One of the genres to which Emese Kazár is committed in her art is the tradition of portrait painting that she seeks to revive as well as revise. Indeed, she experiments with a most difficult aspect of capturing female identities without giving her viewers reliable clues to long-established painterly interpretations. Her pictures bear the mark of her engagement with the legacies of Western art’s distinctive representations of femininity but her interventions in art history also make her artworks subversive and transformative sites for the production of meanings and affects, negotiating – to use Griselda Pollock’s words – “both history and the unconscious” (Griselda Pollock, Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Musem, 10).
Kazár creates enigmatical identities behind masks, renders faces without distinctive features conventionally related to individual uniqueness and posits the female torso ambiguously, as if either facing the viewer or turning her back on her.
Furthermore, Emese’s dramatic portraits both reassemble and destabilize the imaginary model’s identity: an exquisite lace collar, an opening eye on the breast, a flimsy nightshirt slipping down on shoulders – all of these details appear on vaguely shaped bodies devoid of conventional marks of femininity, yet with allusions to their revised gender identity.
The woman of “Yes-No” is a most exciting rendering of empowered, sensual femininity. Like Kazár’s other paintings which capture distinctly female figures reminiscent of puppets and corn husk dolls, the red-haired woman of Yes-No is also faceless in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, the sumptuous red hair hides the face, making the woman’s posture ambiguous: does she turn her back on the viewer, refusing to be looked at or does she cover her face with her seductive red hair, as if with a mask to cover the face but making the sensuous body visible in the low-necked, haphazardly hanging nightshirt? Or has she just said “No” to abuse and is now turning her back on the violator, repeating to herself “Yes” to reclaim her agency?
Obviously negotiating, indeed, challenging the pictorial tradition which represents the female body with rounded forms “carefully licked by a loaded brush” – as Tamar Garb describes Pierre-August Renoir’s attitude to his nudes (Bodies of Modernity, Thames and Hudson, 1998, p 169) – the woman in Emese Kazár’s painting is far from either being an emblem of the mythic mother or a site of sensory pleasure for the male gaze. No matter how self-effacing, the red-haired woman – like her sisters in Kazár’s portraits who also resist their culture’s homogenizing and normalizing interpellation – defiantly flaunts her femininity and she does so with courage and confidence.