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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Exhibit challenges traditional views of feminine beauty

“Imperfect Beauty” addresses weight, disability and aging affects on beauty.

While many older women might cringe at the thought of taking off their clothes in front of people, Davida Schulman decided to expose her aged naked body to the world through painted self portraits.

The Larson Art Gallery in the St. Paul Student Center is currently displaying “Imperfect Beauty,” an exhibit put together by three artists who felt the media holds too-high physical standards for women.

Schulman, Debra Grall and Sigrid Wonsil first exhibited “Imperfect Beauty” in 2003 in their home state of Illinois.

“We all have an objection to the way popular media depicts aging, depicts people who are larger and depicts people with disability,” Schulman said. “Our work is to affirm the value of people of age and people of size.”

While all three artists carry the same theme, each has a different focus.

Grall often spotlights aging, Wonsil creates works of the ill and disabled and Schulman has portraits on canvas.

Mackenzie Duffy, co-chairwoman of the Visual Arts Committee, said the committee picked the exhibit because it was impressed by the artists’ works and their value of the human body and all its forms.

“The exhibit challenges the notion of an ideal image of a woman,” Duffy said. “The message that women have to be thin can lead to extremes like eating disorders.”

Schulman said some people don’t want to see her self-portraits of a large naked woman and oftentimes the paintings are obscurely in the back of galleries, a practice she disagrees with.

Younger women, in particular, are under a lot of pressure to look a certain way, Grall said, adding that more stress has been placed on men in recent years.

Grall said she wondered at which point in life women are no longer considered beautiful.

There’s a movement to being younger instead of embracing the natural, she said.

“We have this culture that has to inject their lips and wrinkles and dye their hair,” Grall said. “We have this aversion of growing older.”

Wonsil said the media ignores ill and disabled people because many viewers find them unpleasant.

One of Wonsil’s works is a woman posing nude in a hot tub after undergoing breast cancer surgery. A black bra is hanging in the background.

“She’s still a woman, she’s still feminine and she’s still very much alive,” Wonsil said.

Students can see her art as a sneak preview of aging that can affect life choices, Wonsil said.

Katie Reed, English junior and gallery attendant, said some older women have visited the exhibit and appreciated its message.

According to Wonsil’s artist statement, art should be about tough subjects as well as pleasant ones – and even tough subjects should yield a sensory enjoyment.

“When I look at art, I want my mind to be taken somewhere I would not ordinarily go,” she said. “I want to do the same for my viewer.”

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