Monday, May 14, 2012

Judy Chicago Art Analysis: Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality (1983)

The above painting is from Judy Chicago’s PowerPlay gallery entitled “Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality”, which was created in 1983 using acrylic and oil on canvas.  At first glance I can immediately make out the frame of two figures, one a male and the other a female, where the male is exercising control over the female. In commenting on the texture of both figures, I believe Judy Chicago purposely gives the male figure more defined features so it sticks from the canvas, leaving the female figure to be a part of the background.  Moreover, I interpret the expression of the female figure as one of anguish whereas the male expressionless as he is without a face – at least in comparison to his female counterpart.

Obviously I knew this piece was a form of feminist art but it took a few seconds for it to jump out to me as that.  Here we have the figure of a male exercising puppetry, if you will, in controlling the female figure, affirming the stereotype that women are weak and submissive. Still, with Judy Chicago’s decision to create such a piece that affirms stereotypes of women I make the argument that she is using her art as a form of resilience as she is highlighting the power struggle between men and women.  In doing so, she is commenting on the patriarchal system of our society and challenges the viewer to reflect on disparity of women being subjugated by men, especially in “a system that values men over women, a system that promotes men over women, and a system that allows, and some would argue encourages, the violation of women” (Seely 3).  Moreover, Judy Chicago’s decision to illustrate the female figure as under the control of the male brings up the “object versus subjective” issue as it relates to the study of feminism.

For many years women have been subject to being objectified, whether in the advertising industry, music industry etc.  In her painting, Judy Chicago has female more –or-less be the object  to be controlled with the male figure mounted the female figure and holding on to what could possibly be her hair for reigns. Mind you, the female figure is also illustrated to show that she has no say in the current situation as it is my interpretation from her facial expression that she straining to stand up and be free of her lack of independence.  Moreover, Judy Chicago accentuates the notion of the female figure as an object by making the female figure her almost shapeless and less defined in comparison to the male figure, and to quote a one Greer, “every human body has its optimum weight and contour, which only health and efficiency can establish. 

 Whenever we treat women’s bodies as aesthetic objects without function we deform them and their owners” (Frueth 195). Therefore, in the case of Judith Chicago’s painting, the female figure, formless as she is, is the object that is without function.  The male figure on the other, as defined he is, is with function whose purpose is supposedly to be controlling of the female figure, which in some ways can be seen as a comment on violence against women.  As a class we did discuss the issue of violence against women when addressing the prevalent sexual genocide that went by virtually unnoticed in Juarez, the largest city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua (Osborne 1), where the issue of the socio-economic status of the victims was also discussed.

In all I think Judy Chicago’s painting, Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality, is a great piece of work and I am certain Judy Chicago’s work is indeed feminist artwork, for it brings to light the issue the issue of men exercising their power and control over women thereby commenting on the gender construct of masculinity without having it be raced.  On the subject of race, I believe that Judy Chicago purposely omitted it from her painting to send the message that the feminist movement is about all women and “the fight for social justice. And is about working toward a solution to the continued discrimination and violence women [ in general] face in the world – rape, sexual harassment, trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence” ( Seely 2). 

 Interestingly enough, had I not spent this spring semester in this women’s studies course I just may have missed the feminist aspect of the Judy Chicago’s artwork Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality as it was somewhat subtle,  but that is not to say that all Judy Chicago’s works are subtle pieces of feminist art.  Indeed, there is that radical side of Judy Chicago that is more blatant and direct in her art work and one need only take a look at her work Red Flag, which is a photograph of Judy Chicago herself from the waist down pulling out a bloody tampon, to notice this other side to Judy (Frueth 194).  

Work Cited

Chicago, Judy, and Donald Woodman. Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality. Digital image. Judy Chicago. Web. 12 May 2012. < Gallery>.

Frueh, Joanna. “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” in The Power of Feminist Art, p.190-207
Osborne, Corie. "Femicide Made in Mexico." Femicide Made in Mexico. Aug. 2011. Web. 10 May 2012. <>.

Seely, Megan. "Fight Like a Girl: How to Be a Fearless Feminist." The F-Word. New York: New York UP, 2007. 1-14. 

By: Philemon Atieku

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