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Obscured Figure #1

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Obscured Figure #1

1965
20th Century
19 7/8 in. x 15 3/4 in. (50.48 cm x 40.01 cm)

Robert Heinecken, American, (1931–2006)

Object Type: Photography and Video
Creation Place: North America, United States, California
Medium and Support: Gelatin silver print
Credit Line: Museum Purchase, Susan L. Mills Fund
Accession Number: 1966.16
This large photograph appears to be mainly black—until a closer look reveals the hint of a figure. This symbolically mirrors the struggle that oppressed people endure silently. In fact, this figure is erased by shadow, nearly blending completely into the background. While we can assume that this figure is female, we cannot tell their skin tone. This can represent the dehumanization that oppressed people go through—their cultural identity is taken away and they are reduced to being less than people.

In a series created one year earlier, Heinecken collaged images from pornographic magazines and photographed them. The figure that we see is a woman, so it is quite likely that her image was taken from porn as well. However, it is not a sexual image. This speaks to women’s autonomy, because men have been taking ownership over women’s bodies for centuries, and it is only recently that women have reclaimed them. Taking a found image of a person and reproducing it into fine art for personal gain raises the question of possession, or ownership. Taking a pornographic image of a naked woman, erasing all traces of her ethnicity, and appropriating it for a new purpose without the woman’s consent is a tricky subject, especially when the artist is a white man. Exploitation of people sexually is another controversial topic, as sex (or implied sex) for commerce is rife with opportunities for wrongdoing and abuse, and has direct ties to the fetishization and exoticism that women experience. The inability to see the figure hints to erasure of struggle, and the marginalization or dehumanization of the oppressed.

--Lily Drabkin-Hoover, December 2016

Exhibition List
This object was included in the following exhibitions:

Dimensions
  • Image Dimensions: 19 1/2 in. x 15 1/2 in. (49.53 cm x 39.37 cm)
  • Sheet Dimensions: 19 7/8 x 15 3/4 in. (50.48 x 40.01 cm)

Bibliography List
This object has the following bibliographic references:
  • Stephanie Hanor, ed. Moments of Impact. Moments of Impact Mills College Art Museum. Oakland, CA, 2017


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