The long-standing gender imbalance in the art world has often forced women to adopt the role of the silent muse – the creative spark that spurs the male artist into creating yet another masterpiece. Subverting the traditional power imbalance of the female nude by bringing women into a position of authority rather than submission, Cambridge student Blanca Schofield Legorburo is giving women an insight into what true female empowerment in art looks like.
Based between her Dublin home and UK university, Schofield Legorburo started the Instagram page Eve Taking a Nude in May as a project reliant on submissions. Participants send Schofield Legorburo a nude photograph which she then paints and anonymously posts on Instagram. Speaking to The University Times, Schofield Legorburo explains that the process is “a very relaxed and friendly exchange”. “They ask if I can paint them and then send me photos securely. I paint them and delete the photos. Sometimes we stay in touch if they want to buy pieces, prints or tote bags, or if they see other art and flowers that reminds them of the series.”
We may believe that nude paintings have a universal, eternal value but, in truth, artists who have depicted nudes in the past have done so within a certain cultural context – aesthetic and moral inclinations inevitably colour the piece of art. Where traditional nudes depict women as disembodied objects for visual appreciation, Schofield Legorburo reclaims the image as a source of feminine celebration.
“It holds a political meaning. It encourages the viewer to expand our traditional concept of Eve: she can be every woman.”
When asked about the inspiration behind the series, Schofield Legorburo tells me that when on Erasmus, while reckoning with issues in her personal life, “sitting down in the evening with some watercolours removed [her] from stress and gave [her] a warm confidence”. During lockdown, she painted flowers that she’d “seen on a walk and underneath, on the same page, painted a nude [she’d] taken”. “The two pieces looked good together, so I took photos and sent them to my friends”, she adds. The next day, her friends sent photos back and Schofield Legorburo “painted them and started the Instagram account”.
Schofield Legorburo recognises that there is something powerful in taking a photo of herself, be it a mirror selfie or a self-timer, and “evoking the image of Eve in her naked glory surrounded by Edenic flowers”. She adds that this “also holds a more political meaning. It encourages the viewer to expand our traditional concept of Eve: she can be every woman!”
Schofield Legorburo gives participants the opportunity to compose a statement to accompany their portrait “because an important aspect of the series is giving a voice to the traditionally silenced female nude”. The inclusion of these statements means that the voicelessness of women in the traditional nude is subverted and women become more than an object of naked appreciation. “I’m sure most women remember horrible stories and experiences at school of slut-shaming and nudes being used and shared around, exposed and shamed. Part of this project is demystifying nudes, taking away the eternal male gaze and taking them for ourselves, without coercion or shame.”
“Part of this project is demystifying nudes, taking away the eternal male gaze and taking them for ourselves, without coercion or shame.”
In light of her success, Schofield Legorburo is pleased to hear “back from models who say that the project has helped their confidence and reduced their reliance on external validation. It feels great to expose some cellulite and hair and to care less about what other people think or say. It’s almost impossible to stop caring completely, but I do think this community helps”.
She admits that “social media is harmful and toxic in so many ways. But if you choose to use it and surround yourself with accounts that demystify perfect bodies or lives or achievements, it can help to forge individual confidence and bonds with other people online who are also fed up with insidious competition and want to reject the eternal male gaze”.
Women are too frequently painted as expressions of feminine ideals or “types” of women. This series enables women’s bodies to move beyond mere artistic occasions. As Schofield Legorburo acknowledges, Eve Taking A Nude allows women to “appreciate their beauty, alone and also in a community”. Haloed by charming watercolour flowers, it is impossible to feel anything but pride for the master depicted within each of Schofield Legorburo’s portraits. Perhaps we should be more sympathetic towards the selfie – it is after all, a new way of engaging with art and the body.