You can practically see it – hovering beside her fringy, blonde do: a cartoonish, crinkle-edged speech balloon that reads, “who has put me here?”
The central figure – a squirmily sprawled, naked woman with a goldfish-filled aquarium on her abdomen – in Allison Zuckerman’s oil painting Longing Odalisque (30”X40”) is poignantly cramped. Her floppy, tanned limbs push beyond the barrier of the canvas in a modern refusal to submit to the 30-by-40 inch area.
This cultural whistleblower kicks against the gender constructions that structured so much of art history.
“The figure is not a generic, idealized, and submissive archetype meant to be consumed by the viewer,” says Zuckerman. “By imbuing her with visible anxiety, she becomes active.”
The bold, primary colors and the slick, stylized aesthetic, are clear gestures to 1950’s and 60’s Pop Art movement. Zuckerman’s painting pays particular homage to the Pop Art pop star, Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), who is famous for his comic book style and several teary-eyed leading ladies in his paintings.
“She is weighed down by the restrictions of art history – visibly manifested in the placement of Lichtenstein’s fishbowl atop her torso,” says the artist.
The fishbowl – inherently an object of confinement – seems to bog her down to the composition of the painting. This particular aquarium has taken its own route through the history of art. It began with Henri Matisse’s (1869-1954) 1912 painting The Goldfish.
Then, in 1972, in the painting Still Life with Goldfish, Lichtenstein translated the imagery into Pop Art. And, now it appears on the bare stomach of the Longing Odalisque.
The figure complicates the still-life genre. While she is embedded in a scene of fruits, she rejects objectification. Her distress and discomfort humanize her and cancels the possibility of the “still-life” genre.
Zuckerman says it is “a simultaneous homage and rebellious gesture to the contributors of Western art history.”
In terms of composition and color scheme, Zuckerman was inspired by one of her earlier paintings of an older woman’s hand on a lounge chair. Both of these paintings feature what Zuckerman calls the “glamorously grotesque.” She defines this notion as “forced beauty standards, which warp and dictate unfair and unreasonable gender roles within our society.”