WELCOME TO NOWAGAZE (2016 - 2017)
Welcome to Nowgaze is an investigation of the ways that the Internet and social media have become a hotbed for gender-based animosity and discrimination, specifically focusing on the sexism and objectification that women are subjected to by simply possessing an online presence. The series explores ways of refracting the male gaze, female spectatorship and objectification through photographs, videos, performance, installation, and a website. Nowagaze is a fabricated company specializing in the manufacture and distribution of products created specifically for men. These products aim to allow the consumer to not only have a woman customized to their specific tastes, but to have these women in the palpable, submissive manner that is yearned for online. In reality these products are poorly constructed and non-functional, but on the website don a veil of sophistication and functionality and extend beyond physical objects to the promotion of lifestyles.
"How bout u remove the clothing and u can ride me like u neva eva ridden anythingb4", "Go naked", "I'd like to see u naked baby", "Yes baby.. Yes... Lets have sex.. Or strip naked cos I will be watching."
They're not hard to find, these kinds of comments, that are just a ripple in the ocean of sexist slander that can be found on the social media application Instagram. These are not isolated events either, this is just how the social media world functions. But let's just begin with the platform itself: Instagram. The concept was simple: experiencing the lives of others through a feed of images, curated by the user. Since its launch in October of 2011, Instagram has grown considerably in size, content, as well as the experience. Let me throw some statistics your way just to put into perspective how significant Instagram has become. 400 million: the amount of monthly active users. 3.5 billion: the amount of "likes" that occur in a day. 800 million: the amount of photos uploaded daily on Instagram. 17.5% of the world population is an active user of this application, and that number is only growing. This series is not about Instagram, it is just where it all started.
In early 2016, I was working on a series that involved crowdsourcing ideas for achieving the perfect selfie. Rather than directly addressing those around me, I decided to turn to RedditAnswers, Yahoo! Answers, Facebook, and Omegle. The feedback I received was a combination of solemn and demeaning advice, but I worked with it. Months went by and I found myself returning to the screenshots of answers. There was an immense amount of answers that I could not use due to their degrading and sexual nature. "Nipple", "tits", "full frontal female nudity", the list goes on. It wasn't what was said that surprised, rather it was the abundance and frequency of these comments that was jarring. It wasn't before long that I began further investigating the sexism that runs rampant not only on the Internet, but on social media as well. When did it become acceptable for men to use social media as a way to exert their opinions of the female physique? When did images of women become the foreground of sexual objectification? Why are these social media platforms failing to monitor and this type of behavior? In Instagram's Community Guidelines, the company states, "We want to foster a positive, diverse community. We remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them, personal information meant to blackmail or harass someone, and repeated unwanted messages." Despite these "guidelines", the sexism and objectification still runs rampant on Instagram and there's only so much one person can do to prevent this.
This is where it all began for the Nowagaze series. I decided from the beginning to approach this series through the perspectives, as well as the mindsets, of the men who engaged in this sexist and degrading behavior. I kept returning to the idea of objectification of the female image, and began thinking about women as objects period. From there, I thought about women as products, rather than objects, manufactured by a business that specializes in products solely for men. I began devising products under the illusion that I was the CEO of this disturbing company specializing in the manufacturing of customizable male fantasies. The idea was to have these products to feed the male gaze of men who act out on social media, and allow these men to have products that they can treat in they same way [they treat women online] in real life. I wanted to appeal to the mass of men who were the inspiration for this project, this was for them. I believe that there are expectations of women to present themselves [in their images] in an overly sexual and almost artificial way. These men are not looking for good, wholesome women to introduce their mother to; rather they are seeking out these highly eroticized, yet submissive women. The way these social media comments embody such an authoritative tone almost made it sound like these images were in fact their property. I make it a point to make the women in this series hypersexual yet submissive. The idea was to create these artificial, tangible females that manifest these characteristics that these men long for.