In Corridor 2122 exhibition, two Fresno State graduate students hope to change the ‘man’s world’ narrative of viewing women as objects
Editor’s note: This story includes images of nudity. If that bothers you, chances are you don’t want to read about this exhibition.
By Sarah Delgado
When nude women are portrayed in art, they often share one thing in common. They are often well-endowed or have perky breasts.
One common figure, Venus or Aphrodite, a Roman and Greek goddess, is portrayed as having voluptuous breasts as painted by Renaissance-era artists Botticcelli, Titian, and Giorgione. During the Renaissance period, both men and women were depicted in the nude in religious and mythological contexts to represent the purest form of mankind. Much like how social media contributes to setting a beauty standard, artists used their paintbrushes to showcase a beauty standard for the sexes. Yet, in many paintings of nude women, they are the subject that face the most scrutiny and controversy.
To examine that issue, Katrina Elaine Sanchez Carlock and Julie Araujo, two Fresno State graduate students, present the exhibition “Beneath The Surface” at Corridor 2122. It continues through Aug. 3. The exhibition opened on July 6 with a turnout of nearly 100 attendees. Araujo presents a series of artworks dedicated to exposing natural female bodies in the most vulnerable light and also appreciating the different forms of each individual body. Carlock offers a series of phallic sculptures through the female gaze, each one taking an almost fantastical form.
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Upon entering the exhibition, I was greeted with a series of images of various breasts. Araujo created the collection to celebrate female reproductive parts in their truest form, but to also have attendees relate and find similarities with their own bodies. The series of 50 oil paintings are handled with sensitivity in regards to keeping the subject’s identity anonymous.
All artworks are based on real women who submitted photos of themselves. Araujo detailed the lengths to which she had to go to find people willing to be comfortable in sharing photos of their breasts.
“I set a goal of 50 [artworks] and as my work accumulated and women started being able to see the work together, I think they were able to see my vision more concretely, and so more women just submitted on that. Today, I have 54 of these and I have 16 more to go because I want to honor everybody who sends a photo,” Araujo said.
The subject of nude bodies has always raised discussion. With breasts often being objectified from as early as when a female hits puberty, Araujo hopes that the community can view the female body for what it is rather than what it looks like: just a body.
“It’s an important conversation to have because everybody has a body underneath their clothes, and when you choose not to talk about something, feelings of shame can come with hiding things and choosing to keep these things private,” Araujo said.
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At Corridor 2122, Carlock’s collection of phallic sculptures, which she has worked on since 2016, are situated in the center, as if demanding to be addressed. The sculptures contrast Araujo’s work, signifying almost a pleasurable experience. Marking the first exhibition for Carlock, she observes the male reproductive organ through a series of fantastical gazes. “Rocket-Man,” for example, imagines the male organ as a literal approach to how boys would often jokingly draw the penis during grade school.
So how did this collection all come about? Well, it really came from perception. How society views women and how it also forms slang or other words for reproductive body parts.
The exhibition sparked questions for me. Is it possible for a woman to confidently claim she has never been ogled or objectified?” Almost all the women I have ever known, including myself, can recall multiple accounts of different instances where a man has “cat-called” us, and at times it did not even have to do with what we wore. In some instances, those experiences can start as early as 13 years old, when a girl often experiences puberty.
One particular instance of “cat-calling” that has stuck with me first occurred at Fresno State. A peer of mine thought it was appropriate to comment that my outfit was sexy. Because I also worked at a location close to the university, he eventually found his way to my job and harassed me into letting him take me on a date.
Other instances that I can recall happened to my mother when I was with her. An older man said he “loved the way she looked,” when my mother was merely shopping for groceries.
Araujo mainly stuck to using cis women for her project, despite an inquiry of whether she was open to receiving submissions from a non-binary identifying person. The reason was that she wanted to detail the stage in which a female hits puberty and begins to experience “cat-calling.”
I was curious to ask if Araujo had received any pushback because of her subject matter considering how often in the past nudity has been perceived negatively.
This exhibition was embraced with positivity, with many women saying they felt “safe” upon being able to relate to some of the female subjects on the wall, according to Araujo.
“We don’t talk about that and I really feel like, especially in women, that if you’re not talking about it, or if you’re not talked to about it or if you don’t have conversations or outlets, then I think it could be really harmful and it could in some cases, cause depression or feelings of loneliness. It’s an important conversation,” Araujo said.
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Despite the two artists’ efforts to normalize the subject matter, the exhibition still contains explicit content. While it does not necessarily have an age limit, I was curious how this might affect younger viewers on the subject of nudity. According to NPR, a Florida principal was fired after parents expressed outrage at sixth grade students being educated on Michelangelo’s “David” statue.
Araujo is a parent of three while Carlock is a parent and grandparent. The two mentioned that educating the youth on nudity is rooted in how it is viewed over generations.
Araujo tells me that at one point when she was growing up, her mother suspected she had breast cancer since her body was changing.
“I was still young, [and] developing breasts. When I started to develop, she took me to the doctor,” she said. “She thought it was breast cancer and I had to go through that and you’re [the doctor is] just like, ‘No, Mom, she’s just developing.’”
