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Essay: Re-(art)iculating the (His)tories of the South Seas Oeuvre

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Introduction and background information

This master’s research proposal interrogates the visual representations of the indigenous women in the Nanyang, or South Seas, oeuvre by male émigré artists based in Malaya in the 20th century. I consider the relationship between these artists and their artworks with the larger Southeast Asian cultural constructs of gender and sexuality that were borne out of the male colonial gaze. Hence, I re-assess Singapore’s art historical narratives through the lens of gender and post-colonial studies. I conceive my research to answer these questions, what was Nanyang art in the time of its historical emergence? How was it thought about, constructed, reviewed? Under what conditions was it produced, exhibited, and collected?

The search for the answer entails a careful historical account of Nanyang art and its relations with male colonial culture and its resultant gaze, one that takes into account the politics of representation that drives gender and post-colonial studies. I retain a sense of connection to the problematics of modernism, in particular, its histories which modernist art historians and historiographers have neglected. Therefore, what does it mean to attach these émigré artists to the French/British Orientalist tradition, to see their varying artistic styles like Impressionism, Cubism et cetera as being secondary matter? Critics have argued that the innovations of these styles were enabled by prior experiences of travellers to the East. How would it skew the images of these artists to view them as part of the caravan of colonial art tourists, whose works were made possible by the Dutch annexation of Bali? What is required then is to re-contextualise Nanyang art from the periphery, and from the perspective of the fin de siècle art movements emerging out of the Europe’s Belle Époque.

To most, the body of works in the Nanyang oeuvre by pioneer artists like Liu Kang, Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee and Chen Wen Hsi are regarded to be innovative and avant-garde with their Symbolist search for what is quintessentially Nanyang. Sabapathy explicates:

“…that Nanyang artists adopted an experimental approach, using styles and techniques derived from two sources: Chinese pictorial traditions, and the School of Paris… The diverse styles and techniques collectively known as the School of Paris, manifest the new — modern — status of the artist, and a fresh approach towards art activity. The artist assumes a heroic stature, heightened by a sense of individuality and self-determination, and desires freedom from institutional constraints. Art activity is viewed as a ceaseless ‘search for the new’, uninhibited by aesthetic dogmas, the demands of patronage, and the weight of tradition; in this search the artist ranges freely over the entire history of all art, including that from non-European cultures. Furthermore, the School of Paris was not the creation of Parisians alone; artists from other countries and centres contributed significantly towards its formation.”

In 1952, the four artists sojourned to Bali. A visiting Belgian artist Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Mepres had introduced the idiom of Post-Impressionism to the pioneering generation of Singapore artists while he exhibited in Singapore at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1933, 1937 and 1941. More importantly, he instilled the idea for the ‘search of paradise’ typified by the colonial artists from the past, for the search of visual expression and perception of Bali as an artistic haven. Like Gauguin, Le Mayeur went in search for the South Seas but found his paradise in Bali. This historic Bali trip occupies a canonical position in local art history for having played an influential role in the development of the Nanyang oeuvre. Articulated and propagated by Lim Hak Tai, thematic features in oeuvre are “the reality of the Southern Seas… [and] the localness of the place” were further developed when the male pioneer artists journeyed to Bali. There, “the one context in Southeast Asia in which art and life appeared to be inextricably meshed… promised the availability of pictorial motifs and subject matter” .

While the works borne out of their Bali trip covers a wide range of pictorial subject matter, the figure-types of Balinese women make a substantial proportion of the works they produced as they undertook the study of the female body there. In 1969, Chen Chong Swee recollects on Le Mayeur’s exhibion in the 1930s through his writings:

“This Belgian artist originally wanted to go to Tahiti as he had a yearning for the type of life led by the Postimpressionist artist Gauguin. On his way there he passed through Bali and found that there was no place on earth like Bali -— its dancing and singing so soul-stirring and its women so vigorous and graceful…. It was around the summer of 1938 that he held a second art exhibition in Singapore…. I remember seeing many of his large landscape paintings done during his travels in India. His works were executed with free-flowing and bold, strong strokes, in bright and gay colours. Figures dominated his Bali paintings. His works, be they sketches done in light colours or bright-coloured oil paints, showed that they were inspired by the brilliant and clear tropical sunlight. His brightly-clad, energetic and graceful dancers, dancing to the beat of the drums and bells, or his women, kneeling beside the loom weaving sarong cloth, fully demonstrated the tranquil and fine life of the Balinese. Le Mayeur’s painting partner (who later became his wife), attired in traditional Balinese costumes, was on hand to receive guests. She offered herself bare-breasted for photographs. This created quite a stir in Singapore.”

