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Olivia Joy protests the sexualization of women’s bodies through art

With each and every brush stroke she makes on a canvas, Olivia Joy ’18 finds her own way to empower women and protest against the objectified view of women as sex symbols.

Since her sophomore year at Brandeis University, Joy has been making paintings that she says can be uncomfortable to viewers. By creating intimate self portraits she intends to make her audience more comfortable with seeing a woman expose her body while helping them to acknowledge it’s beauty with respect.

In the first semester of her sophomore year Joy made “Bite Me,” a self portrait of her biting a pear. The image is covered in gold, orange and yellow. The colors, she explains, represent the happy mood she was in at that moment. The painting demonstrated her “golden glow,” as she put it. She explains that the comments she received about the painting, however, made her unhappy.

Joy was bothered by the way people objectified her in the self portrait, viewing it as a sexual image and making it more inappropriate than was meant to be. “The comments I was receiving were shocking to me. People looked at this painting and said it was seductive, inviting, promiscuous. That was just unreal to me!” she explains.

“I was really upset by this. The fact that women in everyday life are objectified in such a way that anything we do can become sexual,” she continues. In a conversation she once had with a boy, she used the phrase “reclaiming your sexuality.” She says his response was, “Who took it?” Pop culture—it took away women’s control over their own sexuality. Pop culture puts the sexuality of women on display for others, and tells women that they need to alter themselves for who ever is watching, Joy explains, “I think I cried that day after that. People are clueless.”

The strong reputation Brandeis has with social justice motivates her to use the paintings she makes as a tool to change the current view of women. She explains, “I think it is important to look at women as individuals and re-empower the individuality of a woman. We are not just a sex symbol, or a mother or a virgin.”

During her time here at Brandeis, Joy’s professors have taught her important concepts, such as painting characters that reflect real life and using colors to express emotions. These concepts make the messages she wants to convey in her paintings become clearer to observers.

She has learned that using visual art as a medium for communication has the power to create a stronger impact than oral communication. This is because when people look at a painting they have the opportunity to see and experience what the painter is trying to show. From that experience the audience can feel emotions that allow them to understand issues better than they would just by hearing about them.

Joy then pulled out another painting, which is unnamed. In the image, she is sitting naked in a bathtub eating cereal. The blueish green color used all over the painting, she explained, represents the low and sad mental state she was in after having a bad experience at work that day during the summer. “It is not trying to hide anything. It is not trying to look beautiful for any viewer. It is just a woman being a woman doing what she likes to do,” Joy says.

Since her first semester at Brandeis, Joy has known she wanted to pursue a double major in studio art and art history. Her passion for art originated from growing up in a home in which her parents encouraged creativity. Joy remembers going to art museums at the age of three, excited to see and draw her favorite paintings. She prefers to use oil paint because it helps her identify with the long tradition of oil painters throughout the history of art. She is inspired by contemporary art because contemporary artists have a very explicit social statement to say with their work.

For anyone thinking about registering for an art class at Brandeis, Joy highly recommends they try it. Some people know they want an art major and others just want to fulfill the creative arts requirement. Whatever the reason one may take an art course, she says, there is zero judgment.

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