Is This A Dagger?
Oil, acrylic and mixed media paintings on canvas.
“Is This A Dagger” references Macbeth’s famous soliloquy “Is this a dagger I see before me?... Come let me clutch thee; I have thee not and yet I see thee still…”. Macbeth, about to stab and murder his way to power, finds himself haunted by the very means he must use to acquire it.
Similarly, these Pageant contestants and their means to attain power, haunt me. I am as ambivalent as Macbeth about what I should and should not do, about what means I can comfortably embrace to gain power as a women in America. Because in my experience, the qualities most readily encouraged and applauded, even crowned in the paintings here, are all beauty-centric. Unlike Macbeth who, though arguably evil, takes his power outright and actively, women’s power is more often gained insidiously, granted through the gaze of another: it is a power of inducement and seduction. Equally hard work, and equally hard on the soul if that is all we glorify and reward in ourselves.
I am both drawn to and repulsed by the idea of these Beauty competitions. The pageants offer empowerment, but simultaneously, explotation. And I by painting them, perhaps, can be accused of the same. As a member of American society I can’t help wanting, on some level, to be like these women. They’re the ideal. But simultaneously, I strive to not want to want to be like these women. To find my self-esteem elsewere. But self-esteem is not the same as societal approbation.
I am fascinated by the deep investment these women have in these contests. It is hard work, but unfortunately, can appear shallow. Their utter joy at winning is so exultant, that at times, it appears falsely theatrical, if not lunatic. Can they be that happy? Or is it just another role they’re expected to play? Their archetypal poses, the Seductress, the Sassy One, the Silly One, are all recognizable roles that women have sometimes assumed and used to manipulate and coerce. These tropes wield power, but simultaneously feel limiting and impose a dimishment.
These works are based on photographs. Using color and compostion, I reinvent them to convey my emotional reaction to each woman pictured, often with an eye to historical art moments as metaphors. The brushwork further emphasizes the overwrought and broken nature of this societal value system. Together, they reflect a system that seems right, but simultaneously, some of the underpinnings show, it’s a little fake, a little bright and over-enthusiastic, and in some ways, perhaps, a little disturbing. But still all the same, it strives to be beautiful.
Carter Burden Gallery