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TV for Your Body

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Visit the MCA from wherever you are in this Tour Video Series dedicated to discovering more about the world, our communities, and ourselves through contemporary art.

[THEME MUSIC]

JADA: Welcome to the MCA. I'm Jada, and I'll be your host today. In this episode, "TV For Your Body," we'll look at some art that depicts bodies and we'll think about how we see and feel about our own bodies. The art you'll see in this video is contemporary art. Saying art is contemporary just means that it was made recently, in our time.

Old, historical art is special and important because through it we can learn about the past. But the art of our time is just as important because it can help us see the present in new ways. One of the early patrons of this museum, Gerald S. Elliott, said of contemporary art, "What attracts me is a certain awesomeness and presence which relates to the spirit of our time, to the human condition, the ups, the downs, the destruction, the chaos, the ambivalence." We'll be approaching art that way, not by trying to dig into its history or the biography of the artists. Instead, we'll look for ways the art can inspire us to engage with ourselves, one another, and the world we share.

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OK, we’ve got to talk about it. People can be weird about bodies, especially naked ones, and especially certain body parts. Bodies are not bad, inappropriate, or shameful. All bodies are beautiful and powerful and part of our identity. As we talk about artworks today, we’re going to see some bodies without clothes. We’ll look at art made by artists who are thinking about how our bodies figure into our identities. We’re not going to censor these bodies, but we’ll go ahead and avoid anything too graphic or explicit.

In some places, obviously, there are some rules about who’s old enough to look at body parts ordinarily covered by clothes. Not museums, though. In art, nudity is totally normal. Throughout history, artists have used nudity to try and convey the beauty of the human body.

In this animation by Lilli Carré, a body transforms into different shapes and forms. You might recognize some of the poses. They’re from famous artworks.

But not all nudity is the same, and not all nudity is good. It can get complicated when sex or power come into the picture, or when only certain kinds of bodies are the naked ones, or if there isn’t consent. The kinds of bodies we see in artworks in commercials and movies and social media and advertising, they all influence and inform what people consider beautiful. It’s great when things out in the world help you feel beautiful. It’s bad when people only consider one type of body beautiful.

Have you ever seen something that has changed the way you felt about your body? Maybe there was a movie where someone looked like you or an art exhibit where nobody did. Talk with a friend or family member about it. Talk about a time when you saw something that made you feel good about your body, and a time when you saw something that didn’t feel so great. Remember to show each other love and support in that conversation. Talking about vulnerable stuff can be hard.

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This is a whole series of works by Emil Ferris related to her graphic novel called My Favorite Thing is Monsters. The main character, Karen Reyes, is a queer girl in 1960s Chicago who loves monsters, horror stories, and all things gross or scary. She’s also an artist. And the graphic novel is written as if she were telling her own story by drawing in her notebook.

Karen draws herself as a version of the Wolf Man, a character from a 1941 horror film, while she draws most other people as regular humans. For Karen, monsters like her aren’t bad, they’re feared because they’re different. In classic horror stories like Frankenstein, for example, there’s a subtext that it’s fear that makes the monster, not the monster that makes the fear. Karen has dreams about being attacked by a mob of everyday people. For her, the word mob is an acronym, M-O-B: Mean, Ordinary, Boring.

Karen is proud to be a wolf girl. Whatever quote-unquote "ordinary" looks like, she's different. And it's good to be what she is instead, "a bit weird-looking and fangy," as she puts it, even if it means she doesn't fit in.

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EDANA LYNCH: Hi, we’re TCA members. I’m Edana.

DANIELA LOZA: I’m Daniela. And we’re artists. And we’re going to look at some art.

[BOTH LAUGH]

We did two different ways.

EDANA LYNCH: I’ve never done camera.

DANIELA LOZA: Yeah. We’re going to make some art and look at some art.

CREW: Yeah, there it is.

DANIELA LOZA: OK.

EDANA LYNCH: Hi, we’re TCA members. I’m Edana.

DANIELA LOZA: I’m Daniela. And we’re artists. And we’re going to make some art and look at some art.

I love this art style. It’s so cute.

EDANA LYNCH: It’s really simple, but you get a lot of emotion out of it.

DANIELA LOZA: Oh yeah, it’s like frown but, like, smiling. Kind of reminds me of, like, Animal Crossing or just, like, watching a little dude doing their little chores.

It just looks like a little stick with a head. Yeah, like [INAUDIBLE]. You just, like, watch its big head go to each thing.

EDANA LYNCH: These are really realistic little bodies. These are pretty much proportional.

