Category Archives: Art history

“Different cultures nurture disparate gender arrangements and identities (Gamble, 2003)(p.43).” “From childhood on, a culture’s members are instructed in what they are expected to do and be (Gamble, 2003)(p.43).”

Temne culture

Temne culture

So far, I’ve discussed the ways in which some foreign societies have rejected the basic gender stereotypes based on their own cultural upbringing. One example of a culture that has similarities with our own country’s gender role expectations would be the Temne culture in West Africa. The photo above features several women from that community who exemplify the ideal woman–which is also replicated with the mask worn by the elder woman in the center of the photo (Moran, 2003). The mask is a dark wood that has a round woman’s face, eyes cast downwards with an elaborate up-do.

Significance of the mask symbolically defines the way the culture’s women should be (Moran, 2008). It has smooth, flawless skin, down cast eyes, and a complicated hairstyle–images which are reflected in the women in the background of the photo. The ideal Temne woman is composed, calm, and quiet; she doesn’t speak often, but when she does, it’s full of wisdom and reflects importance (Moran, 2008). Her neck’s design mirrors a myth that belongs in the culture. The story goes that the perfect woman emerged from the lake, so it has a ripple-type look to it, then the girl blossoms into a beautiful woman–similar to the way a butterfly evolves from a larvae to a butterfly through metamorphosis, it’s symbolic of the woman’s stages of life (Moran, 2008). Similar expectations of beauty are communicated through our society through mass media, parental figures, and peers (Gamble, 2003). The textbook also mentions that different cultures instill different ideals in the members of their society (Gamble, 2003). In US society, similar expectations are demanded of women–we must be thin, beautiful, and perfect. It’s interesting that another culture has similar expectations for their women that replicates our own. Does this mean that it’s part of human genetics to expect women to adhere to these qualities? Who knows.

Lamp, F. (1980). Temne nowo masquerade with attendants. Sierra Leone.

Gamble, T. K., & Gamble, M. W. (2003). The Gender Communication Connection. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Moran, E. (April 2008). Art of africa. Newport News, VA. Classroom lecture.

Moran, E. (April 2008). Email correspondence.

Stokstad, M. (2008). Art history: volume two. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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“As creators, women can be seen as powerful. But also as a threat. Hence early societies dealt with these tensions by incorporating ideas of duality and gender in their myths, stories, art, and architecture (Moran, 2008).”

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

A general stereotype for the progress of gender equalities lies with the belief that cultures around the world have always considered men as significantly more important than women–at least, that’s what I thought. I’m currently enrolled in an art history course here at Christopher Newport University and we’ve since discussed different cultures around the world that have, in fact, always considered women as sacred and appreciated (Moran, 2008). This came as a surprise to me. I  will use the Tamberan House as an example to show how women are perceived in other less “civilized” (meaning that they don’t have modern conveniences that many of us have) countries. The people of the Kinbangwa village of Papua New Guinea (where the photo was taken) definitely have the right idea when it comes to the importance of women in society.

Cultures like these typically thought of women as powerful creators because of their ability to reproduce (Moran, 2008). They cherished the idea of creation, and not just human creation, but other natural creations that include animals and plants (Moran, 2008). The Tamberan House above was reserved for men’s use only, but the shape and significance of the structure is supposed to replicate a woman’s womb–everytime the men exit the structure, they are “cleansed” spiritually, just as babies are born fresh into the world (Moran, 2008). Men also considered the power of women to procreate as a threat, too (Moran, 2008). Therefore, their myths and stories often include messages of “duality and gender” (Moran, 2008). Here, this culture has incorporated the duality and gendered theme into the structure by adding a symbolic representation of a penis at the top of the structure (Moran, 2008). Here, women may be separated in the sense that they are limited from certain rituals, but they are certainly not necessarily second class citizens, like many other cultures (including ours) have historically indicated (Gamble, 2003).

Exterior of Tamberan House. (20th century). Kinbangwa village, New Guinea. Carved and painted wood, with ocher pigments on clay ground.

Gamble, T. K., & Gamble, M. W. (2003). The Gender Communication Connection. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Moran, E. (April 2008). Art of pacific cultures. Newport News, VA. Classroom lecture.

Moran, E. (April 2008). Email correspondence.

Stokstad, M. (2008). Art history: volume two. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

“We explore some of the historical and cultural movements that have shaped our present (Gamble, 2003).”

Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes--Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi was a female artist who followed the works of Caravaggio (The Calling of Saint Matthew and Bacchus)(Stokstad, 2008). This particular piece was painted in 1625 by Gentileschi and features two women in the candlelight listening for something (Stokstad, 2008). Judith, the woman in yellow, holds a sword in her right hand while her maidservant (in purple) stuffs a man’s head into a bad at her feet. The man’s head belongs to Assyrian ruler Holofernes (Stockstad, 2008), who was known for his tyrannical ways. Judith’s story is equivalent to the story of David: it’s basically about the underdog who overcomes her suppressor (Moran, 2008).

I choose this piece because Gentileschi was a woman artist in the 17th century who frequently depicted women in her pieces that somehow held a certain power over men–an early feminist, if you will. Gentileschi portrayed her women this way because she had been raped and had taken her attacker to court, where the judge promtly decided that she was the guilty party and not the man who had attacked her (Moran, 2008). Gentileschi didn’t necessarily have the power to change the way people viewed women during her time through protests and such–like the US feminists of the 19th century did–but she could depict women in a stronger position through her artwork. By viewing some of her artwork, it’s safe to say that Gentileschi was a historical artist who took some steps to advertise the suppression of women by glorifying them as stronger than their male counter parts.

Gamble, T. K., & Gamble, M. W. (2003). The Gender Communication Connection. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Gentileschi, A. (1625). Judith and maidservant with the head of holofernes. Oil on canvas: Detroit Institute of Arts.

Moran, E. (March 2008). Baroque art. Newport News, VA. Classroom lecture.

Stokstad, M. (2008). Art history: volume two. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.