There is nothing I love more than art that doesn’t demoralize or hate on women. It is too prominent in our history, and not just in the 1800’s. Take Georgia O’Keeffe, whose husband promoted her to the public as a sexual being, or Lee Krasner, who could not gain fame on her own because she was thought to be just an alternative to her husband, Jackson Pollock. This is our recent history. Luckily, since we now recognize the hold patriarchal views have had on the art world for so long, we can instead fuel feminist works that empower women. One such artist who does this goes by the pseudonym Orphans Inc.
Orphans Inc is a Cincinnati-based artist who focuses on comparing classical artwork with the modern woman. Upon the death of her parents, she rediscovered herself and her art through this focus under her new name – a “darkly hilarious” take on her new life, as she puts it. Through the acceptance of her parents death, she was able to surge forward. She began this journey by looking at two images, one of a Greek statue and one of a modern girl. She found so many similarities between the two, and began to wonder what marked the difference between the past and the present. She played with this idea until she landed on putting herself in the work.
In this piece, the artist looks at William Adolphe Bouguereau’s Whisperings of Love from 1889 and contrasts it with an image of herself. The depiction of Bougureau’s piece is done in soft blues and pinks, while Orphans Inc’s image is created with bright reds and oranges. This creates a sense of dominance in the modern woman. The woman in Whisperings of Love is surrounded by floral imagery, which has long since been a symbol of femininity. She is spoken to by a cupid-like figure, who is telling her of her future in love. She sits with her hands in her lap, almost as if she is waiting for her love to come find her. She is the epitome of a man’s ideal woman: soft-spoken, poised, and patient. Orphans Inc, in comparison, is surrounded by books, a previously radical idea for a woman. The decision to include these shows that not only is she well-read, but she enjoys reading to the point that she feels it exemplifies who she is as a person. She is posed for her own camera, taking the initiative to show the world her vision. She sits with her legs up on the chair, which would have been deemed improper during Bouguereau’s time. She is the opposite of the woman she puts herself up against; she is dominating, independent, educated, and self-fulfilling. She is her own ideal woman. Yet, this does not feel like she is saying she is better than the woman from 1889. They both have a similar fierce look in their face, their eyes in almost a glare. If the eyes are the gateway to the soul, than the two women must share one soul. Orphans Inc seems to realize that, if she could, the woman of the past would be her own woman too. The artist is showing how grateful she is to live in a time period where she can be both the artist and the muse, rather than be an object for the male gaze. She will not forget how far society has come in that respect, and she aims to show this in all of her work.
I love Orphans Inc’s message, and the way she portrays it is uniquely beautiful. The often organic shapes she uses to separate the past and present feel almost like staring over – like painting on an old canvas. But she doesn’t simply paint over the past. When I was in high school, I was taught that the number one rule was to NEVER throw out your work, even if you hated it. You could hide it away in a portfolio or you could use it to make something new, but you couldn’t get rid of it. If you threw out every bad painting, you’d never see how much you could grow. That’s what Orphans Inc has done: she’s shown us how much our society has grown. And while I sometimes wish I didn’t have to keep learning about so many men who have no respect for women, I know that it’s important that I do. We learn from the past, we change direction, and we grow. I’m grateful to be a female artist today, getting to see how far we’ve come.