DANIELA LOZA: Yeah, I like how, every time they show a face, it’s grossed out or annoyed. I like how you can really see the expressions, like the lines of someone being grossed or annoyed. I like how comics can just give emotion to anything. Like even if a character is an object or something, they could put eyes on it and now we relate to them.

Even like the nose. I mean, every time they have a nose, it’s like, something else, or like, pops. I think that’s really cool.

EDANA LYNCH: Maybe like exploding with, like, anger or something.

DANIELA LOZA: Yeah, like emotions. I guess, in comics, you see that a lot. Like if they feel something, they literally show it, like their nose exploding black gunk.

[GENTLE MUSIC]

I really don’t like drawing with pencil and then putting, like, pen over. I feel like it kind of distorts it for me. I like the drawing. Sometimes if I’m drawing someone I’ve never drawn before, sometimes I’m like, I don’t want to offend them or something.

EDANA LYNCH: I feel the same way. Like sometimes if I draw someone and I don’t know them, I feel like I have to almost censor myself in a way. Because I don’t want them to be weirded out.

DANIELA LOZA: Yeah, I don't want them to be like, "What is this?" Like people in middle school were like, oh, can you draw me?

EDANA LYNCH: I took a couple art classes at school, but I didn’t really enjoy them. I feel like I didn’t get to express myself the way I wanted to.

DANIELA LOZA: I heard there was this art teacher that even my art teachers hated. Like, they would talk about her, which maybe wasn't professional. Because my are teachers were very "Do what you want." But that teacher was like, "You have to draw realistic noses for a month" or something. Like, let's watch YouTube videos and try to draw realistic noses.

EDANA LYNCH: I feel like, when I was younger, I really hated drawing noses. But now they’re, like, one of my favorite things to draw. Just because I never made myself do it, so I never got to the point where I was comfortable doing it all the time.

DANIELA LOZA: I didn’t draw noses for like two years. Part of my characters or whatever, I didn’t drawn noses. And then I started drawing noses, even though they were just triangles. And now my noses are just like dots sometimes.

EDANA LYNCH: I feel like I like drawing the nose most. But I also really like the hands, but, like, the fingernails a lot too. I feel like my least favorite, I hate drawing feet. I never draw feet because it just grosses me out. And I don’t want to have to look at a foot reference that long.

DANIELA LOZA: Sometimes the eyes, like it’s not my least favorite, but it’s sometimes the hardest, not because of the scale of it but deciding it. And sometimes I mess up. And so I just pretend they’re wearing sunglasses or something. Like I just block them out.

EDANA LYNCH: That sort of upbringing, of being only told to draw traditional and really fancy work, basically, that was only meant to be seen by like rich people, and it wasn’t meant to express how I actually wanted to draw, is still kind of ingrained in me. Because sometimes I draw, and I’m like, this isn’t good because it doesn’t look exactly like the reference.

DANIELA LOZA: I really thought an artist’s job was in, like, old-timey paintings in a museum or something. I didn’t know there was actual other jobs. And some people— because I still drew cartoons and stuff— and they’d be like, oh, you could make children’s books when you’re older. And I remember I used to be really offended by that when I was younger. But now I do want to make a children’s book one day, or a comic, something like that.

EDANA LYNCH: I don’t want to have to be forcing myself to draw how old people want me to draw or something.

DANIELA LOZA: I really like crayon. Because I do use expensive art supplies sometimes. But it just kind of takes the pressure off of it. Even if I break it—

EDANA LYNCH: It doesn't feel like you're wasting, [INAUDIBLE].

DANIELA LOZA: Yeah. Because I have oil pastels, but I haven’t used them once. Because they kind of run out easily for me. So I’m like, oh no, I’m going to waste them on bad art or something. I made you purple.

EDANA LYNCH: I just did you in pencil.

DANIELA LOZA: I know.

JADA: It might go without saying, but the experience of living in a body is not the same for everyone. Regardless of how we feel about ourselves, the color and shape of our bodies unfairly affects how we’re seen and treated by others. There’s judgment and stereotypes and biases.

Bianca Xunise is an artist whose comics tell personal, political, and sometimes punk rock stories. She’s going to read her comic Angry Black Girl now.

BIANCA XUNISE: Hello, everyone. I am Bianca Xunise, and I am a cartoonist. I make comics about a little bit of everything, but mostly slice of life. Think Scott Pilgrim meets Peanuts, a little bit of Gossip Girl, a little bit of everything.

Growing up, I was influenced by Seinfeld of all things. But I was curious of what that world would look like starring a nonbinary femme who’s also Black, you know? And so I draw comics about this, because I draw comics about the ups and downs of life. Because I think life is so beautiful and interesting, let’s record it.

So I want to read you all today a comic that I drew, called Angry Black Girl, that’s about the experience of being a Black person in America who’s often policed in how we’re allowed to feel. So come on and join me. Let me pull that up. Hopefully I will get it right. Let’s see here. Yes.

OK, so growing up, I learned to never show my rage. The idea of my own anger hung heavy on me like a shackle of restraint. At home, I was punished if I took a tone with my mother. I would later be diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, but in my youth they were just perceived as teenage angst.

In school, I got detention for having an "attitude" after misunderstanding a lecture. As I got older and spoke up for myself in school and jobs, I got suspended and even fired.

I was haunted by the concept of having an attitude for many years. I would constantly swallow my justified rage to allow others to feel more comfortable around me.

Sometimes I even believe their accusations because I heard them so often. I learned the same thing was happening to many Black women and non-binary people.

"She has an attitude" has been used as a dog whistle in silencing Black women's right to feel frustrated. It can instantly create racist stereotypes of the "angry Black woman." (MOCK CURMUDGEONLY TONE) She has an attitude.

Black women’s emotions are weaponized against us. We’re compared to pitbulls while our white counterparts are seen as brave in the same situations. I was raised to believe that showing my anger would be perceived as a weakness. But instead of rising above it, I would suppress it until it would come exploding out.

Ultimately, I found positive outlets for releasing my anger that weren’t self-destructive, such as kickboxing and therapy, getting lost in a punk mosh pits is cathartic too. You know, I like the punk rock, the rock and roll, getting loose.

Above all else, I’ve learned to allow myself to be frustrated in the moment. I have to prioritize my self-agency in a society that would rather see me as docile. Standing in my truth has made me a lot less angry.

So I have a question for everyone today, tonight, tomorrow, this evening, this afternoon. Hello. What do you do to make yourself feel a lot less angry in your body? How do you release that? Do you journal? Do you draw comics? Do you make memes? You make TikToks? Do you learn the latest dance craze? Do you make a smoothie? Do you have a glass of water in a Batman glass from the eighties? What do you do to make yourself feel a lot less angry in your rage that is justified because we’re human? We have so many emotions, both good, bad, and everything in between. Not everything feels as good, but we all have to release it. And what do you do to release that energy positively in a way that doesn’t cause harm to others or to yourself? Anyway, that’s my question for tonight. Thank you for having me. Again, I’m Bianca Xunise. Peace.

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JADA: This is a painting by Christina Quarles called Don’t They Know? It’s the End of tha World. It’s two distorted bodies wrapped up in an odd room with these ornate windows.

Take a close look at how Christina paints each body part differently. The arms and legs are just light, pale gestures, like she made them with one swoop of the brush. The feet are gnarled with thick paint and twisted colors. The faces are not really there.

Looking at the whole picture, how do you think these people feel in this room? Christina painted it in early 2020. We were all just coming to terms with being stuck in our homes. Of course, there were a lot of mixed-up emotions.

Do different parts of these bodies suggest different feelings to you? When you’re feeling all sorts of things, it can be helpful to slow down and try to locate where you’re feeling that way. It sounds a bit weird, but we each carry happiness, trauma, stress, and fear differently in different places in our body.

Take a few deep breaths with me. Slow down and pay attention to how your body communicates with you. First, try to remember confidence. Where in your body do you feel confidence? Maybe it’s in your shoulders or in your forehead.

Now think about when you feel nervous. Where does nervousness sit in your body? Last, recall a time you felt truly joyful. Where do you feel that joyful energy most? If you ever have trouble managing your feelings, slow down and then find them in your body. Try caring for them there.

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Now, a member of the MCA’s Teen Creative Agency, Elvis Hernandez, got a chance to talk with Christina Quarles about the bodies she paints. Let’s take a look.

ELVIS HERNANDEZ: Hello, I’m Elvis Hernandez from the Teen Creative agency here at the MCA. And I’m here talking to Christina Quarles. Hello, Christina Quarles.

CHRISTINA QUARLES: Hi. Nice to meet you.

ELVIS HERNANDEZ: I recently had the experience of witnessing your art for the first time. And immediately the first thing that caught my eye was this idea of expressing emotion through the form of a body, and approaching it that way as opposed to portraying what it looks like to feel something.

