Aurora artist’s work addresses representations of women’s bodies through male gaze

Award-winning Aurora photographer, poet and journalist Yafang Shi is showcasing her latest artwork “I am not your muse” at the King Heritage and Cultural Centre’s “Stereotype Smash” exhibition marking International Women’s Day.

The exhibition, which provides space for a total of 39 women artists to show their powerful works and voices, will run until March 18.

Shi’s other solo exhibition — “Fire II” — will be launched at the Aurora Public Library in March as well. The photography and poetry — “Fire” — was the winner of the Resiliency Award from York Region Arts Council’s YR Arts Awards in 2022.

From an intersectional and transnational feminist perspective, Shi’s artistic and journalistic work spotlights and addresses gender inequity, racial injustice and other human rights issues.

“I am not your muse” is a photography and poetry installation. The artwork consists of a self-portraiture of the artist holding a camera and a flamingo flower, and a photograph of flying flamingo flowers fused with a poem. The photographs are installed on two mirrors.

Shi feels that women’s bodies have been represented through the male gaze in male artists’ works for centuries. This practice has reinforced the stereotype that men are the art creators while women are men’s muses and objects of their works.

“This photography and poetry installation is intended to smash this stereotype by revealing it and the structural factors that reinforce it, while presenting women as powerful art creators and fierce forces for social change,” states Shi in her artist statement.

Despite several major challenges in the process of creating this complex but meaningful artwork, Shi received love and support from her friends. “It is truly a testimony of sisterhood,” she said, “This work was created by a woman with women and for women.”

In addition to intending to increase the public’s awareness of the objectification of women’s bodies in the arts and art practice, Shi would also like to draw the public’s attention to the subjection of women’s bodies to exploitation, sexual violence and abuse of power in the arts sector and beyond.

Shi calls for a more diverse representation of women’s bodies from women’s perspectives in the arts.

“Exhibitions like AGO’s ‘Her Flesh’ are good steps to present artworks portraying women’s bodies from women’s perspectives,” Shi added, “However, the representation of women’s bodies from women’s perspectives and women artists in those exhibitions should be more diverse and inclusive.”

She strongly believes the lived experiences of women, especially Indigenous women, women of colour and immigrant women, should be respected; their voices should be heard; and their visions should be counted in the arts and public life in Canada.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun