Let’s get one thing clear: sex does not make Detroit-based collage artist Zoë Ligon uncomfortable, and it probably shouldn’t make you uncomfortable either. On top of being a badass artist, the prolific multi-hyphenate is also a sex educator, celebrated journalist, and owner of an amazing sex shop. Her latest project, a collage series titled “Woman with the Good Meat Removed,” currently up at Brooklyn’s Superchief Gallery, neatly ties together her passions while turning societally constructed perceptions on their head, challenging the rampant and routine objectification of sexuality and the female body by juxtaposing them artfully against actual objects.
The resulting collages are colorful and evocative, ripe with symbolism and a hint of strange surrealism that causes us to linger a little bit longer, to look a little deeper beneath the surface. Her work is starkly captivating – female figures filtering natural landscapes like lovely stained glass windows – but there is also a multi-layered interpretation to her work, beyond the irrepressible visual appeal of both nature and the female form.
The figures in her collages are shown touching themselves or others against glossy natural backdrops, lakes and mountainsides and grassy fields, stripping the sexual acts of preconceived politics, and instead reveling in the invigorating reminder that sexuality and pleasure stem from nature, and are a natural part of our human environment.
I couldn’t help but think of the inauthenticity of the porn industry, and how powerful and positive it is to view sexuality and pleasure reimagined in such a natural environment, stripped of everything except the act and our wilderness of our instincts. There is a nuanced and powerful duality to Ligon’s collages: on one hand, they are vivid and unabashed celebrations of pleasure, sex, and the inherent beauty of our bodies in their most natural state, an almost spiritual reminder of the connection between sex and nature.
Yet Ligon’s work can also be interpreted as a critique of society’s objectification of sex and women. By choosing to depict these figures in the heat of pleasure and passion only in geometric outlines, shapes and angles without faces or personalities, she is highlighting the ways in which objectification bastardizes sex, reducing women to empty, one dimensional objects.
There are interwoven themes of pleasure and femininity in her collages, and sex and body positivity resonates powerfully throughout. By removing the “good meat” from these women, she also disconnects them from the watchful eye of objectification, transforming them into tranquil vessels of both vivid nature and natural instinct.
Ligon is rewriting our society’s narrative of sexuality and imagining a new and beautiful landscape for sex and pleasure. The world that her collages depict is a vivacious, uninhibited world of sex, nature and imagination, a world where pleasure is as wondrous and profound as nature, and we are lucky to have a window into her mind.