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Open Access Publications from the University of California

I Know It When I See It : : Intimacy, Obscenity and Female Sexuality in the Early Work of Carolee Schneemann

  • Author(s): Goodman, Emily Elizabeth
  • et al.
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Between 1963 and 1965, Carolee Schneemann created a trio of works aimed at examining the nature of the female body and the experience of sexual expression in an unrestricted, uninhibited manner. This early series, Eye Body : 36 Transformative Actions, Meat Joy, and Fuses, received a great deal of criticism both from within the art world and the general public, including denunciations of the works as pornographic, narcissistic, or obscene. The public backlash to these works was surprising and unsettling to Schneemann, who felt very strongly at this time that sexual expression is a natural part of human experience - one that should be liberated from shameful constraints and social prohibitions. Yet this response was in many ways predictable, given the social and political climate of midcentury America. In this thesis, I argue that Schneemann's works were met with a great deal of public scorn because of the repressive culture of the postwar period. Taking a Foucauldian approach to the notion of discursive sexuality, I examine the manners in which sexuality - particularly female sexuality - was conveyed in the literature and art of the post-war period, highlighting the ways in which these sources illustrate Foucault's "Victorian hypothesis." With this in mind, I examine the ways that Carolee Schneemann confronted and complicated the existent social mores and prescriptions about sexual behavior in her work. In so doing, I argue, Schneemann created works that were at odds with her society and that were thus the result of scrutiny, scorn and even censorship

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This item is under embargo until August 1, 2023.