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Pollymorphs & Strangelove

Essay by Shaw Hendry
Essay by Sera Waters

Never fully clothed, but never ashamed, the slightly larger than life coquettes happily invite the viewer to look and to love. Apparently unaware, or at least unperturbed, by their conjoined fatalities and strange botanical growths, the girls pout and pose for imaginary admirers. Their deformities might make them vulnerable in real life, but in art life, they are invulnerable, joyous and beyond depression. Want to party?

Youth’s transient gifts; nicely shaped bottoms, curvaceous hips, pert breasts that laugh at gravity, and smooth supple thighs; are accentuated by peachy blemish-free skin and cutesy costumes with quaint tie bows. The girls’ pretty faces betray no hint of the desperation of real life, and no doubt that destiny is totally within their control. It’s as if the world beyond the canvas couldn't be anything but enchanted by their loveliness.

Their confidence seems perfect. And yet this perfection is expressed more in symmetries and colour balance than in reflections of physical normality. Our complicated prejudices about ‘beauty’ and ‘the grotesque’ defy logical discussion. Our gaze finds both sides of the normative spectrum equally compelling. Why mess with nature?

The politics of body image differs widely depending on era, cultural perspective, and personal background. Western ideals of feminine beauty are a minefield: Tanning goes in and out of fashion. Dieting is perennial. Pierced eyebrows, lips, tongues, nipples, bellies, and so on will make you a freak one year, and hot the next. Surgical body modification is probably a small price for a more appealing sexual identity: What teenager wouldn’t change themselves, and even the world, if only to be accepted - and desired?

But-Husaim’s painting avoids simplistic resolutions to these issues by purposely and expertly combining contemporary cues for sexual allure - long lashes, killer high heels, and the soft contours of fleshy sensuality - with a lyrical approach to physical deformity. Based, in part, on girly cards of the Fifties, the artist says her subjects are reclaiming their sexuality, and by extension, themselves. The resulting young women, self-contained, and smiling through cherry red lips, captivate the viewer with a push and pull that delights and shocks.

Adelaide, January 2006,
Shaw Hendry is a visual artist, editor of Vitamin magazine, and ukulele aficionado

Shaw Hendry has kindly given permission for this text to be reproduced on this website.

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