The Mirror

She crouched in the middle of the gallery floor and we stood outside, watching her. She clung to that spot, naked, neither posed nor at rest, her face turned away from us in base humiliation.

And yet she was looking right at us, her green eyes meeting our own, challenging and defiant.

She looked so alone in that barren space, separated from the rest of us by the windows and the locked glass door.

I wondered how it must feel for her as we crowded around her in the confined space of the gallery floor, looking down on her in mingled loathing, and confusion, and lust.

We had talked about her plan a few days before. At the appointed hour, she would lock herself inside the student gallery (having reserved it for the week) and then disrobe. Lined up in a semicircle around her perch, a row of tall dressing mirrors, of various sizes, were all angled in such a way that anyone standing at the glass doors and windows of the gallery would have a clear view of her.

She would then spend the next several hours waiting there, until either she could endure it no more, or the university officials got wind of the ‘happening’ and shut it down.

Unlike other student exhibitions in the gallery, there were no flyers posted ahead of time, no advertising of any kind, except by word of mouth.

I was one of the few she asked to spread the word for her, one of the few who knew what she was actually planning.

I was surprised that she had confided in me at all. I hardly knew her, although I had heard many rumors. People whispered (in overly loud voices) about her. They said that she was ‘easy’, and that she ‘put-out’ for anyone who so much as looked in her direction.

This, I thought, was highly unlikely. She’d have never had the time.

The fact is, everyone was looking at her. She was gorgeous and she moved with a sultry catlike sway that both turned heads and dredged jealous innuendo out of otherwise friendly people.

I was working late in the ceramics lab when she found me and asked me if I could spread the word about her ‘happening’ the next day. She warned me that there could be repercussions for anyone found to be involved. When I asked her why, she told me what she was planning.

As I said, I’d heard the loose talk about her, and I could only imagine what a display of this sort would do for her already poor reputation. When I tried, haltingly, to express that concern (without saying outright “but people already think you’re a slut”) she offered me a smile that said she knew exactly what people thought of her.

The MirrorAnd then she said, “I want them to see how they look at me.”

I didn’t get it.

The following morning, I casually spread the word, and then I joined the small crowd that had gathered outside the gallery.

Everyone in the gathering was talking at once; “How conceited to be making such a show of herself…, she’s always been an exhibitionist, have you seen how she dresses…, slut…, not like she’s showing anyone anything they haven’t seen before…, poor thing…, nice tits…, her parents must be SO proud…, what is she trying to prove…, this is NOT art.”

I looked at her sitting there.

I wanted her, and I felt sorry for her, and I still didn’t get it.

And then I looked up at the mirror, at the reflection of myself and the others framed there. I saw our faces, the faces of people looking at her in condemnation and pity and lust and I suddenly understood what she was trying to do.

“I want them to see how they look at me,” she had said.

She was not the show.

She was not the art.

We were the ones on display, exposed, naked.

It wasn’t a pretty picture.

And that’s the thing about art: sometimes it is ugly and vulgar and even poorly crafted, but those are not the qualities that determine its true quality. Good art does more than just liven up the room, provide pigeons a place to roost, or moulder away in some gallery. Art should make you think and question, it should challenge your way of looking at the world around you by offering you a view of that world from a perspective outside your own.

“…the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

—Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

If art, in whatever form, is the mirror we hold up to nature, it may be then that wherever we see ugliness, we see only the reflection of what is unpleasant in our own selves.

That lesson has stuck with me ever since, although I have not thought about that naked girl on the gallery floor, or the mirrors, or the leering scorn reflected there, in many long years.

And then, last week, all of social media seemed to explode with outrage over Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMA’s and the memories came flooding back.

I cannot claim to have any special insights on what it is Ms. Cyrus is doing.

Are her over-the-top gyrations and silly facial expressions truly meant to entertain? Or is this current incarnation simply another character, a “bad-gurl” caricature, designed to bookend the overtly wholesome “Hanna Montana”?

I don’t have the answers to those questions and I don’t really care.

Far more interesting to me has been the public reaction to her performance.

In the last week I have seen the foul-mouthed, the oversexed, and the neglectful parents making common cause with the puritanical, the self-righteous, and the holier than thou, to cast dreadful aspersions upon Miley Cyrus, upon her parents, and upon the “society of permissiveness” which they claim is at fault for her debauched antics.

Behind all the sneering, the rolling eyes, the pity, the slut-shaming, and in the secret heart of the teary-eyed pious, folding their hands in prayer for Miley’s soul, lurk the real players in this little drama.

And to them all I say, “look in the mirror.”

It is one thing to critique the art and quite another to demean the artist.

When you gaze down upon her from your lofty heights and cast your stones, you would do well to remember that.

She is not the show, and the real shame belongs to you.

