Michael Sayles
Naked Woman in African Mask Descending a Staircase, 2019

  • Canvas, pencil, acrylic and glue on canvas
  • 145 x 86,8 x 6,8 cm
  • Acquired in 2021

Naked Woman in African Mask Descending a Staircase takes as a formal reference Marcel Duchamp’s famous painting from 1912, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. In French, ›nu‹ is a gender-neutral term. Similarly, both the German ›Akt‹ and the English ›nude‹ do not specify a gender. Duchamp’s motif is a moving body constructed in Cubist manner: a mechanical sequence, diagonally traversing the canvas. The title chosen by Sayles for his painting object, Naked Woman […] defines the figure’s gender as female, but crowns ‘her’ with a male West African helmet mask, which dominates the picture with its structure. With it, Sayles pushes the gender play further by putting a mask reserved for men on ›her,‹ the nude. According to the artist, the title might also have been: »Naked Woman in African Mask for a Male but She Doesn’t Care because She Is European.« This makes it clear that here gender determination has been transferred into the canon of borrowed (and stolen) works, into the discourse surrounding cultural appropriation and colonial suppression.

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