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Who's afraid of male nude?

About Ora Ruven art work

Dr. Tal Dekel/art history, Tel Aviv University
(Translation of Hebrew)

In the center of this work of art large paintings of male nude are placed. Near
them, digital works presenting similar nudity. These digital works of art display
the naked man as a tempting and peeping objective, wrapped in lace, soft bed
linen and gold, parts of his body exposed to the observer, but his face remains
hidden. This is somehow a pornographic expression, which turns to the
partner and shares the watching act softly and kindly creating an atmosphere,
an environment of desire in many women’s hearts- lace, gold, candlelight,
Masculine pornography is completely different from the pornography exhibited
by women. Mainstream pornography if directed mainly at a masculine
audience displays the female body usually in maximum close-up, while
turning the woman into an object and thus negating her subjectivity. Actually,
this is mainly functional pornography.

Man as an objective of temptation is the complete opposite.

In the last decades, many women artists have dealt with cultural and
traditional roles in reverse. Some of them introduced themselves as strong
characters when facing a weakened man. Often they showed sex as a wicked
or threatening. However, in this work the reverse tends to carry a different
quality: The man is the objective of the woman’s desire. In other words,
instead of treating the brutality in the man-woman relationship, a new agenda,
in which the woman treats her objective controlled by her own desire, desire
combined with softness, beauty and romance. The artist does not represent a
woman trying to replace man’s powerful position by placing herself as a
strong figure facing him, but she is a woman expressing her femininity in
relation to him.
Consequently, one must not overlook the strength of the artist shown when
men, who are not professional models, are ready to undress in front of her for
painting or for taking pictures..

The paintings, usually average in size and format, are realistic. Adult,
authentic men are shown, men distant and different from the muscular
handsome common male models. Nudity is direct, sometimes even
embarrassing. Most men painted are seated on an armchair in a classic
model position or outstretched on a bed staring at the painter / the observer.
Another man is caught sleeping naked unaware of the action of painting
taking place. In a different painting, a man is standing covering his face while
his nakedness is exposed shamefully in full to the observer.

Style is traditional and the scene itself is classic- the model poses naked for
the artist. However, the element formed is not traditional or classic at all.

At first glance, it seems that male nudity is conventional and tolerable for the
contemporary observer who is accustomed to complete exposure of naked
bodies in the media. Nevertheless, a review of contemporary art will show that
male nudity exists in many works of art done by male artists but it is almost
non- existent in the works of women artists.

Let us examine the history of the last decades when women were finally
permitted to enter the historical canon as artists, to the feminist era which
brought with it new winds of equality and sexual freedom. This allowed
women artists to express whatever they wished to. Women have almost never
used male nudity to proclaim the above mentioned freedom. When they
eventually did that protest was the main voice in their works. Many of them
painted only distorted, frightening, ridiculous, pathetic or repulsive men. Thus
they managed to convey the hardest feelings which have been part of their
being throughout patriarchal history, a history which never granted them any
space to convey empathy, sensuality, eroticism or love- a woman’s love for a

Woman’s sexuality- A black hole- as named by the father of psychology- is

treated by the artist in a brave and sincere way.

In time parts of this so called hole has saturated. “The Woman’s Liberation
Movement” born in the late sixties’, the outbreak of feminism in the seventies
allowed a conscious and extensive discourse on feminine sexuality. These
also gave space to women’s love, to masturbation, to the act of love between
a man and a woman, but they did not dwell long enough on the theories and
art related to those who wished to continue living the relationships with the
men in their lives. There were no answers or guidance for “feminist” women
who wanted to exist and live with the men in their lives in equality. I t is hard to
locate research which examine woman’s sexuality in relation to man and her
view of him. Doesn’t a woman have a personal view of man?

This infrequent question is repeatedly asked in Ora Reuven’s art.

And perhaps a different reason prevented women from dealing with male
nudity. Perhaps this taboo subject is still so scorched in them that its violation
is almost impossible. Maybe when a woman shows any sexual interest in a
man she still puts herself at risk of becoming an outcast, she is still fearful of
the social finger that might be pointed at her labeling her as immoral or
adventurous. Maybe the decent woman of the twenty first century still sees
herself as “proper” only when the “classic” man accepts her as proper,
modest quite a holy image , mother of his children, an almost sexless
creature, and not the easy one who poses as a model completely naked, or
alternatively, the one who dares to paint a naked man herself.
In other words, the woman has not yet been able to free herself from the
perception of her own self as dictated by the male culture.
This understanding leads us to John Berger’s article “Ways of Seeing”where
he deals with the power of the male’s look being the originator of his position
as subjective whereas the woman’s position is the objective. This is a look
that forces the woman to adopt the man’s look and see herself in the eyes of
the man as an object of his desire.
Ora Reuven seized this look. However, in her painting, where she looks in the
man’s eyes and at his nakedness painting them in a straightforward and
powerful manner, there is no violence, no patrimony nor objectivism which we
are familiar with in the innumerable nude paintings painted throughout the
history of art.
The look- the central instrument of objectivism in art , is used by the artist
when she looks at the male nakedness. Then she achieves a position of
The question is whether she managed to turn this position, this strength
gained by this look into an instrument of control.
In the paintings the man is presented in his full virility displaying full presence
in warm colors and in light focus- the paintings respect him.

The proposal is to see in nakedness and sexuality something uncontrollable.

This is the essence of the female look which connects between the erotic
and the sexual and between warmth and love without control. This is actually
how the feminine look differs from the masculine look, which is the expression
of desire and possession.

These works represent femininity not manifested by the masculine culture.

This is a liberated femininity, which built itself on her own, while leaning on
freedom created for her by the first feminist mothers, freedom that is still far
from being completely accomplished.