This produced an iconography distinct to the oeuvre that would serve as inspiration for the latter generations of Nanyang artists, especially in relation to their depiction of the human figure through of identifiable figure-types, which varied across each artists’ stylisation of the figure. Their pronounced fascination with Bali and the figuration of Balinese women as their pictorial subject matter, and in the manner these women are portrayed against the tropical landscape, calls into question the artist’s gaze behind these works. In the catalogue for the 1953 exhibition titled Four Artists to Bali that presented the paintings produced from the Bali trip, Liu Kang declared, “Working in Bali is as good as working in Rome or Paris” and added that “whoever hasn’t been to Bali can’t say that he has been to Southeast Asia… It is the Last Paradise” . Surprisingly, the available research and writings on these Bali paintings either glosses or ignore this questionable male gaze. In a sense, Bali was reinvigorating as it spurred on their consequent production of female representations of Malayan women after painting semi-nudes of Balinese women. Instead, local scholarship has romanticised the artists, their artworks and attitudes towards their subjects. In light of the significance of these artworks within local art historiography, such representations of the brown female body and the male gaze behind these art warrants a closer examination.

To others like me, the compositions of young, lithe, brown-skinned, indigenous girls and women, and sometimes painted semi-nude, begs the question: Are these male Nanyang artists any different from the likes of Paul Gauguin and his “primitivist gaze” ? Sabapathy himself drew parallels between the Nanyang artists sojourn to Bali to Gauguin’s Tahiti where “Gauguin’s figurative compositions provided for these artists a schema which was congenial to their own aspirations in the creation of figure-types.” Regarded as being one of Modernism’s greatest artists, this bohemian renegade had broken free from the shackles of the European bourgeois society and went on a soul-searching journey for creative liberation in the Pacific. He successfully did so, and achieved immense success and fame as a Post-Impressionist giant (although mostly posthumously), through his compositions of nude, brown-skinned Tahitian girls in his self-constructed imagination of primitive Edenic utopia. Like “a ‘poacher;’ (Pissarro) like other French colonists, he wished to ‘replenish himself’ – his masculinity, his imagination and his purse – at the expense of the Tahitians” .

In the 19th century, French colonial propaganda presented the Pacific Islands, or the South Seas, through the romantic visions of an exotic paradise in a bid to encourage French citizens to immigrate to the colonies. One of the ways that the French Republic did so was through the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, which intended to showcase the progress of the Republic and glory its colonial empire — major ‘exotic’ attractions included a “negro village”, Javanese performers and even a Mexican pavilion that featured a model of an Aztec temple. Elizabeth Childs explains that the exhibitions at the fair were set up for visitors to go from “one ‘colony’ to another, from one exotic spectacle of sight, sound, and smell to another [and] assured visitors of the Other’s distinctive difference and also extended the promise of seamless entry into the Other’s world” . Accordingly, Gauguin was compelled set sail for Tahiti after attending this exhibition where he had fallen in love with exotic culture.

In the Exposition Universelle, colonised people and their cultures were represented as a spectacle of the uncivilised for the civilised world. Amongst the archival materials of the exhibition is a photograph of a troop of ornamented Javanese women, who danced for those who watched them. Therefore, these representations of women from colonised places as the exotic Other only served to objectify these women for the consumption by the European (male) gaze. Such representations upheld and further fuelled the stereotypes of literature that drove the colonial forces. More than a century later, scholars and critics have acknowledged Gauguin’s controversial paintings and its ugly reality. Re-articulated, Gauguin is re-casted as a fraudulent cad whose canvases laid bare his sexual and racial fantasies that were savagely forged from the Western position of patriarchal, colonialist power. Not only did he satisfy his erotic and exotic fantasies with his pubescent lovers, he consciously profited on the myth of the noble savage to create a demand and market for his paintings back in Europe. As he penned to his friend Vincent van Gogh in 1890, “At the atelier of the Tropics, I will perhaps become the Saint John the Baptist of the painting of the future, invigorated there by a more natural, more primitive, and above all, less spoiled life”.

