In the Frame: Woman Offers Her Body as Men’s Tattoo Canvas. Is This Art?
23-year-old Shauna Taylor is proud to own an original piece by Damien Hirst. If you want to have a look, she’s showing it within the pages of Garage magazine—a new publication edited by Dasha Zhukova, who runs a gallery in Moscow and used to edit Pop, the biannual fashion bible. A word of warning: Shauna isn’t flaunting one of Hirst’s trendy spot paintings. She’s been tattooed to order by him, on the labia, with a lurid green butterfly, hidden only by a sticker that says "Peel Slowly and See." This is part of the Inked project for Garage's first issue, taking human canvases to be permanently marked.
[Shauna Taylor, photographed with sticker to hide the sensitive artwork, for Garage magazine].
The official title of Hirst's work is "Butterfly Divided" as the image fits on the two symmetrical halves of this part of the body, with Shauna’s tampon string dangling down in between. Subtle it is not. Yet glossy fashion magazines and modern art titles are constantly turning to the female anatomy for their boundary pushing, and it does feel a bit tired now.
I love reading magazines that think outside the box, but the glossies invariably contain topless objectified models—this includes Dasha Zhukova's former title, Pop. The current issue of Wonderland magazine (a UK-based style publication, a bit like an artier, edgier version of Vogue) goes further with several gratuitous chest and crotch shots of women, followed by a photo feature on men’s underwear that only shows the odd bit of ass. The male models were allowed to have the camera following their silhouette rather than their every intimate bump and crevice. I’m not saying I want to see naked men staring back at me from these pages—I really don’t see how it’s imaginative or relevant—but I don’t expect to see such blatant disparity between male and female models and the lengths they'll go to for the perfect shot. It's not just being perpetuated by male photographers or stylists, either; this is a genderless problem as it seems that the fashion industry relies on the naked female form as much as the art world does. Shauna, whilst not a professional model herself, feels symptomatic of this imbalance between male and female exposure. Being a willing participant is all well and good, but if Shauna was a man then I get the feeling the tattoo would not be in such an intimate place on the body, and neither would "Peel Slowly and See" have the same appeal if we were discussing a man, simply because it sounds so sexually suggestive and typical of upper-shelf porn mags targeted at guys.
[An alternative cover to Garage magazine, Issue 1].
We should also consider the long-term consequences of "Butterfly Divided." The design was Hirst’s idea, yet it’s Shauna who will live with it every day, which seems to be typical of some men’s desire to impose their view of the world on women. She must like the butterfly to have agreed to it, and perhaps it suggests freedom or nature to her, but to me it loses its grace because it's all just a stunt. Shauna’s happy acceptance is, of course, her choice, and she has a right to do as she pleases, but it feels to me like Hirst has had the last laugh. If his living, breathing canvas decided she was sick of being "that girl with the tattoo" then she would have to endure a painful laser removal process. If she later regrets the photograph being taken and publicized, she cannot take it back, because Garage's presentation of the art has made it go viral. The power of the Internet has captured Shauna’s butterfly piece forever, whether she likes it or not, and she will be tied to Hirst’s legacy of crude shock tactics (which includes a dead shark preserved in formaldehyde). Shauna is essentially a marketing tool and puppet for Garage and Hirst.
I'm particularly horrified that Garage magazine is being heralded as progressive when it features something like this. Shauna Taylor may be enjoying her 15 minutes of fame, but she's also being exploited by male-orientated media. It's surely not a coincidence that this is Garage's first issue, thereby giving it substantial coverage and free publicity with this tacky photograph. Perhaps if Dasha Zhuvoka and Damien Hirst really thought this was intelligently creative, they would offer themselves as the canvas to be inked.
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