Girls/Museum doc film studies visual art’s gender codes via young female viewers’ angles

#Germany; #DocumentaryFilm; #Girls/Museum, #ShellySilver; #VisualArt; #YoungFemaleViewers

Image credit. Official Facebook

Silver contemplates, in this documentary film, the gender codes of visual art through the perspective of 16 young female viewers ranging in age from seven to nineteen years, are not named in the film, but listed by their first names in the closing credits leading to its timelessness.

The exploration’s timeline runs from the past to the present, from the pierced Feet of Jesus Christ via a reclining naked nymph by Lucas Cranach the Elder to the more recent photo of the Swedish artist Arvida Byström.

These young viewers largely focus on the depictions of women in these various works on artworks in the Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts commenting on the images. Examining an Eve painted by German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, one girl suggests that she looks “kind of devious” — then speculates on Eve’s thoughts about plucking the Apple (“She’s going to do it anyway. She knows it’ll turn out badly”).

Their spontaneous interpretations of the works revolve around the paintings to reveal different things about themselves, depending on their points of view.

“Shit that I’m not a boy”, a teenager exclaims as she stands in front of the painting of a rich young man who lived centuries before her, perhaps in the Netherlands. Because boys are allowed much more, she says. Playing basketball outside, for example.

Shelly Silver’s hypothesis is both simple and fruitful which emphasizes that the outside perspective always leads back to one’s own perspective.

Silver Shelly. Image credit: ​centerforthehumanities.org

Silver picks out details of the paintings to substantiate and illustrate statements or put them up for discussion again.

Thought-provoking, engaging, and visually striking, Shelly in Girls/Museum often use a language of gender fluidity depicting a social inquiry, a critical essay in art history, and a poised, even sculptural study of people, paintings, and space. Although with universal values as it travels widely and reaches diverse audiences, but its special resonance is for the female age group that it depicts.

It's a modern building, opened in 2004, is viewed from inside and outside in an opening montage that briskly studies it's stone and glass surfaces, as well as some artworks, with its opening image that introduces the theme of female representation.

Silver’s study of a series of paintings, sculptures, and, later, photographs from various eras, each identified by an onscreen caption. And for many of the works, the responses of a group of female German teenagers visiting the museum, ages seemingly ranging over several years.

The presence of gender politics predominates both in the range of works and in the content. One participant studies Hans Baldung’s 16th-century Seven Ages of Woman and argues that the woman placed at the center of the painting is the one that the male artist most desires. Gender and its instabilities are clearly important themes in these girls’ lives and sense of their own identity.

One of them argues that Christ was a woman, then suggests it would be better if Jesus didn’t have a gender at all; another reads a male portrait for its transgender possibilities. Meanwhile, an Afghan girl, speaking in her native language Dari, talks about her own identity and choice of traditionally male clothes (“I grew up as a girl but dressed as a boy”).

And one girl expresses absolute confidence in the wisdom of the curators who have organized the museum’s displays — a notion that Silver places in an ironic light by cutting to an early 20th-century painting in which a group of fully clothed male artists surrounds a female nude.

Some images are inserted to slightly rhetorical effect but Silver doesn’t need to overstate any point of her own, when her subjects, human, pictorial, and architectural, are so eloquent in their points of view.

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