Statement of the problem and justification

This master’s thesis proposal attempts to trace and analyse the lineage of which selected 20th century Malayan émigré artists with regards to their Orientalist depiction and treatment of the female, indigenous form and the landscape of South-east Asia. I challenge the dominant narrative that celebrate these artists’ representation of the subject matter of the brown female body within the landscape of the Nanyang. This thesis will examine the social and historical conditions that the discourses of art that in turn, shaped their aesthetic ideologies and artistic practices. The following factors would have impacted the reception of their artwork — how they would be received and mediated — by the public art market, private patrons, and art institutions. Hence, how is the production of meaning and/or value that are tied to artworks in the pictorial realm connected to and affected by society’s production of power and subordination that contain legacies from imperialism and colonialism?

I will focus on re-reading the works by male artists within the Nanyang oeuvre. By examining the representation(s) of indigenous females, femininity, race, class, and religion, I question the politics of South-east Asian art history and how it is bound to the Western tradition and tastes. Despite the geographical distance between the South-east Asia and the West, the latter’s inextricability has impacted the visual, which is intertwined with the political. The reigning power positions control the very structure of visuality and its subsequent production of representations. Both are impacted by economic and social systems as well. Therefore, it is precisely this politics of vision that has determined not only how art history is represented but also who, what and how such a vision establishes meaning(s) as visuality and representation are invariably related to political, economic and social structures. Much of the work created, whether deliberate or not, appealed to a white European/Western audience as these particular group of people had economic control of the market which dictated certain aesthetic tastes.

During the 19th century, these certain aesthetic tastes were bound to the flourishing of the European art movement, Orientalism. Highly fashionable, these Orientalist paintings usually depicted richly colourful, sensual and exotic domains beyond Europe. The artistic interpretations included the simplified and demeaning depictions of the cultures of the ‘Near East’ — North Africa, Turkey and the Middle East. Such portrayals have had lasting influence and impact in the creation of a binary between the East and West as it incorporated detrimental views of the people and culture of the non-European. As such, Europe claimed social, intellectual and political superiority. These binaries undergirded colonialism and imperialism, functioning as visual propaganda and justification for the perceived right to conquer and rule of Europeans. Framed through the male colonial gaze, complex cultures were often reduced to primitive and exotic stereotypes.

The depiction of the female non-European by (male) European artists had its own particular currency. The vast majority of producers and consumers of art in European societies were men and therefore, men had full control over the representation and propagation of the image of the female and the ideals of femininity. The female non-European, was often than not, cast in an exotic and erotic manner, shaped around a patriarchal colonial agenda. Designed to provide titillation for the male colonial gaze, the perversion of the image of the harem became a conduit for the male European sexual fantasy. Within harem paintings, images of naked women served as passive exotic objects of consumption for the male voyeur. Associations of debauchery, lesbianism and sexual availability were rampant in these particular Orientalist paintings, fulfilling the desires for domination and control of the male coloniser through these projections of the Orientalist fantasy.

Within the oeuvre, the expression of the female subject varies from artist to artist, with some being comparable to the traditional erotic and exotic 19th century Orientalist paintings of women. However, to level the claim that the paintings in the South Seas oeuvre are blatant copies or completely inspired by the likes of Paul Gauguin, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Mepres or Pablo Picasso is an absolute generalisation. Therefore, I suggest that it is necessary to investigate the differences in motivations and meanings that are produced through these artworks. This is done in relation to the particular functions of these female representations which manipulate both Orientalism and Primitivism in a specific historical context for the artist’s benefit. Taking us back to the male colonial gaze adopted by these Nanyang artists, perhaps the more pointed charge against their treatment of the subject matter is not that it is merely scandalous, but that it is, at its very core, a reproduction of the already long-existed tropes of the female Other.