Carlock is raising the next generation in her family to be more comfortable in expressing what they feel when they go through their growing stages.
“There is a change in that circle when growing up at my age, it was [to] hide your ‘bits’. That word was hide. It was very shameful,” Carlock said. “Let’s use the proper term so you can learn a healthy way of pointing out parts of your body, but that also comes in tune with protection and safety,” Carlock added when speaking about her children and grandchildren.
Educating youth in a healthy and safe way when referring to bodies is one of their main priorities.
“I think that art is so subjective but it can also be used as a way to celebrate us humans, our body and our development,” Araujo said.
With society becoming more open to how sexuality and pleasure is spoken about, Carlock got intimate and told me how some of the references for her sculptures were from some of her partners – she is an openly polyamourous person – and watching pornography.
One untitled phallic sculpture that I stood trying to comprehend for a while resembles a bullet shooting from something I couldn’t explain. After a moment, Carlock explained that its significance should be familiar with those who participate in the sexual practices of bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM). The work is meant to resemble an activity done during BDSM coupling.
Another sculpture, “Condemned,” caught my attention because it included scriptures and verses from the Bible. While the sculpture was a bit hard to make out as a phallus upon first glance, the scriptures were accompanied by Mickey Avalon’s song, “My Dick.”
The lyrics are straightforward and vulgar, but what makes the piece controversial is its pairing with the Bible. Carlock said she intentionally included scriptures because the Bible references an erection.
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In addition to sexuality and vulnerability, the artworks also include the theme of acceptance of traumas.
One sculpture, which is different from the others, is a bust of a female. Its surface, despite being made from clay, looks like medieval armor, with a hint of red just over the breast plate. It almost demands the viewer’s attention as it is one of the first things to be seen as people walk through the door.
Carlock, who was inspired by her grandmother’s own battle with cancer, sculpted “A Warrior’s Battle” in remembrance of her fight, which ultimately ended with her passing.
One artwork that Araujo pointed out to me details a woman’s journey with breast cancer and how it altered how her breast looked.
Araujo and Carlock also wanted to include the acceptance of one’s body after enduring trauma sustained by sexual harassment and assault.
Araujo told me that she remembers a time where she felt like she needed to hide her chest as she was going through the stages of puberty. She tells me that the boys in her physical education class told her that they missed her.
“I can remember being told ‘Oh, I miss you in P.E because we liked it when we ran,’ and all of those things are part of my experience and they’re probably a part of a lot of other women who when they’re developing, it’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward,” Araujo said.
Araujo added that she was sexually assaulted as a child and was later affected by the media showcasing images of skinny women as the beauty standard, causing her to turn to heavy drugs to lose weight.
“I think having that past addiction be part of my story is eventful. And, it really scares me. Having my own kids is another experience. The fact that I see my two [children] growing up, my oldest is 15. She started to be aware of what she looks like and she doesn’t want to go outside without makeup and stuff like that, and it’s like, ‘Is this all happening?,” she said.
Carlock was sexually molested for the first eight years of her life. Growing up, she had a different perspective on love and acceptance which caused her to fall into a phase of promiscuity and alcoholism.
Her experiences allowed her to create these pieces as an acceptance of her past.
“We jump in headfirst [into promiscuity] and there’s nothing in between. So I was the one that was promiscuous and flirtatious and all these things. But it did lead me to alcoholism and drug addiction. I spent some time and I actually created all of these things clean and sober,” Carlock said.
After recovering, Carlock pursued her education and realized some of the subject matter that came with her degree was needed for personal growth.
“For me, it happened to be the phallus, right? It happened to be the penis, because that’s what violated me. I don’t need these long lists of things I don’t need to do or be anymore. This is mine. My stand up and bounce back,” Carlock said. “We don’t need to be afraid of anything, no more than we need to be afraid of our own body parts.”
The underlying theme within the show is pleasure and how others can see breasts for what they are versus how women can adopt a variety of different phallic devices to gain their own pleasure without the help of another person. The artists navigate viewers to what is objectified and how women can achieve their own desires.
One male viewer told Araujo that he was able to see the vulnerability within each subject. Araujo tells me that that kind of commentary from a male viewer was not expected. In fact, she admits that she had expected the male audience to just not “get it” and continue to find pleasure in the nudity.
“He sees the vulnerability of each moment in the way that they took the photos and the way that they are and I think that spoke to me because a lot of men don’t realize. Men are scared that women are going to laugh at them and women are scared that men are gonna kill them,” she said.
Beneath it all is acceptance of and comfort with sexuality.
“We can’t just go on avoiding pleasure. I mean, avoiding what’s non-pleasurable and seeking what’s comfortable, what’s pleasurable, you have to have those uncomfortable conversations,” Araujo said. “We have to open up the dialogue between each other with women and men. I think it’s very important for men to hear because it is very much a man’s world.”
Sarah Delgado is a senior Fresno State student in the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism. She is the lifestyle editor of The Collegian, Fresno State’s campus newspaper.