****

The event in the student gallery was brief. University staff quickly dispersed the small crowd, entered the gallery and escorted the young student out, robed and weeping silently. Word spread, and the details of the event became more inventive with each passing day. The gallery remained closed and dark for the remainder of week and the administration threatened to revoke the privilege of managing our own gallery, should anything of that nature ever happen again. They were deeply disappointed in the irresponsibility shown by those involved.

They were also, they claimed, concerned for her safety. By exposing herself that way, she might have given people the wrong idea, and someone might act on that.

In other words, “she was asking for it.”

Because women who dress or act a certain way always are, right?

Of course the rumors didn’t go away, but then neither did she.

Sometimes when I’d pass her in the corridors, she would catch my eye and smile.

It was the smile of someone who knew she had shared a secret.

We had each stood naked before the mirror.

64 Comments

Filed under Art, Culture, Modern Life

64 responses to “The Mirror

  1. Reblogged this on Queen Without A Court and commented:
    Amazing. This is the type of profound art experimentation that makes my blood sing. I wonder what I would have seen in my own reflection, had I been there. I wonder, and I am uneasy about the answer. This is going to have me thinking for quite some time.

  2. Miley’s performance doesn’t bother me, Robin Thicke song about rape bothers me.

  3. “They were also, they claimed, concerned for her safety. By exposing herself that way, she might have given people the wrong idea, and someone might act on that.

    In other words, “she was asking for it.””

    No, that’s not what they were saying. Pointing out a plausible chain of causation doesn’t imply justification. If a father tells his daughter not to walk around Arabia in shorts and a tank top, it is not because he is accusing her of anything wrong–he is rationally making efforts to protect her.

    • So treat the symptom and not the problem? The university could have cited it as a dress-code violation. Instead they chose to play daddy and admonish her for inviting the attentions of wrong doers. In any case, the universities actions are beside the point.

      • Obviously nothing excuses rape or any other criminal act. But in a case of urgency, efforts are as well spent removing a victim from harm as they are attempting to change the culture of Arabia or anywhere else. In fact, the former would only rarely serve to detract from the latter. I would like to treat both the symptoms and problems where possible.

      • Granted, but I tend to lean toward finding solutions that do not compromise personal freedoms.

    • Thanks for your comment. This is exactly what I thought when I read those lines! You are right on and it is interesting that, out of all the comments posted, yours is the only one that offered this point of view. Come on people…..I agree with this blogger– this is not what they were saying at all.

  4. Wow. Interesting parable. And yes, the self-righteous judgers could really stand a mirror held up to them the next time they choose to put someone down.

  5. Reblogged this on Marie In Real Life and commented:
    A poignant reflection that is worth reading.

  6. A well written and interesting piece which raises the issues of role, gender, psychology, so-called morality— and the two way mirror of perception. Intriguing!
    I’m sure I’ll return.

  7. beautiful piece. very engaging!

  8. Such a precisely-written piece with captivating prose. Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking writing. Cheers.

  9. A thousand self-help books combined in these few simple words.

  10. Pingback: Reblogging: The Mirror | Stone of Destiny « SwanDancer's Kindling Moments

  11. Reblogged this on SwanDancer's Kindling Moments and commented:
    Time to open our eyes and see ourselves in the mirror . . . what do you see?

  12. Beyond amazing. Wish I knew the girl you write about. She seems so much like a person I see in a mirror. Truly amazing.

  13. Reblogged this on Passionate Dreaming and commented:
    Truly amazing

  14. Tanya

    What a brave and intelligent woman to have accomplished such a thing. This was amazing. Congrats on making it to Freshly Pressed, you deserve it.

  15. I am so overpowered by the girl’s steadfastness. Have shared this beautiful piece of writing in my FB wall.
    –Deepa

  16. Brilliant idea, the performance art that the audience conducts for itself.

    Meaningfully, I just came from a gallery showing. I spend most of my time talking to the artists, then I race through the place just before closing time to actually view the art. Only takes a second to feel the right piece; all the rest of the time is spent, as you say, dredging up judgments.

    I will remember this parable the next time I go.

  17. denealwilliamson

    I really enjoyed this – the girls art, the point of it, your writing of it. I also see the relation to Miley. When I saw all the parents of children speaking bad of her and saying how they are concerned because their children look up to her I thought more about the fact that they took to internet bullying a young girl more than I considered their words. More concern should have been placed on the kind of example they were setting as a permanent feature in their child’s lives and their capabilities regarding negative judgement and internet bullying than the example of a singer who is sometimes featured in the media.

  18. This was a beautiful read! Thank you for sharing.

  19. piggy pop

    nice portrait and good outlook. thanks for sharing!

  20. Reblogged this on Chiarina Loggia and commented:
    Some real food for thought here on the role, and power, of art courageously created.

