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Sarah Elizabeth Borst

This Is Mine

It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.

            -Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

When I was fourteen, I was awarded “most likely to be known for her smile while modeling for the Colgate Company,” by my teachers for our middle school superlatives. I did not think I was smart, and nobody seemed to argue with me. My journey as an artist started at a young age, and I spent nineteen hours a week in a classical ballet studio, perfecting my plies and pirouettes.  I remember looking in the mirror at the studio before every class and pinching the skin around my hips and pulling it back- wishing I was less curvy, wishing I was less me. At seventeen I was raped by my boyfriend, and my body continued to be abused and harassed throughout college. Upon entering graduate school, I did not plan on making this kind of work; it was born out of desperate need to share my story for my own survival.

 

This is Mine is a four-part project that confronts the sexualization of the female form and the proliferation of the feminine ideal. An excerpt from Part I: The Diaries, is represented in the exhibition as screenshots of facebook messages between myself and a visiting artist to my college, whom I was sexually harassed by, between 2014 and 2016. This piece lives inside a larger body of work curated from my personal archive of family photographs, love letters from boys, journal entries since middle school and interactions with social media. The Diaries serves as a prerequisite to Part II: Adult in Training, in which I have documented myself on camera since September of 2015 in moments of transition into the construct of adulthood. Sharing my own experiences in the film is an act of justice, and through the documentation of my physical body and psyche on camera, I take the control back from the men who relentlessly dominated them in the past. In Part III: The Monologue, a short film installation, I come to terms with my personal history of rape and sexual harassment through intimately sharing stories from my past.

Part IV: Milk, is a series of photographs of mothers breastfeeding in their homes. My objective in this series is a continued investigation of, and direct response to, the feminine ideal, and its representation of the classical body vs the carnival, abject body, and further, how commodification perpetuates fetishized perceptions of what a woman is or should be. In her essay “The Other Side of Venus, The Visual Economy of the Feminine Display”, Abigail Solomon-Godeau discusses the sexualization of the commodity within commodity culture, in turn inflecting the psychic structures of consumer desire. The image of desirable femininity simultaneously stands as the poster child and lure to the commodity.  As the feminine image is desired and then consumed, it perpetuates the consumption by operating as a mirror of the initial desire- and so the story goes. While the light falls in a Chiaroscuro manner in Milk, conjuring up subconscious images of women in classical painting, the photographs attempt to reveal authentic experiences as opposed to the idealistic representation we have been taught to see throughout art history and pop culture. Accessing the history of the individual or collective female experience is incredibly painful, and feminism cannot be oversimplified as an empowering mechanism that will deliver positive change without physical and emotional struggle. This is Mine is my attempt at grappling with the struggle in change—my attempt to look at my experience through a feminist lens, and to produce work motivated by my feminist values.  Recognizing the work of women who come before me, and the human bodies and minds they occupy, I present you with my own. This is mine.