Kenyon College
 

Nina Castelli

[+]

A lioness stands over her cubs. She had been leading

The little ones through the forest when hunters

Came across her, and now, savoring her strength,

She narrows her eyes to cold yellow slits.

– Iliad, Homer, trans. Lombardo

Media and common societal views frequently imply that what I say does not matter because I cannot think, that what I do with my body is not my business but up to someone else, and that I will never be taken seriously because I am a woman. They also suggest that I will never be strong in any sense of the word, because that is a masculine characteristic. And yet, my opening quote, which describes how the Greek hero Ajax of Telamon protects the body of a fallen soldier, compares Ajax to a lioness, not a lion. Having grown up with tales of Greek gods and heroes, it was not until I was much older that I realized how the ancient Greeks viewed women, and, unfortunately, how similarly today’s society views them as well. With my work, I emphasize that women do have strength, regardless of the little change seen over time regarding women in society.

My series of pencil drawn self-portraits take inspiration from the Torso di Belvedere and directly reference several other classical Greek and Roman sculptures: Zeus Throwing A Spear, Laocoön, and The Discus Thrower. Many art historians believe the Torso to be Hercules, but some recently speculate it is instead Ajax, an interpretation that I favor. By using Ajax as inspiration, I have referenced the one hero associated with the protective instincts of a mother. With the idea of a feminine strength driving this entire body of work, I reference the Diana of Versailles for the central drawing. Diana, the Roman name of the Greek goddess Artemis, was one of the stronger goddesses who helped women with disease, childbirth, and overall well-being. Yet she also embodied the talent of hunting, a typically masculine activity, and even punished the one man who boasted he was better at it than she. This self-portrait with Artemis’ pose is the only one with a direct stare. It also inverts the idea of the male gaze, with a female’s intimidating stare daring the viewer to make eye contact. It challenges viewers to judge for themselves the strength of women.

Choosing to work with pencil was the obvious path for me. Besides Greek myth, pencil and paper were my other companions throughout childhood, and I knew I wanted to work with a deeply familiar medium for this series. The slow wearing down of each pencil tip to a small nub parallels the ancient statues weathering and decomposing through time and various conditions. Time can never take away everything, even if it only leaves a torso with perhaps a leg, or tiny shortened pencils and a smudge of graphite on the side of one’s palm. But I would like to think that time will eventually take away the modern perception of women. By drawing myself in poses of these particular timeless statues, I invert the standard of the powerful man and the weak woman. My figure is strong, muscled, and nude, but not sexualized, demure, or “femin 

                    

 
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