@thewillowrae – Bathsheba (2016)
Either you already know who Willow is–in which case your response is most likely: holy fucking shit, she’s THE BEST. If you don’t, here’s a little by way of introduction:
Willow is a twenty-something model and image maker She has a super conservative Xtian family–from whom she is estraged (as I seem to recall). She also suffers from a chronic illness.
Her work was always both edgy and raw–two traits I feel are indispensable to any ‘good’ creative work. Willow’s personal work has been evolving rapidly. I featured one of her images almost a year ago; and the degree to which her work has sharpened in such a short period of time is goddamn jaw dropping.
Willow included a statement of sorts with these images. I’m including it here as she originally posted it:
First set in a series focused on
rereading stories of women from the Bible and finding the distortion and
misogyny in the way the Protestant church portrayed these women.
And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that
David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s
house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman
was very beautiful to look upon.And David sent and enquired after the
woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the
wife of Uriah the Hittite?And David sent messengers, and took her; and
she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her
uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. 2 Samuel 11:2-4
When I was in school, I remember our studies through 2
Samuel in my Old Testament Survey class. I remember Bathsheba being
painted as a seductress and a whore. In reality, she was just a woman
taking a bath being pressured into having sex with the king. Could she
really say no? The rest of the story was that Bathsheba became pregnant.
Then David sent Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to the front lines of
battle where Joab was instructed to have his soldiers in the front step
back to ensure Uriah was killed. The king then married Bathsheba and her
child died after she gave birth. The whole experience must have been
traumatizing to Bathsheba, but Biblical teachers paint her as a slut. No
person should shamed for bathing or wearing short skirts. No one
should be made to feel unclean or guilty for being seen nude or enjoying
being naked. This has been your Anti-Christian Bible sermon for the
Like Willow, I attended an Xtian high school where one out of seven periods each day was dedicated to an academic study of The Bible.
I think one of the things you’ll miss unless you share a similar upbringing is the degree to which everything objectionable to the story of Bathsheba is implicit.
I mean: Xtian schools have either a very rigid dress code if not a uniform. My school only transitioned to a uniform after I graduated. While I was a student: boys had to wear dress slacks three days a week and jeans twice a week; girls had to wear skirts/dresses three days a week, could wear pants twice a week and jeans twice a month (on Wednesdays).
Attendance was taken each morning and instead of ‘here’, ‘present’ or the obligatory joker who felt responding ‘gift’ was somehow clever, we responded: skirt or pants when our name was called.
And there were ultra-specific rules on how short a skirt was allowed to be. The usual rule was the hem of the skirt had to be longer than the tip of your longest finger with your palms pressed flat against your thighs.
The generous teachers would let you do this wile standing–which gives you about an extra inch shorter. Most of the teachers would make you kneel. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a teacher call a young woman in front of a class to make her–in front of everyone–kneel with her hands pressed against her sides to reveal that her skirt was not long enough.
You get berated for pride, for vanity. I’ve seen young women have to apologize to the entire class for the visible skin of their legs.
By the time you get to the story of Bathsheba–there’s no need to explicit slut shame. As a young woman who has survived through puberty, you know that the way men look at you shifts. You adjust–the way you see yourself becomes bifurcated, you’re constantly not only aware of being, you’re aware of how you are seen.
You read think pieces about how young women in public schools are sent home because their legs, thighs or bra straps are going to distract boys from paying attention. It’s rape culture through and through.
But what you don’t understand is that it’s even worse at an Xtian school. By the time you hear the story of Bathsheba, you know that decisions regard your own body have ramifications beyond yourself. And so you hear how David say her bathing on the roof and there’s no need to mention that she shouldn’t have been bathing where she might have been seen–that’s already thoroughly ingrained.
I mean David was the king. He lived in a castle. He could’ve gone walking anywhere. But he went walking on the roof. And when he saw a woman bathing–he was so in lust for her that he kept staring (you know despite clearly not having her consent to watch her or even if she didn’t mind being seen, he certainly didn’t have her consent to respond to her nakedness in the way he did.
But what Willow doesn’t mention is that this is treated as David’s great sin, his downfall. It’s sad, because he’s tempted and succumbs to temptation. But the sadness hinges on how he let temptation encroach on his relationship with some magic man in the sky–who you’ll note is just the sort of asshole who will make a bet with Satan that his number one fan won’t turn on him if God lets the devil take away all the good things in his life. (See: the story of Job.)
There’s this disconnect that David had any sort of agency in his actions. It’s all like if he hadn’t been tempted, it wouldn’t have happened. But God let him be tempted… so in order to not view God as an asshole, you have to slut-shame.
Anyway, I have more to say on this topic but I’d rather move on to the images themselves. Bathrooms can be notoriously difficult to make images in. The lighting tends to suck. There’s usually too much white space. So, it bears mentioning that Willow has done a great job with this. The light is compelling, the colors liven things up without distracting too much from the subject.
I have mixed feelings on the camera angle. Yes, the sort of God’s eye view is conceptually resonate; however, the angle of the corners of the niche the tub is installed into with a sort of 3 point perspective look is a little too forceful. (If it’s not clear what I mean compare the visuals in a Sam Raimi or Robert Rodriguez film–or Bayhem, for that matter–and compare it with the visuals in Hitchcock or Kubrick’s work. Although I think it is actually worth noting that the composition in Willow’s images being more like Raimi or Rodriguez and the way in which those creators are more closely tied to genre and visual conventions lifted from comic books…)
I also think the images in their present configuration and presentation don’t entirely work. This relates to the story of Bathsheba but were clearly viewing a character who went to an Xtian school thinking back and sort of empathize with the way Xtianity throws women under the bus.
My first and strongest response to the image was that thought that it was one of those new fangled graphic novels where people who can’t draw, make images instead of drawing panels. That led to the thought of how much I’d like to see Willow have the resources to be able to stage her vision of David watching Bathsheba on the roof at night (’cause that shit would be in-fucking-credible) and how the way she’s framing this project has this sort of implied narrative within a narrative.
Even if that’s not what she’s planning to do with it, I have to say that she’s doing some crazy exceptional and fearless things with self-portraiture that are both intriguing and important.