Paul Gaugien Women

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Perhaps one of the most celebrated artists in history, the French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguín is widely known for his innovative techniques in a wide variety of artistic mediums, including painting and woodcarving. Feeling very much out of place in Europe, he spent much of his life abroad. He came to love the French colony of Tahiti and spent many of his later years living there. Despite this sense of sympathy, however, his work is representative of a problematic colonial visuality which exoticises and eroticises indigenous peoples while at the same time dehumanizing them, reducing them from thinking, feeling human beings to little more than flesh. As a result, the same people that Gauguín felt more at home with than other Europeans were…show more content…
Take, for example, the woman painted in Spirit of the Dead Watching (1892). Gauguín portrayed her lying upon her stomach on a bed, with the spirit of the dead seated behind her. Her pose is suggestive, and she appears to be ignorant of the spirit behind her. In Gauguín’s portrayal, she lost all semblance of personhood and became simply a body to be studied. The suggestive and erotic nature of her position, which conveys vulnerability as well as something of an invitation, is emblematic of the trope of the dusky maiden. Portraying young indigenous women as promiscuous and naïve, this trope was emphasized by European colonial powers as a justification for their oppression of native peoples. They lack common decency, it suggests, and require the guidance of “civilized” Europeans in order to be rescued from the error of their ways. Gauguín’s portrayal of the woman in Spirit of the Dead Watching typifies this generalization, perpetuating it and enhancing it for his audience. In his article, “Gauguin,” for The Burlington Magazine, Roger Cardinal speaks of how much of Gauguín’s work heavily eroticises young indigenous women. In his words, “With Gauguin, aesthetic pleasure can hardly be dissociated from sensual pleasure...Central to Gauguin’s Tahitian narrative was the persona of the European adventurer who had ‘gone native’ and made a string of dusky conquests.” With this romanticisation of life among the native…show more content…
In his essay, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” Stuart Hall describes two possible meanings of the phrase “cultural identity.” The first, he explains, is rather simplistic, and focuses on the commonalities that all members of these broad cultural groups share. Cultural identity is, by this definition, immutable, since the key descriptors of these identities reside in the past. The other definition of cultural identity, Hall states, is one that is constantly changing and evolving, focusing not solely upon shared historical experiences and culture, but upon the distinctions between these individuals of the group as well. In his essay, Hall describes the difference between these two definitions as akin to the difference between “where we come from” and “who we have become.” It is this second, more nuanced definition which Gauguín’s work has influenced. Through his depictions of the indigenous Tahitians, he played a significant role in changing the people of Oceania into how they are perceived today. Although he did love the Tahitian islands and people, based on his work it is clear that it was not love between equal partners, but instead between a superior and inferior race. His damaging portrayals of the indigenous peoples of Tahiti served to influence the visuality surrounding them in a way that harmed them, turning them into a group which today is all too
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