When was the last time you heard a rap song aiming to empower women? What about a film starring a non-heterosexual character? And how many paintings in the Met depict a scene featuring a non-white? A broad (and positive) representation of minority groups—such as women, the LGBTQ community and ethnic groups—was for a long time, completely nonexistent. While in the past few decades, there has been some progress in giving a voice to these groups, proper representation can nonetheless only be deemed, at best, as lacking. The art world is still heavily riddled with inaccuracies concerning groups and communities of people that fail to fall into the ‘white, straight, cisgender male’ category.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has experienced a more notable and long-lasting misrepresentation in cinema. Big-budget films fail to feature an LGBTQ character in a supporting role, let alone a featured role. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Wilson Cruz, an activist working with GLAAD (an organization working towards increasing LGBTQ visibility and tolerance in the media), noted that “moviegoers should be able to see LGBT people as integral players in the stories told by leading Hollywood studios.” By failing to portray these characters, movie studios are sending a biased message that undermines and denigrates LGBTQ people. In 2013 GLAAD released the Studio Responsibility Index based off a study conducted by the Stanford Research Institute that aimed to show the severe lack of LGBTQ portrayal in popular cinema. After studying 101 box office hits of a variety of genres, it was found that only fourteen of them featured a character that identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. None featured a transgender/transsexual character. There is something to be said about such a prevalent and accessible artistic medium failing to showcase such a large community of people.
Contrary to the LGBTQ community, women have had a lot of artistic representation within a large range of mediums. However, this representation unfortunately tends to be misogynistic, objectifying and belittling. Rap music is an excellent example of that. In 2001, Eminem won the Grammy for his album The Marshall Mathers LP, on which the lyrics make blatant references to violence and aggression towards women. Only a few years later, in 2005, Three 6 Mafia won the Academy Award for best original song in a feature film for their song “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp;” a song that uses a multitude of derogatory terms for women and severely sexualizes them. These two songs are important examples due to the exposure they garnered through receiving the awards (thus perpetuating their messages), but countless other rap artists, like Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Jay Z, Lil Wayne and Big L use violent and chauvinistic lyrics. The sexism in rap doesn’t end with the songs themselves, but is also conveyed through their music videos. Women are often used as sexual props for the male rapper and any other men featured in the video. T.I.’s music video for his song “Why You Wanna” is a prime example of this attitude. In the video, T.I. and his friends are relaxing on the beach and surveying the different women walking past them. The camera focuses solely on the women’s rear end, which reinforces the message that women are really only good for sex. So many other videos feature scantily clad women and show the camera only focusing on their bodies that it appears to almost have become a prerequisite for this particular genre of music.
While rap music is a more recently-emerged medium, the more traditional medium of painting has failed to positively portray many minority groups, significantly non-white ethnic groups. For one, in many famous paintings, such as Manet’s “Olympia,”
black people are depicted in servant or slave roles, which emphasize the idea of white supremacy. They are dehumanized, portrayed almost as props within the paintings, which gives the impression of unimportance. It was only in the 1960s that black contemporary artists’ work, in which they attempt to redefine the image of the black body, became showcased more. In Western society, we often think in “black and white” terms, however, this inexact portrayal extends beyond one ethnicity. Joshua Reynold’s painting “Sir Robert Clive with wife, daughter and local help,”
depicts an evidently affluent white family with their Indian servant, kneeling and holding the daughter. This painting is another important example of the distorted power relations embedded within our society. This can be in large part attributed to the repression of minority groups’ artistic work for centuries. Though there is a more significant range of more diverse artists working today and showing their work, racism in painting is still a notable issue. As a very broad, generic example, many art classes, from elementary school to university-level, study important historical works, many of which depict this power relation. It is important to recognize the harm in this relation and educate students on the issues surrounding it.
As a whole, misrepresentation in art is a very relevant and dangerous issue today. Art, which we often and perhaps sometimes wrongfully, look at as generally open-minded, free, and tolerant can be misleading and damaging. While these examples look closely at three specific issues in three different mediums, these issues and many more are present in all art forms. We often look at it as a reflection of our society and its many components. While many artists, like local artist Travis McEwen, are presenting work that aims to break these ideas and redefine what gender, ethnicity and sexuality are, it is important to remain cautious and observe these works critically rather than take these messages seriously and/or lightly. Art is an extremely powerful medium that has the ability to reform opinions moderately to drastically. With its incredible influence, the messages sent through both historical and contemporary works need to be identified and analyzed to ensure tolerance and acceptance of all human beings.
Retrieved from: Culturally Artistic