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Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Females  
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Working in France, Buenos Aires-born bisexual painter Léonor Fini (1908-1996) created surrealistic dream worlds peopled by ethereal women and men who seem to drift in and out of their clothing.


It can be argued that there is an intimate link between the gender of one's muse and that of one's sexual partners. In the 1910s, American artist Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) became obsessed with the body of one of her lovers, Ida Rubinstein (1894-1996). She produced paintings of Rubinstein nude and a series of nude photographs that may have been used as studies for paintings.

She also painted a semi-nude portrait of bisexual American artist-designer Eyre de Lanux (1894-1996). Lanux, in turn, made a drawing of the lover she shared with Brooks, Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972). In Lanux's drawing, Barney reclines, her eyes half-closed, her breasts bared. A recent erotic encounter between artist and subject is clearly implied.

For some, such as photographer Ruth Bernhard (b. 1905), who had relationships with both men and women, inspiration seems to have been particularly linked to her female nudes. Bernhard, in fact, would appear to have had a lesbian muse from the large number of images of nude females she made between 1935 and 1970. In her single nude male image, the figure appears crucified.

Neon artist Lili Lakich (b. 1944), whose career began in the decade prior to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, memorialized one of her lovers, nude, in Donna Impaled as a Constellation, a 1983 construction of aluminum and argon, helium, and neon lights.

The Influence of Feminism

Beginning in the 1960s, Swedish-born bisexual painter Monica Sjoo (b. 1938) utilized goddess imagery in her paintings. Her large nude God Giving Birth created controversy in the 1970s.

In the early 1970s, lesbian feminist activity surfaced in many countries around the world, bringing with it the opportunity for lesbian and bisexual artists to raise openly issues of the body and the muse that had previously been silenced.

Since that time, books and magazines have been the primary way that lesbian-produced, lesbian-themed art has circulated. Throughout the 1970s, American-born documentary photographer JEB (Joan E. Biren, b. 1944) established a feminist approach to nude imagery by showing ordinary-looking women in desexualized contexts, often in open-air settings.

In the 1980s, drawings by American lesbian artist Sudie Rakusin (b. 1948) of nude and semi-nude women as warriors and priestesses dominated United States women's counter-culture periodicals.

Whereas Rakusin's nudes are curvaceous and spiritually inclined, those of painter-printmaker Max White (b. 1954) are sharp-edged and spiky. Like Rakusin's, White's early work circulated in lesbian and feminist publications.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, lesbian photographer Roberta Almerez (b. 1953)--whose parents were Puerto Rican and Filipino--was one of the few American lesbians of color to publish nudes both in more general lesbian-produced sex magazines and in lesbians-of-color magazines such as Esto No Tiene Nombre.

Picturing disability has been a recurring theme in lesbian-feminist art. Dutch photographer Gon Buurman (b. 1939) has published nude images of differently-abled women embracing. American sculptor Nancy Fried (b. 1945), United States photographer Deborah Bright (b. 1950), and New Zealand photographer Rebecca Swan (b. 1968) have used as subject their experiences with breast cancer and its effect on their bodies.

Fried and Bright have each produced self-portraits after mastectomies. United States photographer Cathy Cade (b. 1942) integrated a nude disabled woman, with cane, into her sociologically-inflected Lesbian Photo Album (1987).

Women of Size

Late twentieth-century feminism also included a reaction against the "beauty" industry and the oppressiveness of compulsory thinness.

Since the late 1970s, American photographer Katie Niles (b. 1951) has explored her own sturdy body, both nude and clothed. In each self-portrait she is smoking a pipe. In 1996, her color photograph of nude and semi-nude, fat, pierced, and tattooed lesbians participating in a safer-sex orgy gained international attention when it was published in the anthology edited by Susie Bright and Jill Posener, Nothing But the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image (1996).

Cookie (Annjohnna) Andrews-Hunt (1952-1995)--active with The Fat Avengers, a lesbian fat activist group based in Seattle, Washington--photographed and participated in the Northwest United States feminist, fat, and leather communities and helped produce Images of Our Flesh, a 1983 calendar of photographs of fat women.

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