What would happen if one day you walked out into the street and could not identify anyone’s gender based on their physicality alone? It would be like when you’re on the bus next to someone and you can’t tell whether they’re a doctor, schoolteacher, or conceptual artist. In this scenario, your preconceptions about the other person would be different, since you would not be able to form an opinion based on your social constructs regarding gender.
In recent years, universities and other institutions of higher education have adopted policies that allow students to select beyond the binary male/female gender options. They’ve also promoted students to provide the pronouns they feel comfortable being referred with. While some people have mocked or called these measures a “fantasy land of political correctness,” the truth is that to someone who is gender dysphoric, nonconforming, transitioning, or transgendered, things like pronouns and check boxes on applications are a big deal. They matter because those around them will often make judgments based on these. Maybe life would be easier if gender was something you ask first, like when you introduce yourself and say what name or nickname you want be called.
Well, while we’re still far from reaching the point where people won’t question or make fun of someone’s gender identity, there’s one artist who’s presenting her idea of what she refers to as a “genderless and bodiless utopia.”
Romily Alice Walden is a conceptual artist who creates sculptures from neon lights and tubes. These nudes open a dialogue regarding policies and unspoken ownership of bodies. In our current global landscape, a woman’s body does not necessarily belong to her. The state has certain rights over her physicality, and those around her can also exert their will and violence over it. Same happens with non-cis, trans, or gender queer people. Their bodies are left vulnerable to the acts and prejudice of others. Their gender makes them vulnerable to their environment.
These neon bodies are placed in poses deemed “provocative”, which is the same word used to describe clothing or attitudes of victims of sexual assault or harassment. Their physicality is placed on the balance when discussing their aggressor’s culpability. The predator’s guilt is weighed in comparison to the victim’s own societal “fault.” But, to speak of someone’s body as a trigger, means to make them an accomplice to their aggressor’s violent and destructive act. When victim-blaming happens, a divide occurs between a person and their own body.
In an interview with ArtSlant, Romily Alice introduces her work by saying that she wants it, “…to be part of furthering the discourse surrounding women’s rights, women’s sexual agency, pornography, pleasure and the body within the framework of the Post-Internet age.” Because when the female body is no longer a taboo, when gender does not determine a person’s role within a society or community, and when nakedness is seen as a natural state rather than a cause for arousal and the consequent violence it can bring, then we can actually say that we have progressed as a species.
For now, we can look at Romily Alice’s works and consider them to be thought provoking creations that open dialogues on the differences between gender and sex. They’re also pieces that raise self-evaluation questions regarding our biases, constructs, and prejudices.
Don't forget to check out: