The Captive Body: Olbinski and the Female Form

Monday night celebrated the opening of the newest exhibition at the Norman Rea Gallery, ‘The Captive Body,’ displaying representations of the female figure through an eclectic mix of artwork. Curated by Kalina Kossowska, the exhibition features prints by Joe Cruz and Oliver Sewell, graphics and posters by Rafal Olbinski, and a video installation by Anja Olofgörs, each experimenting with the body in a distinctive way. The artists focus on different aspects of the repressed nature of the female form, considering themes of sexuality and identity, as well as the literal physical captivity of human anatomy. Through the diverse variations in medium and concept, the exhibition's opening night generated a lively atmosphere, with viewers encouraged to consider the form of the female body.

Renowned graphic artist, Rafal Olbinski, exhibited a range of work within the gallery, with eight original and watermarked graphics and four original posters made for the NYC Opera. Olbinski uses expressive iconography and technical prowess to communicate the captive body through his surrealist paintings and opera posters.

The poster for ‘Carmen’ (featured on the far left of the image above) was a particular favourite of mine; the red hands striving to touch the central nude suggesting the libretto’s scandalous nature. This particular poster depicts Carmen naked, in a position that accentuates her curves. This caused dissension with the New York Times censor and Carmen was forced to be clothed in subsequent posters. This raises an interesting issue of the female figure in advertisement and how it is used to appeal to an audience, yet at the same time shunned for indecency.

Similar ideas of sexuality are apparent in his surrealist paintings, in which the nude is a prominent focal point, depicting the female body as an object of aesthetic beauty. This is shown in this particular painting (featured below) through a man in the background, gazing at the woman in the foreground, who seductively tugs at the strap of her dress to reveal her breast. The central motif is a tree growing into a red rose. As a recognised symbol of love and romance, the latter intensifies the concept of the female figure as a desirable object. The curator of MoMa Christopher Mount, described Olbinski’s artwork as unique in its ability to “…preserve a level of personal expression that is uncommon today in the graphic arts.” Through his carefully arranged surrealist compositions and emphasis on the sexually objectified female body, Olbinski exposes the exhibition’s central concern with the physicality, sexuality and perceived identity of the female form. Hopefully this exhibition will provoke a discourse surrounding the conventions of depicting the female body in art and how we might challenge, adapt and reshape these.

‘The Captive Body’ will run until 10th March.

Emma Healey

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