Flipping the Binary: Odalisque Men in Paintings by Klaire Lockheart

Two centuries ago, it was fashionable to paint portraits of reclining nude women with languid gazes. American artist Klaire Lockheart has created a series of paintings of men in similar poses. It's her way of showing how easy it is to objectify a person - of any gender.

You’ve surely seen paintings of odalisques – nude or barely clothed women lounging in the boudoir. The subject was extremely popular with Western painters throughout the 19th century during the fashion for Orientalism. In the West, the odalisques were eroticized and understood as sex slaves in a harem, although historically, in the Ottoman Empire, they were merely servants. The American artist Klaire Lockheart replaced the women with men and called them “brodalisques” (it is a combination of a “bro” posing like a traditional “odalisque”). The subjects of her paintings lie in cramped rooms surrounded by game joysticks, fast food, and alcohol, representing the hidden mysteries known as the man cave. This is Klaire’s way of teasing out the male gaze in art.

Klaire Lockheart

An artist and educator from Vermilion (USA), Klaire Lockheart teaches the history of modern art at Morningside College in Sioux City. She examines famous artists and artwork through a 21st century intersectional feminist lens in her podcast History of Modern Art.

I first got the idea to invent the brodaslique about five years ago. As a painter and an art teacher, I spend a lot of time observing historical artwork, mainly traditional academic oil paintings made for the Paris Salon in the 19th century. I grew tired of the endless parade of passive nude women languishing on cushions. I was tired of art historians, critics, and curators telling me that these naked women represent lofty philosophical ideals such as form and beauty. I am tired of being told that if I object to this cliché, I don’t know anything about art.

I love arguing with old dead philosophers and misogynists.

The Brodalisques series is how I criticize the male gaze while using my sense of humor. I love arguing with old dead philosophers and misogynists, and this is a fun way for me to invite others into the conversation. I want people to notice that the vast majority of nude paintings in museums in the United States objectify women’s bodies, and most of these paintings were created by men. This overabundance of imagery is dehumanizing because it objectifies women.

My main point is that I am a person. When I flip the binary and put masculine men in the poses typically reserved for women, I want my viewers to consider that these passive representations of women for the heteronormative male gaze aren’t natural. If my paintings are funny, then it means that the images I reference aren’t only about aesthetics. This series has only been shown in a gallery once. In the USA, I feel ignored and overlooked as a woman artist. Only 13% of artists in major museums in this country are women. Curators have personally told me that I would not be able to show my work if I painted nude men, even though those galleries will display artwork showing nude women.

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