By focusing on reemerging burlesque subculture in my recent works, I explore female sexuality in a third-wave feminist context. This paradigm renders the desires of men irrelevant: The burlesque artist does not create a strip-tease in order to play to the male gaze, nor does she shirk to avoid it. Rather, she performs for own fulfillment and self expression. Burlesque sexuality is not defined by any societal or cultural standards to which women are expected to adhere. In working with these performers, I have encountered women who shamelessly embrace their un-Photoshopped bodies: They accept their physical selves wholeheartedly, whether sinewy, voluptuous or rotund, often purposely drawing attention to that which makes them physically unique. In a misogynistic culture in which unbridled female sexuality is stigmatized, burlesque provides a rare haven where women’s sexuality is not only welcomed, but used as a vehicle to present narratives and satires that often challenge objectification and social taboos. This reflects the healthy notion that a sexualized female is also simultaneously a whole person, unremoved from intelligence, personal ambition and strength of character.
Painting portraits of burlesque artists is a way for me to present them in a medium traditionally associated with respectability. This is a subtle statement not only about the social perception of the performers specifically, but about women's sexuality in a general. As Velazquez’s’ Las Meninas challenged the status of the artist as a laborer and reframed the role as an intellectual and noble pursuit, I aim to present images of women who are simultaneously sexual, powerful, and dignified, thereby supplanting sexual objectification and increasing women’s sexual and overall freedom.