also want to use its aesthetics," explains Meier. Unsurprisingly, they also find inspiration online where they network with like-minded people.

 When it comes to feminist ideals, however, this new generation of feminist artists is no different from the pioneers of the style in the 1960s and 1970s: Through art, they seek self-determination and freedom to be who they want to be.

The exhibition "Virtual Normality — Women Net Artists 2.0" runs from January 11 to April 8, 2018, in the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig.

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