Artist Andrea Mary Marshall wants to use her body to start a conversation about sexiness and objectification.
On Thursday, Marshall debuts her latest collection of photographs and a calendar, titled "The Feminist Calendar," which play off imagery from the highly suggestive Pirelli Calendar.
Up until this year, when Pirelli announced that its calendar would be full of distinguished, fully-clothed women like Serena Williams and Patti Smith for the first time in its 51-year history, "The Cal" built its empire on erotic images of models in exotic locales. The women are almost always nearly (or totally) naked, and they are styled to embody a variety of conventionally "sexy" traits: pursed lips, flowing hair, arched back, heavy eyelids.
To engage the calendar in a more feminist lens, Marshall created her own calendar using photos of herself. For each month of 2016, Marshall is shown in two juxtaposing images: one of her in a conventionally "sexy" pose, and one with her more vulnerable and barefaced. An exhibition of the photos will be on view at Garis & Hahn Gallery in New York City through Nov. 14.
The conversation she hopes her calendar will spark focuses on how women are portrayed by the mainstream media, and specifically the tendency to pigeonhole a female celebrity into either a good girl or bad girl identity.
"They're both the same side of me," Marshall told Mic of her monthly diptychs. "I cannot say that one is more influential that the other. The main objective here is to say that they are the same. Both images are me, and one is not better than the other."
To really drive home the point about culture's thorough objectification of women, Marshall borrowed a few of the more pervasive "sexy" tropes that women are so often subjected to (including so many Pirelli calendar models). For instance, Marshall is seen with tire tracks on her nude body, hiding her face behind an animal mask and contorted into bizarre positions.
Marshall said it was about testing her boundaries as a model.
"I was taking it to my own place and my own level, and I think some of the images are more actually exploitive than [Pirelli features] because I wanted to emphasize the idea of self-objectification and sexuality and see what it felt like for me," she said.
That idea of ownership is crucial for Marshall. Rather than having her image taken by someone else, Marshall's pictures have her fully in control — modeling, planning the shots and taking them herself with a timed shutter. And in that sense, Marshall is creating a feminist space where a woman is exposing herself on her own terms and, equally as powerful, showing herself in a minimalist light, stripped of "sexy" convention.
"You can go through it one way and then go through it the other way," she said. "I wanted two images that I wanted to do and felt were empowering and self-determined."
Marshall, 32, is adamant that what makes this calendar and both sets of images empowering is her thesis, which is that both of the women (the salacious and the more "demure") are equally powerful, equally beautiful, equally meaningful. As she told Mic, her most basic definition of feminism is "equal rights to self-determination."
Marshall says she finds meaning in the fact that all of the images, which she began constructing in April, are self-portraits, and they blur the lines of what constitutes a powerful portrait of a woman.
That definition is changing rapidly, as the announcement of this year's Pirelli makeover shows. Treating this year's Pirelli "models" more substantively and with a less objectifying lens is just one more sign that our culture is finally pushing for a change in how we view and depict women. In this case, at least, it seems like the idea of women having control of their own images isn't too far out of reach.
"However you want to portray yourself is your own choice," Marshall said. "The most important part of female beauty is unapologetic authenticity."