July, come find me in the fish’s gill.
July, come splash and tip my quick canoe.
July, come whisper who is kind and true.
July, come when you willow, if you will.
A “girlie calendar” makes one think of men’s lockers, walls of auto repair shops or a military barracks: They’re typically collections of nude or scantily dressed women in provocative poses, designed for the male heterosexual gaze.
But what if a girlie calendar is designed with a lesbian gaze in mind? That sort of subversion is what lesbian poet Mary Meriam has in mind with the title of herpoetry collection, Girlie Calendar, and for the Ms. Blog she is excerpting from the book a poem-of-the-month (she began in October and continued in November, December, January, February, March, April, May and June). Meriam is also selecting accompanying artwork for each month from both historical and contemporary lesbian-related images. July’s artist, Christina Schlesinger, writes below about her painting, “Hands on Hips, Pink.”
When I began my “Nude and Dildo” series, of which this painting is a part, I was deliberately thinking about how I see my own body, how a woman looks at her body, how in fact a lesbian gazes at the female body, as opposed to how a man looks at a woman’s body. How could I take away the male gaze, how could I subvert and undo the way a man interprets and presents the female nude: voluptuous; seductive; suppliant; acquiescent; passively awaiting the male. As the Guerrilla Girls famously say, in one of our most popular posters, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 5 percent of the artists in the modern art section are women, but 85 percent of the nudes are female.” The nudes that people are used to seeing in museums, in “art” and in “girlie” calendars are, for the most part, painted and photographed by men. The gaze—the viewpoint—is male.
My choice was to paint my body frontally and frankly. I focused on the body itself, from my neck to my thighs, choosing not to paint the head. What actually was my body trying to say and how was it saying it? What felt most natural to me was the swagger of putting my hands on my slightly cocked hips. In that case, my head would have been slightly thrown back at an angle. This gesture is implicit in the gesture of the body. I roll up my sweatshirt or T-shirt and unzip and pull down my jeans. There is assurance in my body, in its shape, in its pose, in its allure, in its strength, and it is my own self-confidence I am celebrating. I am not doing this to please or submit to the male gaze.
Christina Schlesinger lives and works in New York City and has been an activist-artist for most of her career. She began in public art creating community murals with street gangs in Los Angeles and co-founded SPARC, the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice, California with muralist Judy Baca. In New York she was active with the Guerrilla Girls as Romaine Brooks, the phenomenal lesbian painter famous for her portraits of the lesbian “demi-monde” in Paris of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Her partner, Nancy Fried, also an artist, and she have been together for over 30 years and their 18-year-old daughter, Chun, is on her way to college in the fall. The “Nude and Dildo” series was part of the exhibition “All True Tomboys,” which was held at the Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City in January 2015.
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Painting reprinted with permission of the artist
Poet Mary Meriam is the founder of Lavender Review, cofounder of Headmistress Press and author of The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet’s Zodiac, Word Hot, Conjuring My Leafy Muse and Girlie Calendar.