A short history of the turtle neck: the simple turtle neck has seen many lives: it has been the preferred top of menial workers, sailors, athletes, artists, existentialists, intellectuals, Michel Foucault, and Greta Garbo. Early feminists in the United States transformed the roll-neck garment into a non-gender specific wearable banner of solidarity. Shortly thereafter, this trend was some how exploited into the Sweater Girl look—a tight sweater worn over a cone-shaped bra in order to emphasize the bust-line. Most recently, turtlenecks became substitutes for the shirt-and-tie combo in the oce space, emphasizing the wearer’s relaxed approach to all business-related aairs. All these fads emerging from a shirt designed after a shy amphibian famous for its retreat into a shell.
What we choose to reveal or disguise can be a political act. Through our choices of style and color of dress, we are able to exert power. We get to choose who gets to see what and what exactly gets to be seen. The burka, the hijab, the mini skirt, and the turtleneck have the power to obscure the body, divert the gaze, and transform objectified individuals into abstracted subjects. The exposure of a wrist or glimpse of an ankle (or, in the case of the turtleneck, the hint of a décolletage) become as suggestive as the line and the curve of a Minimalist painting. In concealing, women’s fashion can accentuate and enhance the underneath.
On November 14 2015, MAMA Gallery is proud to open Portrait of a Nude Woman, a painting exhibition by artist Mattea Perrotta. Inspired by residency in Morocco and the women she met there in the city-streets, a cup of Ayahuasca tea, and a ceremonious purging of a past rooted in the figurative, this exhibition showcases Perrotta’s three-year body of
abstracted and minimalist portrayals of women living in a man’s world. Using Minimalist techniques to strip her content bare, Perrotta sheds extraneous layers to reveal her medium vulnerable and naked.
Reminiscent of a Picasso as imagined by Agnes Martin, the lines of each painting are flawed, reminding the viewer of the human element, the imperfections that mimic the reflections seen in the mirror. No, it is not true that women share the same experiences cross-culturally. Yet, women do seem comparatively conjoined by a prevalence of body insecurities, perhaps stemming from an awareness of past one another in the street everyday, and if women are confined and victimized by their insecurities of such encounters, is there freedom in hiding in the shell of the abstract? Is there healing in the purgative properties of the minimal?
The color palette of Portrait of a Nude Woman recalls that of Marrakech: vivid man-made colors with an attitude (although, more likely, the history of color-making can be traced to women’s work and so let’s call that woman-made colors instead) that clash against the muted tones of a desert landscape. Perrotta then takes her collection one step further and grinds elements from her temporary home—coal and indigo rocks— into the paint, synthesizing the ornamental and the decorative with the earthly. The resulting arrangements are constructions of unnatural hues, representing the fallacy and contrivance of how we perceive ourselves and how we envision ourselves to be perceived by others. If we can imagine the desert as the female body—an unnamed and unmarked territory with stakes to lay claim upon—then these alchemical transformations of object to subject, of sand to material, of Woman to Artist, herald a new trend in making marks.
Before there was the turtle neck, there was the ruled collar. How strange that what we wear around our necks can indicate our lots in life. We can be blue collar, white collar, or pink collar. Our collars can be popped, or they can not. We can have no collar at all and go deep v. These garments are abstractions on a character, oering a microcosmic exposure of interior lives. Before there was the collar, there was naked-ness, and there was no shame. And then a red circle entered the picture plane and we became aware of and bound to the body from head to toe.