Dipsikha Thakur | Sorry Luis, But Objectification is not Social Commentary

See the controversial cartoons discussed below here: http://www.konbini.com/en/inspiration/luis-quiles-controversial-cartoons/

Christmas mornings are lazy by definition, and I am a procrastinator on the worst, most deadline-ridden days. So you can imagine why on this particular day I would spend hours skimming magazine websites and absentmindedly clicking on articles. With a tall mug of black coffee and a warm sun on the window, it seemed like a beautiful start to the day. That is, until I had the misfortune of discovering the article and the artist that I am about to rant at.

It was on Konbini, a pop-culture magazine that has come up on my feed a lot in December. Jordan Gold had compiled and introduced a series of cartoon illustrations by Luis Quiles earlier this month. This article made its way into my reading material on Christmas morning, and promptly ruined it. It began the by talking about the mixed effects of internet feminism. This alone confused me a little, because I have personally benefited enormously from the websites, zines, blogs and Youtube channels that discuss feminism with an accessibility and candour that all of us need right now. I have learnt a lot, even from people that I completely disagree with. But that was okay. It seemed like a good hook to start a discussion about art that engages with it.

And then I saw the first image.

It was titled ‘Columbia’. Now, firstly, because it is uses the Colombian national flag as its background, I would have thought the title would refer to the country and not to the university, which incidentally would also make for a great commentary on sexual violence right now. But the spelling ambiguity was the first of many problems. The image shows a woman wearing only a hijab. Her body is bare and instead of nipples, we see smileys.

Now, I am not an art-historian and perhaps it was a sign of my lack of education that I could not see any social commentary in that picture except the flimsiest, laziest kind that casually uses some ‘profound’ symbols and juxtapositions to legitimise what is basically a horribly objectified white female body. Evidence?

Well, for one thing, her body is viewed from above – always a sign of entitlement on the part of the viewer/reader. If you want to depict oppression in a way that effortlessly manages not to lend itself to masturbation, try Joe Sacco. In this case, there is clearly a problem. The breasts glisten – the body is not only faceless but effectively othered by a hijab. And infantilized with those Disney-princess eyes, and it is also shiny, skinny (shows ribs) and still large-breasted. Also, if anyone can explain the statement ‘You make the cocaine…’ to me, I will be grateful. For me at least, the reduction of nearly fifty years of violent and illegal drug trade into a ready, easy cartoon mainly about breasts does not qualify as social commentary.

I scrolled down and had a look at all the cartoons. In every image that engaged with the adult female body had been blatantly sexualized. ‘Girlfriend’, I think, particularly awful. You cannot really depict the relationship between videogames, fantasy and misogyny by depicting a woman exactly how that culture would. Adding a band-aid does not cut it. If Quiles is aiming for irony, it is damningly ineffective.

In most of the works, I saw a last-minute attempt at inserting respectability and fashionable subversion into what were primarily highly eroticized bodies of women, offered for the viewer’s delectation. In ‘Walking Dead’ of course, I could not find any commentary, which is why it was perhaps the least annoying image. Here the artist unapologetically gives in to his fantasizing. I have not watched the series but I can imagine that all women vulnerable to imminent zombie attacks do in fact hang out in incredibly impractical unbuttoned onesies, and as a zombie in knotted shirts and panties. Still don’t see how the work is included in an article about art as social commentary.

Same problem with ‘Pussy Riot’ and ‘Anti-Smoking’.

The only image that really worked as an intervention, that made me sit up with something other than irritation was ‘Disney’. Terrific colours and conception and in that cartoon, the inherently graphic style of his actually works very well. Same for ‘Untitled’.

I find Luis Quiles’ style arresting, and some of his works do achieve stark visual effects replete with interventional ability. But that does not mean that they are interventions at this particular moment as his career. Most of the artwork, from I have seen on Konbini and his own page, is no better than any other mediocre cartoon that objectifies women for entertainment. Right now, most of it is simply smut. To pass it off as ‘tackling’ geo-political issues is an insult both to his potential and the intelligence of the reader and it bothers me that a new, interesting magazine would do that.

Of course, Luis Quiles’ own admission that the ‘deep message’ is just ‘boobs’ does not help his cause at all.

 

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