Experiencing Gaze via Art in Public Space

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by Sreejata Roy

As art historian James Elkins observes, the gaze is “a treacherous concept” for theorists in different fields – it is “conceptually ambiguous, self-contradictory, occasionally too rigid, too abstract, too general or too loose or thin or simply unhelpful”.

The “gaze” has traditionally been explained by philosophers and scholars of the history of visual art in relationship to the pathology of narcissism. However, from the twentieth century onward visual culture criticism has actively traced the term’s varying resonance within different discourses. Thus, for Lacan the gaze was an extremely influential human force, because only in the meeting of the face and the gaze “do we exist for each other”, psychoanalytically. Foucault used the medical gaze as a means to describe the power dynamics between doctors and patients. Feminist critics and art/film historians have narrated how the male gaze relentlessly objectifies the female subject in overt and covert ways…

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