Lacey Lewis

By focusing on reemerging burlesque subculture in my recent works, I explore female sexuality in a third­wave feminist context. This paradigm renders the desires of men irrelevant: The burlesque artist does not create a strip­tease in order to play to the male gaze, nor does she shirk to avoid it. Rather, she performs for own fulfillment and self-expression. Burlesque sexuality is not defined by any societal or cultural standards to which women are expected to adhere. In working with these performers, I have encountered women who shamelessly embrace their un­Photoshopped bodies: They accept their physical selves wholeheartedly, whether sinewy, voluptuous or rotund, often purposely drawing attention to that which makes them physically unique. In a misogynistic culture in which unbridled female sexuality is stigmatized, burlesque provides a rare haven where women’s sexuality is not only welcomed, but used as a vehicle to present narratives and satires that often challenge objectification and social taboos. This reflects the healthy notion that a sexualized female is also simultaneously a whole person, unremoved from intelligence, personal ambition and strength of character.

Painting portraits of burlesque artists is a way for me to present them in a medium traditionally associated with respectability. This is a subtle statement not only about the social perception of the performers specifically, but about women's sexuality in a general. As Velazquez’s’ Las Meninas challenged the status of the artist as a laborer and reframed the role as an intellectual and noble pursuit, I aim to present images of women who are simultaneously sexual, powerful, and dignified, thereby supplanting sexual objectification and increasing women’s sexual and overall freedom.