  21. Very cool that you so deeply opened up to this provocative piece of art/performance art. I’m glad you shared this story about a rare openness to the complications of truth. Compelling description of the artist, your gaze, and the reflection of your gaze as it is available for you to reflect upon. Lovely.

  22. I can feel the girl’s sadness, on how she was misunderstood by everyone and the subtleness of her art – to let the haters see how they criticize her yet not to tell them explicitly that they are the “art” itself. There is always someone to bully around us, but the thing is we never step out to help them or we even join in to criticize them. It’s the sad reality.

  23. WOW. This is phenomenal, I can’t even tell you how very much so. It makes me feel more confident in the own personal project I have embarked upon, showing myself to anyone who’s willing to look on, to mirror the ugliness I too have seen here. Thanks for sharing this ;0). Absolutely beautiful.

  24. This is a brilliant piece; insightful, written with both compassion and self-reflective clarity. Please may I reblog this?

  25. Thank you for sharing this story. It was insightful and significant.

  26. Reblogged this on Kenyan gal in heels and commented:
    nice ….

  27. Reblogged this on nina nakamura and commented:
    Every now and then I come across a piece which just makes me go YES. This is one of them. Insightful, wise with such a keen-edged application of self-reflection (pun intended) this deserves spreading far and wide.

  28. danielarenee2013

    WOW! Talk about reading something that really puts things into perspective! If you see her again, commend her on my part. She was brave to do what she did and I’m glad that people like you really saw what she was trying to prove. It’s easy for us to pass judgment on others without stepping back and taking a look at ourselves first.
    Thank you for sharing that, it’s truly something!

  29. what a truly fantastic read! not many pieces have held my attention or made me think so much lately, but this one has certainly done that! Very poignant and well written. Very much enjoyed the story. Felt like I was in the room with you. Thanks!

  30. Reblogged this on caitystever's Blog and commented:
    makes me want to do something like this just for the few that will understand such acts that mystify others.

  31. onlywithwords

    Wow. This was great.

  32. What a bold woman. I hope some of the others pulled away the same meaning that you did.

  33. What a wonderfully crafted piece that gets at the motivation of art and art of motivation.

    Cheers,
    Laurie Keim

  34. It would be hard for me to forget about this blog. The reality and the ironic realization is too haunting to ignore. Thank you for this beautiful piece of art.

  35. What a fabulous post. Thank you

  36. a reverse thinking. another implicit function of a mirror. an interesting post of a controversy art. and so true, a reaction of a situation is mostly more lasting to remember that the situation itself that becomes a breaking news. in which gallery did it happen and which city?

    • Thank you for your comments. The events I describe occurred a little over 2 decades ago in Arlington, Texas. Time passes but lessons retain their value.

      • wow, that’s long ago. and must be very daring at that time (for sure, until now). i wonder how she is now two decades later. was she really the one in your pic? if so, she was indeed a gorgeous girl. you’ve heard about her or met her recently?

      • She was not the girl in the illustration although the resemblance is striking. Beyond that, I am not at liberty to say anything more about her. I hope you understand. 🙂

  37. Pingback: The Mirror | Pushing our limits

  38. First.. Great Post!
    You know… I posted the funny about her butt and a plucked chickens butt looking alike… But ya know she us 20… She’s beautiful and I do think that she has a support system … She’s trying to be rid of that good girl image. I like her song…no, I wouldn’t want my daughter dressing that way but that was the M-TV awards… The craziest award show all year… So I’m still a fan even if her ass dies look like a chickens… Lol! Many people out there wish their ass looked like that! Lol!
    LK ❤🐇🐓🐓🐓🐓🐓🐓🐓🐓🐓

  39. Absolutely brilliant post, brilliant presentation including the picture. A total mirror of the society we live in. And this is awesome: “We were the ones on display, exposed, naked.”

  40. Pingback: Wicked Game | Hipster Racist

  41. Cel

    Reblogged this on Voices of the Heart & Mind and commented:
    This is a thought provoking piece and a nice read. Most people could deliver a judgement on what they see… What if there is a mirror to give us the reflection in the way we see others? Would we see our own reflection before we judge?

  42. being in love with the is more what i add expected at the start. this just show how we look from a different angel. keep it up

  43. Reblogged this on bridjview and commented:
    being in love with the is more what i add expected at the start. this just show how we look from a different angel. keep it up

  44. reblogged and commented:
    Perceptions… but yeah… sometimes it’s not about what we see, but what we are, what we have made of ourselves.

  45. Wow! This was brilliant. I don’t know what to applaud more, the content of the article or the thought behind such a deed, or the way you have written this piece. This is the kind of writing and these are the kind of circumstances that make it seem blessed to be a human, to see, feel, and express such a depth. Thank you so much for this.

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