Scope of Research

Here, I define the ‘South Seas’ to be the geographical area located around the Straits of Singapore and Malaysia, or Malaya, or what has been established as the Nanyang. Gauguin’s ‘South Seas’ refers to the Pacific Islands but the premise remains the same. The Pacific Islands and Pacific Islanders had been aesthecised by employing romanticised, classical references and comparisons to an earthly Garden of Eden filled with exotic willing women. Bali, in particular, has been constructed as the quintessential site of Orientalism in South-east Asia, famed amongst both European and Asian male artists.

Therefore, my proposed research is the investigation of the oeuvre within the canon of art historical scholarship and whether or not the racial, sexual, and class antagonisms of the 19th century French and/or British Orientalist concepts has filtered into the 20th century’s emerging practices of local male artists in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Some of my selected artists from Malaya are émigrés like Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen His, Cheong Soo Pieng, and Lee Man Fong. Their works will be contrasted against the works, which vastly differ in their treatment of pictorial subjects, by Indonesian artists like Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan, and Affandi. Not only did these antagonisms defined and categorised humanity, but they had also influenced prevailing attitudes towards erotic and exotic imagery. I attempt to address the problem of the ideological content of such images of women which rely upon the assumed metaphysical fascination with the exotic Other.

I question as to how and why these male artists chose the female form set against the tropics, where the female form as a relatively traditional cult object, and transformed it into modern art’s cult object. By the 19th century, the male nude would be relegated to the background as the female nude emerged into the foreground. Becoming an object of delectation not merely due to the allure and fetishisation of the female body, but also due to the constellation of political, economic and social structures coming into being. This resulted in the consumerist impetus that pushed for the demand and emphasized female nudity as part of the Western artistic tradition at that point of time. Within art and art history, women were treated as passive objects of male desire, artistic mastery and for commodification. While fascination with the search of a new visual currency is no doubt a factor for these artists, the impulses which drove their ideology has to be scrutinised in terms of formal and aesthetic traditions while relating it to the real political, social and economic issues of that particular time period.

Implications/Benefits of the research

In recent decades, studies focused on gender in Southeast Asian societies have concurrently emerged with the development of Southeast Asian art histories that is more regionally focused. Thus, I situate my proposed research topic within the discursive intersection between these two fields. To do so, I utilise an inter-disciplinary approach spanning across a range of disciplines like art history, visual studies, gender studies, history and post-colonial studies and a transnational framework to establish linkages between the practice of these émigré artists to their European predecessors who were the forerunners in their utilisation of a male colonial gaze.

The absence of critical discourse surrounding the Nanyang oeuvre encourages my approach to address the differences in meanings with regards to paintings of the South Seas oeuvre. Like Donald Rosenthal, the failure of modern and contemporary scholarship to address the differences in meaning of the paintings in historical and critical terms exposes the lack of understanding of Orientalism and Primitivism’s relevance and complexity in today’s world. I situate my research within the intellectual climate of post-colonial studies, in particular the works of the profound critics of colonialism: Franz Fanon, Edward Said and Homi Bhabha. While we are in the post-colonial era which refers to the temporal reference to the period of ‘after-colonialism, former colonies are still grappling with the resonant ambiguities and complexities of the social and material effects of colonialism. As Al-Atas asserts, “…we cannot yet speak of alternative discourses if the mainstream is not engaged, critiqued and subverted or an alternative set of conceptualisations and theories presented.”

Refusing to recognise the highly political and seriously negative use of these two concepts is akin to dismissing the complex problem of their colonial connections and denial of history itself. Thus, neutralising the political implications of such Orientalist paintings and excusing these artists’ problematic attitudes. Therefore, I wish to avoid this particular genre of romanticised scholarship that subscribes to the notion of ‘art for art’s sake’ (l’art pour l’art). Such scholarship is representative of the traditional and uncritical art historical method whereby formal and aesthetic concerns are segregated from the complex historical context and legacies in which shape the productions of such erotic and exotic imagery. Hence, this has resulted in a limited viewpoint which does not attempt to understand or question the impact of ideology upon these artists’ fascination with conscious or unconscious production of such representations. Therefore, I intend to evaluate their choices of pictorial subjects and their works through alternative methodologies and examining more in depth this neglected field of feminist art historiographical approach.

