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Art and Sexuality


Artists have always been fascinated with female sexuality. In primordial times, people went about naked. So, some of the surviving African arts of that period, like sculptured images on mbari, were nude. In other climes, a creative interest in female nudity is also strong. For instance, Leonardo Da Vinci spent several years in search of what he called the “great mystery” of life.  This led him to produce in 1509, his well-known close-up of drawing of a woman’s vulva.

When Rose of the Titanic fame asked Jack to paint her, she posed naked. We can all recall the famous sculptured image of Aphrodite of Milos better known as the  Venus de Milo, an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek created by Alexandros of Antioch.

Other artists and their nude works are Praxiteles’  Knidian  Aphrodite,  a Roman copy after the original bronze of 4th century BCE; Sandro Botticelli’s  Birth of Venus ( c. 1484-1486); Titian’s  “Venus” of Urbino (c. 1538); Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s La Grand Odalisque (1814); Edouard Manet’s Olympia (1863); Erich Heckel’s Crystal Day (1913); Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon (1907); Yasumasa Morimura’s Portrait (Futago) (1988); Jan Banning’s Danae Olympia from National Identities series (2012); Alice Neel’s Pregnant Maria (1964); Joan Semmel’s Intimacy-Autonomy (1974), etc.

We can study nude art to learn about different aspects of sex in society—ideas about fertility, morality, beauty standards, gender ideals, and national identity.  Some conceptual frameworks have been used to create or identify nude arts. Some of those concepts are:

Objectification: Objectification is a concept connected to the development of a tradition of female nudity in art.  Objectification is used to generally describe a physical beauty or a dismissal of the objectified person’s full personality and attributes. Feminists have criticised this concept, arguing that “objectification denies the humanity of the “object,” for example images that treat women as sexual objects.” The argument is that a sex object exists only for the viewer’s gratification without regard to any other mental, physical, or spiritual aspect of the person.

 Venus pudica: This term is used to describe a classical female pose in western art in which a nude female uses one hand to cover her private part. This attracts viewers’ attention to the spot she is trying to hide.

Nudity/Nakedness: The difference between nudity and nakedness was drawn by the art historian, Kenneth Clark. According to Clark, “nudity refers to a culturally transcendent and virtuous depiction of an unclothed body, while nakedness refers to an exposed, vulnerable, and embarrassing image of an unclothed body.” Conventionally, a reclining unclothed female in western art history is considered “nude” and therefore morally suitable subjects of fine art. Other conceptual frameworks are male gaze, coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey, a tendency in visual culture to depict the world and women from a masculine point of view; Orientalism, etc.

Back home, Nigerian artists are not lacking in interest in the exploration of female nudity. Recently, renowned sculptor, Olu Amoda, showcased some of his works in an exhibition titled Index Season ii. Index Season ii included some freestanding sculptures which are mostly females. Those works, according to the artistic statement, “seek to expand the sculpture vocabulary and also the socio-sculpture-aesthetics of the powerful role of objects in untwining the complex role of objects as a status index.”

Not far away from Art Twenty One, venue of Olu Amoda’s Index Season ii exhibition, at Eko Hotel & Suites Art Gallery, two sculptured nude young girls from northern Nigeria stands among other art images at the gallery. “This is how young girls walked the streets in the olden days in some parts of northern Nigeria,” the art dealer, who comes from the north, told Vanguard’s Arts & Reviews.



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