Jacqueline Rosenberg’s Aesthetic Mutations of Beauty and Power

Written by: Marie R. Pagano

The Dutch artist Jacqueline Rosenberg deals with issues of femininity from what might be termed a post-feminist perspective, in the photographic mixed media prints on canvas that she is showing at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street , from November 20 through December 11. (Reception Thursday, November 29, from 6 to 8 PM.)

Rosenberg is well aware of being at odds with traditional sexual politics when she asserts that the women in her pictures are "strong, emancipated and sexy," adding that showing sensuality "is a powerful means to express emancipation, as opposed to the classical feminist that somehow denies femininity." If this seems a controversial stance, it reflects Rosenberg's background as a fashion photographer whose personal aesthetic leans more toward the postmodern model of womanly empowerment personified by media performers and personalities like Madonna and Oprah Winfrey than the sexual politics of 1960s activists such as Betty Friedan and Kate Millet.

Although Rosenberg cites Picasso as one of her main inspirations, her style is more akin to Man Ray (who also earned his living as a fashion photographer early in his career), among other artists associated with the Surrealist movement, such as the painter and sculptor Hans Bellmer and the film maker Luis Bunuel, all of whom projected a similarly subtle eroticism in their images of women. Being of a later generation, however, Rosenberg also brings an element of Pop to bear in her merger of glamour photography with brilliantly colorful abstract forms and patterns, particularly bold stripes and polka dots. Although she also creates sensual anatomical anomalies in some of her prints focusing on the nude female body, some of her most powerful compositions feature close-ups of beautiful women's faces variously fragmented and bejeweled.

The idea of decorating the faces of her subjects in such a manner may date back to her professional work as a makeup stylist. However, she launches it into the realm of the surreal in her fine art pieces, which, by virtue of being embellished with mixed media and printed on canvas break down the barriers between photography and painting.In Rosenberg 's fanciful piece, "Lips," the model's eyes are covered with a black strip (suggesting either a blindfold or the black strips used to obscure the identities of the participants in pre-liberated pornography) and her full lips are entirely covered with tiny red dots. By contrast, in another print called "Hiding," it is the lower portion of the woman's face that is covered, as if by a veil, albeit one decorated with a riot of polka dots that rhyme visually with the shapes of two crystalline orbs which substitute for the irises of her beautiful eyes.

In some works, such as "Do Not Tell," and "Purple Eye," the faces of the models are variously altered with elements that range from jewel-like objects placed strategically in unexpected places to graffiti-like markings that appear to have been scrawled directly on their flesh, while in others, such as "Big Eye," certain features are grotesquely magnified. Rather than distorting her subjects, however, each of the radical alterations that Jacqueline Rosenberg imposes upon her models somehow enhances her feminine mystique and lends her the power of a gorgeous mutant goddess.

Image Credits: HIDING - Mixed Media Print on Canvas 46.8" x 31.2"

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