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What would you do in a world where the perception of self is based on only two choices? How would you handle being judged for factors you couldn’t control, where every decision you make, such as what you wear or where you go, determined where you belong on the social hierarchy?

And remember, there is no middle ground. It’s either path A or path B, and you have to choose. Whichever path you walk, you will stay there and everyone will know. You’ll be labeled, and you’ll have to carry that label with you wherever you go. It will never go away.

This kind of world seems a bit far-fetched, like something in a dystopian fantasy novel. But the sad truth is that it is very real, and there are people that live in it everyday, where each choice that they make concludes in only two possibilities.

For women, this world has been a reality for a very, very long time, and exists on the planes of sexuality and gender roles, where the line between sexual empowerment and objectification in our society has become more difficult to define.

InLiquid member and artist Lauren Rinaldi explores this perspective of reality through her paintings, in which she paints anonymous portraits of female bodies, with some of her pieces capturing the cinematography of the “selfie.” She delves into the strength of womanhood and the power of intimacy, and depicts women in everyday actions–with some of these actions, such as getting dressed, being designed as provocative.

Lauren searches for the line between objectification and empowerment, and Site Editor Kim Minutella had the opportunity to speak with Lauren about her work and how she would define those blurred lines:

Kim: Your work is raw in a way that explores the line between objectification and empowerment with paintings that depict women’s daily personal actions–such as getting dressed, etc. What discoveries have you made while exploring the various definitions of being “intimate?”

Lauren: “I think that no two people have the exact same ideas about intimacy so what it means to be intimate can vary so much from person to person. That said, I’ve learned that the thread that ties them all together is that there is a certain level of trust that has to exist to be intimate with someone in any way and that trust involves letting someone into your space, what ever that means for you.”

Kim: The women in your paintings are often anonymous. What role does anonymity play in your work?

Lauren: “Anonymity plays various and important roles in my work. I draw heavily on my own experiences and body at times as a point of reference and, often times, an actual visual reference. But I don’t think of my work as self-portraiture, which is sometimes where anonymity comes into play. I don’t always think that the fact that it might be me is important, so after I paint or draw myself I become “she” or “her” or you. I’m also thinking about anonymity in terms of women on social media, in advertisements, in pornography and traditional artists’ models and muses. Ultimately though, I hope that I can use my experiences to connect with other people’s experiences so I present a fragmented narrative in hopes that the viewer puts the parts together and creates their own story. I want them to face themselves and maybe their own desires and the anonymity can be a vehicle for that.”

My CaseKim: You have incorporated a wide variety of composition with pieces that are reminiscent of 1950s pin-up girls, candid photographs, and “selfie” camera tricks. Would you say that your work acts as a historical narrative of the portrayal of women in the media, and a study of how that portrayal has evolved over time?

Lauren: “In a way it does and is. I think my work tends to play a lot with how women are portrayed, who is doing the portraying and who the audience is. There is often the question of who is this image intended for – is this a private or public moment? Is this woman being looked at or is she showing you something? Is she looking at herself? Are you watching her look at herself? Was this image intended for someone specific or for a wider audience? And all of these different types of depictions do reflect how women have been presented over time.”

Guardian Kim: Based on your experiences and the research you have done through your work, in what ways do you think empowerment can overcome objectification?

Lauren: “Speaking from my own experience, I feel most (sexually) empowered when I am in control, when I can, in a sense, objectify myself without fear that in presenting myself as an object of desire, I might somehow sacrifice my control or my consent. But, I think that real empowerment is more than this attitude that says, “it’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it” in terms of sex, the clothes and makeup we wear, selfies we post, etc. We put a lot of stake into the empowerment that we’re told objectifying ourselves brings, but I’ve found that sometimes we still end up measuring our self worth by something like the number of likes our picture gets and we continue to hold ourselves to impossible beauty standards, which ends up being the opposite of empowering. Am I worth less, for instance, because my thighs touch? The answer, of course, is absolutely not, but this is where the line starts to blur – am I powerful because I am showing you my body the way I want to show it or have I lost power because now my self worth is tied up in your reaction to this portrayal? I think that we, as women, need to shift our focus from the thigh gap, for example, to the wage gap. I want to be able to look, think and act however I choose, but to truly be empowered I also need to be able to navigate the world without fear of being sexually assaulted or harassed every day walking down the street. I need access to healthcare and contraceptives, affordable childcare and equal pay and I don’t need men making decisions for me. That is the type of empowerment that can overcome objectification. That said, I don’t think that we need to completely overcome objectification, I just think we need to look at who’s doing the objectifying, why it’s happening and at what cost. We need to live in a society where we can simultaneously objectify ourselves if we choose to, while not being treated as objects – this is also where the lines can get very blurry and confusing for both women and men. Ultimately, I think taking ownership of our own bodies can feel empowering and in doing so might help build confidence needed to demand equality and respect.”

Hurry to see Lauren Rinaldi‘s work as part of the exhibition “Intimate Variations,” at Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro, located at 129 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia, it’s only on display through September 12th.

Anthony DeMelas

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