CHRISTINA QUARLES: As an artist, to get to what you were saying about showing what it is to feel the feeling rather than what it is to see the feeling is something that it took me a long time, as an artist, to figure that out. I think, for a while, I was like, OK, I have to show this by showing exactly what it looks like. But sometimes what something looks like is not anything like what it feels like.

And so, for me, that was big discovery with my work, was how to use the body but to show what it is to be within your body rather than what it is to look at a body. And I think that experience is sometimes really different. So my experience of being within my own body is always really different from what it is to look at other people.

ELVIS HERNANDEZ: Yeah. And going back to that idea of presenting your most perfect self, I know that, in more classical forms of painting, there’s this idea of painting the form perfectly. And I was wondering if there was any instance in which you felt a feeling of empowerment by maybe not disobeying that perfect form.

CHRISTINA QUARLES: Yeah.

ELVIS HERNANDEZ: Like what that inspiration comes from for you.

CHRISTINA QUARLES: Yeah, I mean, I think we make a lot of assumptions based on the sort of ideal body in a way. And so for my work, one of the things I always try to challenge people to do is think about all the different factors that would contribute to a body being the way it is. Because I think we assume things about somebody’s gender based on the sort of ideal, 22-year-old, really fit body. But when you add age to it, if somebody is really young or really old, you add body weight to it if somebody is really fat or really thin, all those things can complicate the way that also gender could be read in the work.

And so in my work, I guess it’s really just more about sort of taking this kind of quick read of something and then trying to slow it down or complicate it. And so it’s about having other things in the painting maybe that are more beautiful or catchy, so like bright colors, and flowers, and fun textures, and things that’ll sort of keep you engaged, but then have these bodies that are really complicated and messy. And sometimes there’s weird fat rolls, but it’s painted in a really beautiful way. And other times it’s maybe more of an ideal body but painted in kind of like an ugly, crusty way.

ELVIS HERNANDEZ: I wanted to ask you, what is your favorite body part, whether it’s like physically on yourself, or when it comes to painting as well.

CHRISTINA QUARLES: Yeah. I mean, I like all the body parts. Some of them are harder to draw. There’s a few things where I’m like, I should really learn how to draw that. I rarely have ears in my paintings, just because there’s a lot going on in an ear that’s like— can’t be bothered with it. But I tend to pay a lot of attention in my paintings to hands and to feet. And I find that, in my paintings, that’s where a lot of the expression is.

And I think it’s because I think about how, when we’re in our own body, we really can see our hands and feet all the time. Like when I look at you, I’m only looking at your face. That’s your most important feature. And for most people, when I look at them, if I’m being polite, I’m looking at their face. And it’s the one part of my body that I don’t know. I only know what my face looked like the last time I used the bathroom, which was a while ago. So I don’t really know what my face looks like.

And even when I do look at it, it’s in a mirror. So it’s flat and it’s reversed. And so I think that we’re at this sort of strange disadvantage to knowing ourselves. Because I would prioritize everybody else’s face and not know it in myself. It’s like the one thing I look at is the one thing I don’t look at for myself.

But for me, so my expression, my sense of who I am, comes from this sense of my limbs and then primarily my hands and my feet kind of moving around. So yeah. And I think, even as a little kid, I was like, if I want to learn how to draw, I have to learn how to draw hands because those are the hard ones. So I really practiced it a lot as a little kid. So I think that also it’s this place where I feel really comfortable sort of riffing off of what a hand looks like.

ELVIS HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I agree. Because I feel like, when I ask myself that question, immediately my mind just goes to, like, more in terms of vanity. Maybe I might think, oh, I like my nose or I like my ears. But just thinking about expression, I would agree with you. I think I would prefer my hands over anything. I don’t really pay attention to my nose. But I think it’s just that condition that sometimes we have.

CHRISTINA QUARLES: Yeah, yeah. It’s like you’d be like, oh yeah, my eyes. Or the things that you would describe in other people, but then with yourself it’s like, what part of myself do I think of?

ELVIS HERNANDEZ: Right. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you so much, Christina Quarles, for having this talk with me.

CHRISTINA QUARLES: Yeah. Thank you so much.

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JADA: Thanks for watching "TV For Your Body" at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. I hope you found some inspiration and were able to connect to these works of art in new ways. I want to thank the Teen Creative Agency members who participated in the video, Daniela, Edana, and Elvis. Thanks also to Bianca for reading her comic and to Christina for talking with Elvis. The museum is always free for people 18 and under, students, and teachers. For more activities and experiences or for more information about the MCA's learning programs, just visit mcachicago.org/learn.

Downloads

Want to learn more about the artworks, activities, and themes in this episode? Download the TV for Your Body Guide.