Amongst contemporary provocative art that challenges societal norms and sparks conversations, Alexandra Rubinstein stands out as a distinctive voice. The Russian-born artist, now based in New York, has been navigating the art scene with her thought-provoking creations that delve into gender dynamics, power, and the often uncomfortable intersections of sexuality and societal expectations. Rubinstein's artistic journey uses humour and gender-focused narratives to contribute to the broader discourse of gender disparities, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality.

Photo of Alexandra Rubinstein by Mike Bryk (@mikebryknyc). Image courtesy of @therubinstein/Instagram.

Rubinstein's journey into explicit art traces back to her undergraduate days at Carnegie Mellon, marked by bold pieces that portrayed sex explicitly to reclaim control over her sexuality. These graphic early works aimed to confront and challenge the societal constructs that often use female sexuality against women, where a stigma exists that if a woman is sex-positive and loudly speaks about her sexuality then there must be morally corrupt. The explicit nature of her art was a deliberate choice, a loud and aggressive statement to push back against the double standards women faced as they were objectified in erotica and yet forbidden from sharing their sexuality.

Abort the Court by Alexandra Rubinstein. Image courtesy of Artsy.

As her artistic exploration deepened, Rubinstein's focus shifted towards masculinity and men. Pieces like Abort the Court aim to understand and empathize with male identity. Its incorporation of male genitalia serves as a symbolic representation of masculinity that she engages with humour, questioning the concept of male genitalia as both men’s core identity and a source of societal power. This approach not only challenged traditional gender narratives but also provided a platform for conversations around male identity and societal expectations.

Rubinstein's explicit artworks usually garner mixed responses. While men often embraced the humour and symbolism, women faced challenges in reconciling positive association with male nudity. The artist aimed to shift the narrative, taking back the power often associated with male anatomy. Her intent was not to create erotic art but to utilize nudity conceptually, challenging societal norms and using male nudity to discuss heterosexual female sexuality and power.

The Moon Also Rises by Alexandra Rubinstein. Image courtesy of Alexandra Rubinstein’s website.

In 2021, Rubinstein embarked on a new series, The Moon Also Rises, marking a departure from explicit depictions. This series delves into the relationship between men and nature, exploring how the gendering of nature as female has contributed to its exploitation. By aligning male forms with nature, Rubinstein seeks to humanize the landscape, depicting vulnerability and the impact of toxic masculinity on the environment.

Rubinstein expresses a desire to move beyond explicit depictions, feeling that she has made her point with phalluses. Her recent works, such as the I'd Rather Sink Than Call Brad for Help series, continue to explore male vulnerability and its relationship with nature but with less explicit imagery. The artist is also working on a series using her period blood, addressing societal narratives around women's bodies, fertility, and age.

I'd Rather Sink Than Call Brad for Help #7 by Alexandra Rubinstein. Image courtesy of Platform Art.

Rubinstein's work challenges the binary definitions of masculinity and femininity. By questioning narrow definitions and expectations associated with gender, she aims to contribute to a broader conversation about societal norms. Her emphasis on the problematic nature of gender binaries aligns with the broader goals of gender equality.

Alexandra Rubinstein's artistic journey reflects a profound commitment to challenging gender norms and fostering conversations around sexuality, power, and societal expectations. From her explicit depictions aimed at reclaiming female sexuality to her recent exploration of masculinity's impact on nature, Rubinstein's work continues to evolve. As she navigates new artistic territories, her commitment to humour, conceptual depth, and pushing societal boundaries remains a driving force in contributing to the dialogue on gender equality. Through her art, Rubinstein invites viewers to reconsider preconceived notions and engage in discussions that transcend traditional gender roles.

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