Monday, March 5, 2018

Feminism vs. The Femme Fatale

March is Women's History month, and March 8th is International Women's Day.
As part of my blog series talking about Film Noir and how I use it as a source for my art, I have been pondering Noir through the lens of how I relate to it as a female artist.
Part of the enduring fascination we have with Noir is the inclusion of powerful female characters. The zenith of Film Noir was from the 1930’s-1950’s a time of extraordinary change for women, particularly during WWII, when they took up jobs vacated by men who were off at war. The war, plus the changing role of women in society, created nationwide anxiety, much like the anxiety evidenced in our own times.
However, with some exceptions, the classic femme fatale of those times was not a feminist figure. She does not seek to break down the patriarchal system so much as she attempts to use her sexual power to win within it. The Madonna/Whore dichotomy is well in place in most of these movies. My use of the femme fatal in my art is an expression of my struggles with attempts at finding my own voice, independent of the men around me.
Nevertheless, the femme fatale is a challenge to the system, and an early and exciting example of women in power.
In my artwork, I focus on complex human relationships with delightfully ambiguous situations. In them I give my female figures an identity of their own and an interior life. In “Backlight” there is a large, looming man in the foreground, looking back at the woman on display, perhaps a classic depiction of the dominant male and the female object. Or is it? Through this traditional lens a different picture is shown. She stands resolute and firm, her steady gaze back at him makes him appear unsteady and unsure, and perhaps like he is trying to slip away.
"Backlight" Leslie Peterson Sapp, 38"x48" Acrylic on panel. 
I will be writing more about the psychological appeal of Film Noir in upcoming posts. Look out for "A Brief Primer on Film Noir - Part Two: Drama, Intrigue and Heartbreak"