I Am Not An Object, 2022
I Am Not An Object series, 2022
Brass, copper, Sterling silver, vitreous enamel
Locket: 120 x 65 x 10 mm, Chain: L 300 mm
Presented as Final Work in Bachelor of Fine Art, Nov 2022
I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.
My series of lockets titled I Am Not an Object is a statement on the continuing sexual objectification of those who identify as female by heterosexual men in contemporary Australian society. Significantly, research published as recently as March 2022 indicates that Australia is one of the most sexist cultures in the Western world.
Each cat call, wolf whistle, sexual innuendo, and ogling male gaze sexualises and diminishes the female body. And, as filmmaker Laura Mulvey who first coined the term ‘male gaze’ points out, positions women as objects for the pleasure of men in an enduring patriarchal society.
The negative impact on women’s well-being, and the well-being of those who witness sexual objectification, is well documented. Treating women as objects valued only for their physical appearance and sexuality is degrading, destructive and demoralising.
In addressing this situation, my lockets are part of a narrative tradition that gives voice to a story that is relatable to a large section of the population. Contemporary art jeweller and academic Jack Cunningham defines narrative jewellery as “a wearable object that contains a commentary or message, which the maker by means of visual representation, has the overt intention to communicate to an audience through the intervention of the wearer.”
Accordingly, my lockets are activated through their wearing in a public forum where they can reach a wide audience and start conversations about sexual objectification to bring attention to this destructive behaviour and dissipate some of its negative impact on women.
To understand the narrative in its entirety, you need to look closely at my work.
- The saw-pierced locket doors represent distinct locations where sexual objectification occurs. For example, on the bus, walking home from school, or at the beach.
- The front of each locket is etched with the intimate words of an Australian woman who has experienced or witnessed sexual objectification. For example, as one Australian woman in her 30s recounted, when I was 8-years-old I was looking for a birthday card for my mum alone. Two men in their 60s saw me, and one leaned into my ear and softly wolf-whistled. I was embarrassed, and I was scared.
- The miniature enamel painting in the locket's interior depicts an everyday activity many women engage in and where sexual objectification often occurs. For example, shopping, working or working out. I intentionally chose to reveal only the backs of women in each painting to avoid the innate urge to assess the aesthetic value of the women and inadvertently engage in a type of objectification.
- The three-dimensional cast charms represent Australian native flowers with symbolic meaning, as does the etched reverse of the locket, providing talismanic fortification to the wearer. As curator Rock Hushka suggests, jewellery has the power to help the wearer to “navigate the complexities of the world” and empower the wearer to face the obstacles of everyday life.
- The aged patina of the locket signifies an enduring patriarchal society and women’s struggle over many generations for equality and to be valued as more than objects.
- The wearer reclaims the female agency that art critic John Berger first identified in his seminal work Ways of Seeing as denied women in their depiction as objects for the viewing pleasure of the male spectator. In effect, the wearer is able to close the locket doors and take control of the male gaze.
- The gallery installation of my works against mirrors has the dual intention of revealing a 360-degree view of each locket and functions as an instrument of self-knowledge so that the viewer is faced with their reflection and questions about their culpability in sexual objectification.
Each component builds the narrative and tells the story of women’s daily struggle to just engage in everyday activities without the damaging, ubiquitous and objectifying male gaze.
Making my lockets has involved multiple techniques, including saw piercing, electro-etching, lost wax casting and vitreous enamel painting. I was inspired in my work by many artists and jewellers, both historical and contemporary.
Historically, the 16th-century miniature Italian portrait painter Rosalba Carriera has influenced technique and form. Given that many miniature painters were women, this project is also a small testament to the art form of these often-overlooked female artists.
Contemporary artists that have informed my work include American narrative jeweller Melaine Bilenker who creates artworks intended to be worn on the human body and move through space and time, telling a story. And American artist Jessica Calderwood who works across sculpture and wearable art objects exploring women’s role in society. Calderwood, like my work, uses enamel and metal, to bring her artistic visions to life.
Contemporary Spanish artist Mer Almargo has been a comforting presence on my journey to learn vitreous enamel painting, by far the most difficult technique I undertook to learn in this project. I have spent many hours watching Mer create remarkable artworks using enameling techniques and then experimenting and practicing to gain some of these skills to complete my project.
Overall, my project was much more difficult than I initially imagined. Not only was I regularly challenged on a technical level, but conceptually I have undertaken a journey of genuine discovery and have come to understand the power of art, particularly jewellery, for effecting change in the world.
My goal with my I Am Not an Object series of lockets was to:
- Highlight the enduring nature of sexual objectification in contemporary Australian society.
- Empower the wearer to start conversations about sexual objectification.
- Change attitudes about sexual objectification and, in doing so, reduce its occurrence.
I genuinely feel I have created a powerful series of wearable artworks with the potential to meet these objectives, especially when worn in public.
I am proud of what I have achieved and how I have grown as an artist and person while undertaking this project. I am ready to tackle the rest of my life as a creative and continue to tell narratives through art.