Artist Andrea Mary Marshall Creates a Feminist Version of the Pirelli Calendar
It's worth a closer look.
The Pirelli calendar, which has become so ubiquitous it is often referred to simply as “the Cal,” began as a corporate gift for VIP clients of the tire company in 1964. Since its 1984 resurrection, it has become a household name known for featuring beautiful women of the moment, from model Naomi Campbell in ’87 to model Gigi Hadid in last year’s edition. The calendar, regularly shot by fashion industry titans, serves as a benchmark for Western beauty ideals.
This is where Andrea Mary Marshall comes in. “The Feminist Calendar 2016,” which opens at Garis & Hahn in New York on October 15, follows a similar pin-up calendar format, but presents a more nuanced view of female beauty and sexuality that is hard to ignore.
The show consists of 24 self-portraits shot by Marshall using a self-timer, 12 of which are glossy, sexually explicit images that channel those you might find in Pirelli or while leafing through the pages of Playboy, while the other 12 are raw, unadorned photos that express a femininity rarely observed in the mainstream media outside the occasional celebrity sans-makeup social media post.
Laid side-by-side, the contrast between these two women—who are in fact the same woman—is jarring. Both an homage to and a critique of the form it inhabits, “The Feminist Calendar” posits that perhaps these two aspects of womanhood aren’t as contradictory they seem.
“My view on this project and on feminism in general is that its okay to be sexy, it’s okay to feel sexy, and it’s also okay to not be sexy,” Marshall said in a phone interview. “Feminism means equal rights to self-determination and the ability to live life as one wants to.”
Marshall began the project in April 2015 after seeing several vintage Pirelli calendars and falling in love with their carefree, softly glamorous aesthetic, which while provocative, are a far cry from the perfectly manicured, unsparingly airbrushed images we see so often today.
“I thought to myself, I’m a self-portrait artist, I want to do this,” she recalls.
Interestingly, just months after she began work on the series, Pirelli announced their plans to revamp this year’s calendar, tapping Annie Leibovitz to capture renowned female artists, musicians, writers, athletes, and public figures—fully clothed.
While the company’s desire to draw attention to talented female role models like Serena Williams, Shirin Neshat, and Patti Smith is a good one, Marshall notes that in a way, it’s more of the same. It’s another message to women that says sexy and smart don’t go together, and that in order to be perceived as one, you’ll have to forgo the other.
“I think they’re saying that if you’re beautiful and you’re a model, you can take your clothes off,” she says, “but if you’re influential and smart, you should keep your clothes on. And I think that’s two sides of the same coin. I think that there are a lot of smart women who are sexy, and who want to be viewed as sexual.”
Marshall isn’t the first woman to level this complaint. Figures like Michelle Obama, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, and Amy Schumer have bemoaned society’s insistence on placing women in boxes where they either get to be pretty and brainless or intelligent and sexless, while a long line of artists from Hannah Wilke and Marilyn Minter to Narcissister and Danielle Dean have addressed the persistence of these antiquated notions of female sexuality through their work.
In co-opting the Pirelli calendar—a symbol of female sexuality enacted for the male gaze—Marshall is supplying a true-to-life portrayal of the varied experiences that make women whole beings.
“I think that through my practice, I’m challenging [these] mutually exclusive identities,” Marshall said. “One woman can be both sexual and serious.”
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