Proposed Methodology

While I will focus on the visual images of the Nanyang made by these selected artists, my concern the representation of bodies and nature. Hence, in concentrating on the visual images of the exoticised and eroticised female Other(s) in a tropical paradise, I draw upon a selected array of primary sources like exhibited paintings by artists and images by photographers of the Indies and Malaya. My work aims to contribute to the existing scholarships that analyse colonial representations of landscape and people as historical aspects of visual culture, specifically on the ideals and fantasies that informed the artist’s notions. Viewing the images of landscapes and people against historical context in which they were produced will be the main approach taken to my visual sources. Thus, I will be drawing upon theoretical and methodological paradigms from the multi-disciplinary field of visual culture studies.

With “pictorial turn” , scholars have their attention to world of images. However, historians and art historians privilege different approaches. While historians acknowledge that images do matter, they often “continue to treat visual material as illustrative, rather than constitutive, of the agendas and problems they explore” . Thus, privileging only written texts alone as ‘evidence’ of cultural discourses and colonial mentalities. This has been reinforced by the theoretical dominance of the “linguistic turn” . The debate on the utility and value of visual studies for history hence continues. Do images alone suffice to serve as primary sources, or are textual sources still required to support interpretive analyses?

On the other hand, art historians have long privileged visual sources to contain traces of the past and therefore, are as complex as textual sources of literature, documentary archives and news media. Hence, I will employ both approaches to yield new insights into the representations of the landscape and people of the South Seas. By examining both visual and textual primary sources together, I hope to contend that colonial images of the tropics, while having dazzled the eye, are veiling controversies of certain representations of the landscape and its peoples.

In Gillian Rose’s An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials (2001), Rose begins by positing that the “interpretation of visual images must address questions of cultural meaning and power” . A “critical visual methodology…. [is] an approach that thinks about the visual in terms of the cultural significance, social practices and power relations in which it is embedded; and that means thinking about the power relations that produce, are articulated through, and can be challenged by, ways of seeing and imaging” . Thus, I forward my argument through theoretical interpretation and seek to establish linkages across different contexts and time periods through broad contextual analysis to arrive at my conclusion where I argue that these paintings have developed not only a sense of nostalgia which is one of the vehicles in idealizing the tropics, but more pertinently, casting its peoples as ‘Others’.

Literature Review

In 1971, Linda Nochlin published a ground-breaking essay entitled, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”. This was a turning point in art history which brought forth a radical feminist re-conceptualisation of the discipline where she argued against the meta-historical premise of ‘greatness’ and so-called ‘natural’ assumptions. Instead, she proposed an alternative way of viewing art — through its social coordinates. Nochlin challenged the semi-religious conception of the role of the male artist and male scholar in history in the constitution of the subject of art history. This was imperative as to “encourage a dispassionate, impersonal, sociological and institutionally-oriented approach [which] would reveal the entire romantic, elitist, individual-glorifying and monograph-producing substructure upon which the profession of art history is based, and which has only recently been called into question by a group of younger dissidents.”

She would go on to produce The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society (1989) by which Nochlin involves herself in a “revisionist project” whereby feminism would be conceived as both theory and politics. Within this collection, “The Imaginary Orient” begins by referencing the 1982 exhibition and catalogue, Orientalism: The Near East in French Painting, 1800-1880. Within the catalogue’s introduction, the crucial issue of Orientalist painting’s problematic associations with political domination and colonist ideology is raised by the organiser of the exhibition, Donald Rosenthal. Rosenthal maintains that “the flowering of Orientalist painting… was closely associated with the apogee of European colonist expansion in the nineteenth century” despite his acknowledgement of the critical definition of Orientalism by Edward Said: “…as a mode for defining the presumed cultural inferiority of the Islamic Orient… part of the vast control mechanism of colonialism, designed to justify and perpetuate European dominance”.

Said’s seminal Orientalism (1978) criticised the western Orientalist discourse; characterising it as tool to achieve western imperial hegemony. Establishing a clear link to Antonio Gramsci’s notion of “hegemony”, Said also draws upon Michel Foucault’s concept of power-knowledge relations. Thus, he argues that imperial governance is intertwined with western disciplines of knowledge — exposing the complicity of western knowledge with western power. Said’s argument hails back to Friedrich Nietzsche’s the will to power, dispelling the objectivity of knowledge and posited that knowledge would always serve some form of interest or unconscious purpose. Fundamentally, through what Said forwards as Orientalism’s “ontological and epistemological distinction”— devising of a theory and practice which divided the world into two ‘equal’ halves. Interiorising the notion of western superiority and of eastern inferiority, these supposed essential differences eventually calcified in to compulsions for westerners undertake the “white man’s burden” of civilising subject races and save native women from their savage male counterparts.

