Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of prostitution

While on display at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects little over a week ago, Malerie Marder’s thirty portraits hung unframed, pinned simply to the wall. Part of the artist’s first solo show, each photograph in Anatomy depicts one of the Netherlands’s diverse group of legal sex workers. The work is also available in book form

 

 

In previous projects, Marder has introduced viewers to her own nude form as well as those of her family and friends. With Anatomy, the line between artist and subject seems to be more clearly marked than is the case with her self-portraiture, and viewers enter a disturbing voyeuristic space. Marder has drawn understandable criticism for her privileged viewpoint, and she admits that “[her subjects] intrinsically have a different relationship to their bodies” than she and other viewers might.

 

 

But her images are not documentary; in other words, they aim not to catalogue or cast judgement upon women whose experiences differ from her own. Instead, her images operate as a sort of elusive and unnerving examination of a more universal anatomy, both physical and emotional (the title Anatomy plays off of Robert Burton’s book on depression, titled The Anatomy of Melancholy). Through the use of reflection, both with literal mirrors and women’s bodies mirroring one another, viewers begin to feel as if they are simultaneously watching and being watched. Marder’s use of veils and curtains heighten this drama, as does her self-conscious referencing of art historical paintings by male artists like Courbet and Magritte.

The tension between nude bodies and impenetrable expressions reveal what the artist might call “the result of a liberal society where free will is a question mark.” The photographs are so deeply unsettling because of Marder’s refusal to make judgements, leaving viewers desperately questioning our relationship to the images, each burned into our minds long after we leave. What do you think of Marder’s series? Do the images veer into an exploitative territory, or do they offer us something more valuable and complex? Sound off in your comments.

Thanks to Beautiful/Decay, The New York Times, Time Out New York, and Rephotographica

Images via Beautiful/Decay

All images copyright Malerie Marder

Tagged in: women, sexual exploitation, sex workers, prostitution, portraiture, Photography, malerie marder, lesle tonkonow artworks and projects, anatomy   

The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.




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