On straddling different gender roles while also being a human parent.
Words by Liene Steinberga Cesar & photos by Liene Steinberga Cesar
A beast with three heads and the udder of a goat – Chimera. According to my simple internet search it has a head and body of a lion, that from pictures alone seems to be a male lion. Its tail is a snake with the head at the end. It has a goat’s head in the middle of the body and the udder underneath. A hermaphrodite. It breathes fire. A state very close to home. A schizophrenic state that I know and I believe many women have lived through at some point in their lives. All the strings we have to pull and the plates to juggle, when we have to be a little bit male and a little bit female (whatever that means) at the same time. The series Face was born of the fire that I breathe.
‘Art is a guarantee of sanity’ Louise Bourgeois
I try to have a commonly human/male state of ambition, career and meaningful public and politically active life combined with commonly female role of parenting/nurturing. These roles are like the two different heads. They are not permitted to mix and become one, there are places where humanness and parenthood are not the same. Like the workplace that tries hard to allow the two roles to coexist, but inherently will never achieve it. This seeps into my consciousness, I feel unwelcome and questioned when at a drunken party I am asked to show pictures of my cute baby. Yes, I am a parent of cute child and yes, I am just being human here and now. It is unintentional, I know. There are many dimensions to this, one of them being that just by being female or foreign, I become a threat. Like an exotic fruit, the meaning of my existence is to entice, entertain and please. I didn’t know these were the terms and conditions of the female body when I was born into it.
‘A woman must continually watch herself; she is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself.’ (Ways of seeing, 1972, John Berger)
My emotional reactions evoke visions of my face being erased or my interaction with an object. Face is my language or documented expressive dance with which I am communicating my frustration and/or confusion. My eyes are my tits, all I see is the feeding needs of my baby. I live and exist just to feed, to serve, to safeguard, to transport and to clean an unable human child. Waiting a year for that child to walk on its own. I wait for the day we can have a conversation about meaningful subject matter – it will take two decades at least. I have my ego erased or subsided, my body does not function for me, it is there for a little child. The struggles and fears are not my own, they are of a child. While the silicone breastfeeding teats are my eyes, there is constant controversy about breastfeeding in public, about what can be seen, what is seen in what context and what/who breasts are for, and what is natural. My body is not an easy subject matter, it is discussed and used, but rarely allowed to just be. My teats are up here…
Sex, desire, hair and open/ready mouth. Among the perplexity of my body functions and needs there is sex. The space in my brain that is occupied by it, the visions and influences it receives and gives out need documenting. The somehow repressed and unspoken feelings, expectations and unmatched desires leading to conflict in my head. The wishes and constant questions that wet or stress me are dealt with by expressing them. Objectification of my own body and self-expression are mixed together in a cocktail that makes up me. Trying to untangle, understand and play with new possibilities. I turn ‘the gaze’ to myself and shine in that spotlight with an exhibitionist’s glee. Hair, as a recurring subject in my practice, signifies gender, influence of pornography, the tender time of puberty. I approach the covert subject of sex like a teenager, with embarrassed joy.
I struggle with being a female human. What you can and cannot do, the little lines that mark your ‘femininity’. Oh, the charade! I am already tired from serving my bodily functions, my needs and wishes and sometimes other’s needs and wishes. Avoiding being masculine – for fear of the reactions, of exclusion, of ridicule – consumes me. I attempt to step in the middle of that tornado and become the silly/ugly beast. I play with the insecurities and symbols of womanhood. Like when a child plays with objects – stuffs breast-like things down a shirt and pretends to be a lady. I want to show the ugly bits and be in peace with it. The Face series is my experience of my mind and body. Face is painful, disgusting, weird, silly, sublime and glorious.
With the symbols and the ideas of beauty, of surface, of bust, I look at the self-edited image and the web-presence as the new phenomena of social life. It highlights the same old fear of dislike and questionable borders between ridicule and awe. The idea that desire is universal, that the human life is singular. The oblivion of others. The idea of achievement as a multiplicity of existing meanings. The pride, the arrogance. The anonymity of publicity. Working on the Face series has given me a voice. I still feel it a little muted, maybe not as fiery, but a happy Chimera at peace with itself.