Immediately rejecting to forward a Saidian analysis of the exhibition in his own study, he asserts, “French Orientalist painting will be discussed in terms of its aesthetic quality and historical interest, and no attempt will be made at a re-evaluation of its political uses”. These Nanyang artists were treated similarly in Singaporean art historical scholarship. However, Alison Carroll’s Gauguin and the Idea of an Asian Paradise (2011) provides a clear framing on how problematic the Nanyang oeuvre is, by linking these endeavours of these Asian artists to Gauguin’s legacy. As McClintock’s Porno-Tropics encapsulates the European fascination with unknown peoples and cultures, “For centuries, the uncertain continents – Africa, the Americas, Asia – were figured in European lore as libidinously eroticized. Travellers’ tales abounded with visions of the monstrous sexuality of far-off lands, where, as legend had it, men sported gigantic penises and women consorted with apes… Renaissance travellers found an eager and lascivious audience for their spicy tales, so that, long before the era of high Victorian imperialism, Africa and the Americas had become what can be called a porno-tropics for the European imagination – a fantastic magic lantern of the mind onto which Europe projected its forbidden sexual desires and fears.”

This is additionally supported by David Arnold’s concept of “tropicality” which presents that Europeans viewed the tropics like the notions of the Orient where it “represented an enduring alterity, but one which qualifies and extends the Orientalist paradigm, not least by demonstrating that historically Europe possessed more than one sense of ‘otherness’”. Therefore, the notion of the tropics should not be eclipsed by universalist scholarly notions of ‘cultural imperialism’ or ‘orientalism’ where their historical and cultural specifities are ignored. This would be followed by Nochlin’s Representing Women (1999). Here, feminism is conceived as an aesthetic and political commitment — emphasising the diversity and plurality of methods, perspectives, and opinions. Collectively, her works ultimately work towards dismantling the phallicity of the master narrative.

Taken together with John Berger insight in Ways of Seeing (1972), his analysis of the important category of European oil painting, the female nude, emphasises that the ‘spectator owner’ was typically and ideally male, while the “object of vision: a sight” — the owned — was female. Therefore, one needs to be constantly mindful of the ideologies that underscore visual cultures as “…women are depicted in a quite different way from men — not because the feminine is different from the masculine — but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him” . Within art history, he highlighted how it was a product of the naturalisation of the Western canon and ends with the declaration that the same objectifying qualities and assumed male perspective exhibited by traditional paintings of the female nude continue to manifest themselves in new ways through “advertising, journalism, and television.”

Picking up where Berger left off, Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) presents a second-wave feminist concept of the “male gaze” as derived from Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytical term of the “gaze” :

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness…”

Mulvey’s concept of the “male gaze” became a cultural lexicon as her observation transcended movies as in all forms of media, the male experience is held up as the norm — it is the men who have agency, women are merely the objects of consumption. The domination of the male gaze on the art world was blatantly exposed by the Guerilla Girls, an anonymous all-female collective. In their 1989 pop-art inspired poster Do Women Have To Be Naked to Get Into the Met Museum, it revealed that “less than 5% of artists in the Modern Art section (of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York) are women, but 85% of the nudes are female” .

The disparity between who is object and who is the subject matters as at its core, the male gaze is primarily about power. In the arts, where the currency is selling a narrative or having a discernible voice, it boils down to who gets to tell the narrative and in what way, and who must remain a silent character in the narrative told about them. Therefore, the “male gaze” refers to the representation of women by the male subject whereby the female body is traditionally submissive, objectified and eroticised. Retrospectively, Mulvey’s “male gaze” can be used as a framework to interpret many revered works in the history of art, such as Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538), Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Grande Odalisque (1814), Paul Gauguin’s images of Tahitian women and the works in the Nanyang oeuvre.

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