Pratt’s MFA Photographers Indict the “Perfect Body”

Voltaire once quipped that the “ear is the road to the heart.” In this context, Chloe Scout Nix’s candor with ears is refreshing and arresting in “dad ear (waxahachie, tx)” (2023).

Through April 30, Nix and fellow Pratt photography MFA Lena Smart are displaying their work in the photography gallery of Pratt’s ARC building. It’s worth a trip to explore body parts like ears, arms, and hands in an unconventional way, but more importantly this exhibition challenges the distorted body images that prevail in mainstream media and can lead to health and self-esteem issues, especially for women. They champion the role photography can play in intervening and healing.

Lena Smart contributes to this conversation on neglected body parts and shapes with a truly original composition that focuses on the arm in “When was the last time I sat in your lap?” (2024). Her photo draws attention to an aging arm and worn hands grasping an arm rest. The arm’s owner, who appears to be male, cradles another figure in his lap. We see no faces. That arm does all the talking about who this man might be. It’s a subtle way to re-envision the embrace and subvert negative perceptions of aging.

Smart showcases her talent for finding beauty in hands in “Family Portrait” (2024). With the white wooden door, she sets up a stark texture contrast that draws out every little age spot and tiny wrinkle, and each sprout of hair. It’s startling in its intimacy. “For me … with bodies, there is so much intimacy but also so much distance,” the artist told Hyperallergic. She is interested in how our own body images can create a distance that separates us from others, and in shattering the facades of idealized bodies.

In “mum and bum (waxahachie, tx)” (2023), Nix sunbathes next to her mother, cherishing the warm caress of the bright sun across her legs. “I try to view the body as material for this, instead of idealizing,” she explained. Lying on her stomach, wearing a red sweater and bikini bottom, the artist claims sensuality for herself, resembling one of Ruben’s Three Graces at the Prado.

Reflecting on the affinities between the two artists’ oeuvres, Nix noted that “we both have a tendency to obscure and to hide and to hyper-focus.” In this exhibition, both photographers’ compositions exclude familiar details and shine the spotlight on under-sung body parts. Just as Voltaire once restated that old Italian aphorism, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” these photographers indict popular culture’s perfect body as the enemy of good art.

Pratt Shows: MFA in Photography Thesis Exhibition: Chloe Sout Nix / Lena Smart continues at the Photography Gallery at Pratt (Activity Resource Center Building, 395 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn) through April 30. The exhibition was curated by Jody Graf.

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