Artwork / Swollen / She Can Call Herself a Woman

feminist self-portraits
Gwenn Seemel
Before and After: She Can Call Herself a Woman
2006 and 2007
acrylic on bird’s eye piqué
34 x 96 inches (combined dimensions)

This pair of self-portraits ended up being the crux point for Swollen, but the only reason why I realized that the biggest shift a person can make is not in a physical change but in their concept of themselves is because of this participant from the series. When I asked her what it means to be a woman, she told me that was for each person to define themselves.

Her answer not only changed the direction of this series: it changed my art. Because of her, my goal with my paintings is to cause viewers to question their paradigms. Sure, they might not change their minds about a given topic, but just getting someone else to recognize that their way of thinking is based on a paradigm that may or may not be healthy is the most important work an artist can do.

For example, with my 2008 series I asked people to think again about what they think it means to be a real American by pointing out that most Americans are at least part immigrant, and with my 2012 series I encouraged viewers to reevaluate why they believe certain behaviors and gender expressions to be more natural than others.

What follows is the text originally displayed with Before and after: She can call herself a woman. It describes the earth change that I chose as an analogy for my transition.

Volcanoes erupt, tectonic plates crash into each other, the magnetic north pole drifts, an ice age thaws, comets impact the earth, semi-molten planets collide, and the sun expands. The earth has lived some and changed some, with still more living and changing to come. Yet, as impressive and sometimes catastrophic as these changes seem, none is so entirely earth-shattering as the moment the earth went from being flat to being round. The biggest physical change the earth has ever gone through was not actually physical at all.

painterly portrait
detail image
painterly portrait
detail image