interpreting: to be a woman

to be a woman, 2019
acrylic on canvas

as individuals, we interpret art differently. while a general theme in an artwork could be similarly understood, perhaps the depictions of details rather differ. and based on our own experiences with life, so could our perspectives.

before sharing my intentions on painting these pieces, i thought i’d ask others what came into mind when looking at them.

the interpretations of others

jocelyn: “forced silence.”

sydney: “my first reaction: yeah, accurate. what i feel: FRUSTRATION.”

nisha: “she’s being silenced and held back.”

anonymous: “i like the paintings, but i don’t believe in its message–that a woman should stay silent. regardless of whether one is a man or a woman, one must fight for their rights and be true to the self. a woman shouldn’t give society the power to restrict her.”

yousef: “i see someone who’s empty on the inside, a person who is physically there but lost their sense of self, hence the blank face.”

kennedy: “to me it represents that women are seen and not heard while men are able to voice their opinions openly.”

whitney: “a woman is limited to what she can say.”

anonymous: “i disagree with the premise of the painting; i don’t think women are silenced in society. maybe men are generally more confident and that could be a byproduct of conditioning. but recently, i do feel like there is a lot of encouragement for women’s empowerment and men just get the toxic masculinity message.”

sauda: “i see a dominant man, and the woman is just a ‘pretty face’ to him.”

zach: “this painting is so powerful that it saddens me.”

sara: “i think about how women are taken less seriously than men, even if they are speaking their truths – and that frustrates me. it reminds me of a class i’m taking called ‘history of women’. we just finished our lecture on the fourth wave of feminism and were asked if feminism has gone too far. i would definitely say not far enough.”

daniel: “i feel like there’s lack of identity because of their blank faces. when i look at the man, i see a young man unsure of who he is. while the woman also has that lack of identity, she has no say. the fact that the paintings are on two separate canvases also shows that there’s a separation between the man and the woman.”

tania: “i see a self-portrait of a woman who’s looking at a fantasy that she can’t have. maybe she’s looking for love, but something is holding her back.”

amanda: “i think the shared background symbolizes that we live in the same world, except the woman is limited to what she can say, having to always listen to what the man says.”

jorge: “it’s as if the woman is trying to tell the man something, but he’s not listening.”

anonymous: “the woman has her mouth obviously bared out, so it could signify that she is oppressed. it’s like she can’t speak her mind or her voice is unheard whereas the man doesn’t have these barriers and can do whatever he wants to. he can speak freely.”

jasmyn: “faceless white people.”

christian: “to me, it represents how women don’t have as much of a voice as men do (for now, hopefully) which is what reminds me of the push for gender equality.”

jaydene: “what i see is a married couple. the man facing forward shows that he’s more powerful in the relationship while the woman facing towards him shows that she lives under him and seeks for his approval.”

mohammad: “there’s a white male with a proper white-collar looking outfit, probably working a good job. the woman might be in the same class based on what she’s wearing, but she’s obviously being silenced. i see a slight difference in shade of their skin tones which might imply a difference in race and privilege. it reminds me of sexual abuse in organizations and the rising of the #MeToo movement.”

jasmine: “because of the girl’s ‘mouth’, it reminds me of the way a man can freely express their thoughts and ideas whereas a women can’t.”

caroline: “life sucks.”


my interpretation

without certainty of what i wanted to paint, i took a blank canvas, a pencil, and some paint as i was looking for another means of expression that goes beyond words. i began lightly sketching the woman’s figure initially basing her outline off of a self-portrait but have turned it into an image that is symbolic to the entire piece.

the woman’s dress

red is a bold color that has often been related to war, power, and even confidence. on a woman however, it is often depicted with passions, sexuality, and eroticism which signifies societal objectification and idealized notions of beauty. dulling the red color with shades of brown was done to reveal the woman’s exhaustion and worn-out feelings in having to fulfill those expectations.

i also intentionally left her shoulders bare to further emphasize on that idealized beauty. the amount of skin shown on a woman carries preconceived opinions, judgements, and expectations.

the woman’s censored mouth

the thick stroke of paint over what’s supposed to be the woman’s mouth conveys that she is silenced (as many others have interpreted too).

the woman’s jewelry

a silver lining (or rather gold lining) on the woman is the color gold on her jewelry. the color is usually associated with a positive connotation representing victory, richness, and warmth. in the case of the painting, while her jewelry act solely as accessories, they symbolize the underlying divinity, knowledge, and strength that she carries within.

the man and his suit

painting the man was an addition to complement and strengthen this piece. adding the man was not meant to portray that all men are not pressured by society. in fact, the suit he wears in some way symbolizes the expectations pushed towards him and his image too. a man in a suit often represents idealized notions of attractiveness, class, and power.

however, it’s crucial to note that there are differences in privilege (not only in regards to gender, but race, socioeconomic status, ability, etc.). in relation to the painting, the fact that the man does not have a censored mouth connotes to that particular difference.

the body gestures

unlike the woman whose body gesture is facing towards the man as if in need of his consent to simply be, the man is facing straight forward—either intentionally or subconsciously.

this indicates the human tendency and act of ignorance—whether done intentionally or subconsciously.

the backgrounds

painting a nature-like background exhibits aspects of human nature. both figures appear in the same space at first glance, however hints of black and darker shades of green in the woman’s background uncovers a perspective of the world she carries within that the man cannot understand.

the blank faces

(aside from the fact that i don’t know how to paint faces) i chose to leave the man and the woman faceless to toy with the concept of identity and its relationship with the face.

it’s interesting that our faces are tied to our identities – that it is essentially what makes us who we are in this material world. it’s how we differentiate and identify one another, and it’s also what we see when looking at our reflections. asymmetrical, blemished, nose too big, eyes slightly lopsided, forehead (no, fivehead).

we choose to define beauty by looking at the face,

but a face is also a mask we hide beneath.

-k.t.

december 2019