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NSFW Propaganda Paintings Probe the Politics of the Female Nude

Donald Trump’s nasty comments are part of a larger historical trend—and Bri Cirel has something to say about it.

by J.H. Fearless
Oct 27 2016, 8:05pm

Nude Art, 2016. Images courtesy of the artist

When she first painted a vagina framed inside the word POLITICS, Bri Cirel  had no idea that Donald Trump's grubby fingers would soon become a national conversation. What she did know was that women’s bodies, and who controls them, are part of an ongoing struggle worldwide. Whether the conversation is erudite or crude, it’s always been a topic. Cirel sought to ask why.

With a degree in film and video, Cirel had primarily focused on contemporary art. That is, until she started looking deeper at art history around 2010. As she studied, she became more and more aware of the omnipresence of female nudity. “The more I educated myself about art history, the more it affected me that I’d been ignorant to how discriminatory it is. It was a rude awakening, and I wanted to dive into that.”

So, as one does, she began painting tits. 

Tits and Art, 2011

“The realization that women and their images have been narrated by men for all of history lead me to wonder, who are we (women) really? What do we want really?” Cirel says. “I’ve never connected with femininity, but I think that’s because it’s been unnaturally crafted to suit the needs and desires of men.”

Cirel has created a series of works that incorporate strongly sexual imagery as well as very traditional fine-art nudity. It’s an exploration of how bodies are visualized and commodified, both in the art world and in popular culture.

Her work is all done in oil paint, but Cirel incorporates strong, graphical designs influenced as much by modern advertising as by antique art. She designs her layouts in Photoshop, then paints using a layered approach, taping off half the painting according to the layout design, then painting each section; retaping; and repeating. Some paintings take months to create, in particular because she is a self-taught painter.

X, 2016

The feel of propaganda permeates every work. “I’m using the same tactics advertising uses, luring people in, making them want to look at it so they will get the message,” she says. By making the designs aggressive, bold, in-your-face, Cirel avoids preachiness and instead includes the viewer in the joke. But make no mistake: this is not joyful work.

“The politics and the history of sex—there’s something so dark about it,” Cirel says. “These are weird, unspoken realities that are part of our culture.” She painted Politics in 2014 as a response to the Hobby Lobby case and the political pushback against women’s health services throughout America. But this image has never seemed more relevant than now, in the 2016 election season.

When she’s not being censored for posting her art on social media, Cirel gets mostly positive responses. Politics, she says, got a few comments about vaginas being gross or smelly. But overall, people seem to get the message.

Politics, 2014

Bri Cirel is currently showing at C.A.V.E. Gallery in Venice, CA through November 5; she will also take part in the next C.A.V.E. exhibition opening December 10. A limited number of 12x12 prints of Politics can be purchased through her website.

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