S.O.S. Starification Object Series (Back)
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Sr. Editor

Ew. Why is artist Hannah Wilke covered in warts?

No, you’re not looking at a page from a weathered copy of Medical Anomalies. These knobby protrusions on Wilke’s skin are actually pieces of chewed gum, which she stuck on her body and then photographed for this series.

Granted, the protrusions do look like skin tags or even tribal scarring, and the Jewish artist has professed the marks to symbolize both the historical trauma of the Holocaust and the experience of being a woman.  She’s quoted as saying, “‘I chose gum because it’s the perfect metaphor for the American woman – chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece.”  And you’re not being perverted either; the pieces are sculpted to look like little vulvas, further pushing the feminist agenda

Hannah Wilke was sometimes criticized for being nekkid in her work, seeing as she’s a young, thin female.  Transforming something sweet like bubblegum into disgusting growths on an otherwise conventionally desirable body is a way in which the artist challenges preconceptions about identity and experience.

Wilke called her photographs “performative portraits” because they commemorated actions in addition to poses, and also to give cred to the photographers. In 1975, she did a live performance for this series, handing out gum to a Parisian audience and then taking their chewed wads and sculpting them before placing them on pieces of paper around the gallery. Call me a germaphobe, but I think that’s totally gross.  All in the name of art, I suppose.