Rebel On: Perfecting “Perfection” with Robert Mapplethorpe

Now, finally, the relentless upheaval on women empowerment has accelerated, in the wake of Robert Mapplethorpe’s pre-emptive manifesto on the definition of “perfect beauty”. 

Portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe

Image rights to Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

The alchemy of the legendary, if not ultra-controversial, American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe spells diversity and self-empowerment with his classic black-and-white portraits. Paying homage to his legacy, the artist is also one of the conceptual pieces that lies in the beliefs of NOIRANCA.

Born in New York in 1946, Mapplethorpe was raised in a Catholic family with five siblings.With his fascination for arts, in 1963 he enrolled in Pratt Institute to study Fine Arts where he explored drawing, paintings and sculpture. In years thereafter, he experimented with photography and created masterpieces with his lens – specializing in portraiture and capturing floral still life – thanks to an opportunity working for Andy Warhol.

Image rights to Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

“I am obsessed with beauty. I want everything to be perfect, and of course it isn’t. And that’s a tough place to be because you’re never satisfied.” 

Among Mapplethorpe’s black-and-white photographic works, he lays bare the humanly beauty in perfection. The high contrasting colors of black and white strikingly come off as his discernable style, which, synchronously overlaps with the idea of NOIRANCA, the portmanteau combining together the French word “Noir” (meaning“black”) and “Bianca” (a woman’s name meaning “white”). The dynamism of the polarizing colors brings forth the shadow in the light, and too, light in the shadow – highlighting fluidity and the infinite magnitude of diversity. His works are minimal, yet provocatively hold audiences in awe for its wokeness.

His oppositional composition further underlines the notion of diversity. Juxtaposing the subjects, he deliberately composes the photographs with geometry, or sometimes, symmetry. The works thrum a harmonic desire of unity, just like NOIRANCA’s ambition in bringing women of all kinds together.

Lady Lisa Lyon wearing a black hat with veils, showing off her muscular arm

Image rights to Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

“Boundlessness”screams from Mapplethorpe’s artworks, too, fervently embracing various kinds of people across the spectrum. He captures the untold tales, the censored stories that did not exist in traditional societal ethos: the taboos. Androgenicity, gender fluidity, gender equality, homosexuality, nudity, to name but a few. While Mapplethorpe kicked off a conversation of boundlessness in the 1970s, it was not until very recently that we highly advocate inclusivity (as you know, Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements). NOIRANCA, thus, would love to bring on the evolution of our minds to equality at full speed.  

“I'm looking for the unexpected. I'm looking for things I've never seen before.”

In one of this most iconic works “Ken Moody and Robert Sherman”, a black man and a white man – both naked and bald – stare at the same direction. The feelings exuded therein go beyond the paradoxical visual itself, into a public statement of inter-racial harmony exhibiting in world-class museums. The collision of black and white is a silent dialogue of diversity.

Image rights to Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Defying stereotypical gender standards, Mapplethorpe plumbed into a world by which “women should be slender and feminine!” does not exist. His hundred and twelve portraitures of the pioneering female bodybuilder Lisa Lyon speak volume of the matter: women are beautiful regardless of body shapes. Confidently dressed in bikini to exquisite couture garments, Lisa showcases her muscular figure where elegance shimmers in vigor. The different facets of her, therefore, is micro-portrayed in the most perfect way possible, completing Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre in surveying gender equality.  

Imbued with intensity and depth, Mapplethorpe’s portraitures explicitly capture a society without duality, boundaries, and garnered into a love letter to the ostracized, reminding them of their own perfection.