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Taboo: Pulling back the veil on Instagrams “male-gaze”.

Female self portrait artist has her most challenging series struck from platform before it doubled down on the value of the male-gaze.

Photographer, Gabrielle Steberis, in white tank top and jeans with a black belt wears her red hair in spacebuns in a series of narrow framed self-portraits. Rock symbol raised, two arms raised, rock symbol with pout, rock symbol with a cheeky tongue, and finally a sultry pout with a powerful feminine posture.

Gabrielle Steberis , reputable self-portrait artist and magazine photographer based in West Yorshire, announced this so proudly. A short lived excitement as not 48 hours later Instagram has removed her most recent artwork Enchantress. The series depicts confronting, colourful imagery of the female form, veil across the eyes, bejewelled nipples and genitalia covered by a large eyeball.

A white female with a black veil over her eyes lies supine on a bed of multicoloured clouds. Her hands cover her nipples while the rest of her bossom is jewelled. Between her open legs is an open eyeball, blue and serenely gazing from where her genitals would be.
Enchantress — Gabrielle Steberis

There are those who would consider the work as provocative, sexual; perhapse dangerous. However Ms Steberis produces and sells a body of work that continuously challenges the conventional “male gaze”.

John Berger explored this concept in media in his 1972 book “Ways of Seeing”. Then, along with many other female film critics and media moguls, Laura Mulvay drew on his perspective combining it with psychoanalytic theory to coin the phrase: the female form under “the male gaze” is always presented or viewed upon with a mans sexual pleasure and aesthetic pleasure in mind. By combining aesthetic beauty with the morbid, melancholic and, often, macarbre, Gabrielle Steberis contorts the male gaze deliciously.

It is possible that, as Gabrielle does not garner branding for bikinis and food stuffs, appealing to the conventional aesthetics of Instagram, Enchantress was struck off the system by accident. But regardless, as an artist, she does present an evocative image that is a striking contrast to the fodder of female forms that litter the platform. By comparison to some brand advertising, she is somewhat tame. And as far as popular narrative goes, distinctively feminist.

White female figure stands amidst clouds of grey and muted blue and purple, She wears a black leather plague doctor mask, her face completely obscured, with a bright yellow crown of sunflowers; a stark contrast to the bleak background, complimenting her bare skin. One leather gloved hand touches gently to the temple of the mask, the other falling to her bare thigh clad in leather and chain detailing.
Pandemic- Gabrielle Steberis

Steberis has been victim of an algorithm that determined her content as ‘uncomfortable’. But, as a few medical exams will tell us, discomfort doesn’t denote malice, danger or ill-intent. The majority of those that engage with her profile are women or female identifying, encouraging discussion and engagement with the poignant arguments around ownership and autonomy over the female or femme body.

“But now it’s gone and not accessible anymore, I’m sad… So now I realise my freedom of expression is so so important! …Isn’t that what art is for? Making people think and question and feel something other than just admiration?”

There is so much power in creation and it’s an honour to speak to someone who has such influence over the soul. True art knocks the subconcious sideways! And Enchantress is clearly disquietening for the poor insta-machine. But it’s removal, in and of itself, is all part of the dialogue of that piece! The conundrum of posting challenged the creator herself also!

“I think it’s harder because [people] usually LOVE my work, and are really proud of it. But because it’s so different and so ‘out there’ and quite disturbing, they’re just not seeing it to be a good thing at all…”

Artists will make those sacrifices on behalf of family and friends; They are forced to put aside their integrity and their judgements of themselves, or how people will view them through the gaze of the artist. If it is a piece that challenges an artist, even in just presenting it… there is some immeasurable power behind displaying it anyway; Using that inner critique as an additional layer to the art.

Instagram advertises itself as being at the forefront of promoting influential and engaging media that informs and inspires others. So one has to question the importance of the female voice and view when, the day after Gabrielle Steberis’ Enchantress piece is removed, the filter selection on the stories and reels is entirely focused on altering the appearance of a selfie to replicate a Kardashian!

Screenshot of this author trying out Instagrams most 4 popular filters for stories rendering the face as quintessentially and aesthetically feminine as possible.

She published her piece with a courage and authenticity that sparkles quite literally on an influential platform, arousing a sense of the feminine physique that demands audience to it’s autonomy and authority over it’s existence. Rather than coyly permitting others to play voyeur, she commands attention to her entire presence. The Enchantress series, which is available on her Etsy, reminds you that when you stare into the abyss, it stares back into you literally; as you judge her, so too she shall judge you. As much as her figure is covered in the “social-medially” appropriate areas; Gabrielle’s work reveals strength in vulnerability and she advertises herself quite rightly so:

I like to delve into personal struggles such as eating disorders, female sexual suppression, heartbreak, depression, all of it; because I’m unafraid of expressing it all.

You can find Gabrielle Steberis’ work on her Etsy shop here:
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/GsFineArtPrints

And follow her progress as an artist on her instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/gabriellesteberis/

Her personal website can be found here: https://www.gabriellesteberisphotography.com/

References:

Correspondance with the artist, Gabrielle Steberis. Printed with permission. 2021

Mulvey, Laura (2009), “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema”, in Mulvey, Laura (ed.), Visual and other pleasures(2nd ed.), Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire England New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 14–30

Berger, John Ways of Seeing (1972) pp. 45, 47.

Full disclosure: This piece is written through passion for the artist and is entirely based on my own opinion and research. I do not gain any kickback, monetary investment or sponsorship by the artist. I just think she’s incredible.

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Philippa Cooper

Furious learner, exploring personal development, mental health advocacy and human connections.