Cindy Sherman and a Bunch of Nameless Women

“‘The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work,’ says Cindy Sherman about her art, “but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.” But feminists were eager to claim her, inspired by her photographs that were not self-portraits but spoke of gender, identity and power” [2]

Cindy Sherman, born in 1954, is an American photographer. Sherman’s interest in art began when she received a book called “One Hundred and One Beautiful Paintings”. Sherman then went on to college where she studied and experimented with different art forms. It was in college where she was introduced to conceptual art, which Sherman is best known for. Conceptual art is idea or concept based. The idea is the most important part of the work presented. The idea makes the art. With her growing knowledge and talent of art and photography Sherman began taking photos of herself (self-portraits) as different characters, primarily stereotypical images of how society views women: actresses, housewives, prostitutes. This beginning in Sherman’s career has lead her and several series of her work to question the roles and representation of women in society [1].

old pic 1

old pic 2

old pic 3

Part of the draw and reason for her popularity is that Sherman’s work is bold and innovative. The portraits are stunning, shocking and make the viewer question what the work is saying. There is also the mystery of Cindy Sherman herself, as she is the model in her “self portraits” we as viewers have no idea what she actually looks like, we only see the character being portrayed. This element as well as naming all of her photographs “Untitled” gives the photographs a blank slate for the viewers to examine the work without any external influence, and shows how women are truly represented in society, stereotyped and untitled [1]. In congruence with the questioning of societal roles of women the portraits are demonstrating there is also the idea that with photography, comes an element of fiction. It raises the question of what is real and what is not.

picture 5 picture 4 picture 2 picture 1

This is the case for Sherman’s “Untitled #355”.In a post by Maika Pollack on the website Gallerist Ny called “Pictures of You: Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art” writes of Sherman:

“She hit her stride in 2000, by which time, like a great actor, she knew every angle of her chin and nose and every trick of makeup and wig. Her virtuosic head shots series gives us Ms. Sherman in the zone. Like the film stills, they draw on the viewer to constellate clichés into a feeling of déjà vu, yet these dig deeper: these images of women have a starkness and power to discomfit” [4]

Untitled #355

Untitled #355

Like Pollack stated of Sherman’s work the woman in this photograph draws a discomfort when looking at it. The woman in the photograph has been called “the gothic biker stripper” three very different subject put into one title like the photograph, it is purposefully uncomfortable. The way the photograph is staged we get a sense of who the woman in the photograph is and what she represents in society. The way she is sitting is masculine, she is not smiling and the clothing she is wearing all contrast each other. There is also a darkness in this picture, not so much visually, but an eery tone, probably created by the doll like staging of the woman. Sherman is forcing the viewers to accept the woman in the photo as a real person, overall commenting on how audiences view her, mostly with confusion. It is the way society views the woman in the photograph that speaks to what Sherman represents to the feminist community. In a book by Eleanor Heartney she explains that Sherman is important in the “studies of the decentered self, the mass media’s reconstruction of reality, the inescapably of the male gaze, the seductions of abjection, and any number of related philosophical issues” [2]. This photograph takes what is considered beautiful and ugly, feminine and masculine to society and demonstrates all aspects, giving the viewer an opportunity to question the ideals of society, how women are judged from culture to culture, and what is it is like to be a modern socially acceptable woman today. 

Feminists examine social roles of women to further understand and cause change in gender inequality. The feminist theory was created during the feminist movements throughout history. The first women’s rights movement in the United States of America was in 1848, where a Declaration of Sentiments was signed. This declaration called for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women in Seneca Falls, New York. Since then there has been major feminist movements all in the name of equality for men and women [3]. With these movements many feminists have adopted artist, authors, and photographers as leaders in the feminist movement, Cindy Sherman being one of them. As her photographs, including “Untitled #355”, prove even now women’s rights are still a sociological issue yearning equality and change.





Works Cited

[1] Comelissen, Tahnee, Jake Henderiekx, and Lieselot Geeraert. “Copy of Cindy Sherman.” N.p., 24 Mar. 2014.

[2] Heartney, Eleanor. “Cindy Sherman: The Polemics of Play.” After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Prestel, 2007. Print.

[3] Infoplease. Infoplease, n.d. Web. 14 July 2014

[4] Pollack, Maika. “Pictures of You: Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art.” Gallerist. N.p., 6 Mar. 2012.



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