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Maren Karlson

Why does the female body automatically equate to sexiness?

The illustrator blurring the lines between high and low and asking questions of the art world

Illustrator Maren Karlson isn’t interested in conforming to art world hierarchy. Concocting otherworldly illustrated pieces depicting the female form at its most unapologetic, the Berlin-based illustrator hopes to shed light on the often unexplored grey areas of our minds, using her practice as a means of questioning societally imposed binaries and the concept of high and low art forms.

“My secret wish is for someone like Beyoncé to appear in the art world, an illustration pop star whose work is accessible to not just a small elite. Someone that a lot of people can identify with and who is known internationally, but also uses their work as a way of transporting a political message like she does. Illustration and comics are really able to do this kind of thing because it might have a less exclusive, elitist impression on a lot of people than fine art.” she says.

Inspired by the darkest corners of internet forum art found on platforms such as DeviantArt, Karlson is less concerned with breaking down industry hierarchies as opposed to refusing to acknowledge their existence altogether. “My goal is to not have a visual hierarchy in my brain of things that I consider ‘good enough’ to be looked at, to not dismiss anything from the start. Anything I see can hold something valuable if I just look at it in a certain way”, she says.

“Can a naked female body ever just be what it is – a naked body – without being immediately sexualised, no matter in what context it exists?”– Maren Karlson

Purposefully playing with crude imagery through her use of symbolism and a meticulous technique, Karlson hopes to both provide and gain insight into the reception of work (such as hers) that deals with notions of good and bad taste. “Does money contradict critical content? Who is interested in art being an exclusive conversation between elites, and is it possible to make art accessible to a large variety of people without watering down its content? And furthermore, how can I use my own privileged status as an artist to make the art world more inclusive?”

Despite no glaringly obvious political references or social standpoint in her current body of work, as a practising female artist dealing with themes feminine in nature Karlson’s work has more often than not been considered under the guise of ‘feminist art’. While she doesn’t refute these labels, she does want to challenge people’s perceptions of the female form. “People have also called my work ‘sexy’– does that mean a naked female body automatically equals sexiness? Can a naked female body ever just be what it is – a naked body – without being immediately sexualised, no matter in what context it exists?” she says.

“This is also a perfect example how ultimately every decision you make surrounding your work, not just the work itself, sends a political message whether you want it or are aware of it or not, even when you consider yourself and your work ‘abstract’ or ‘apolitical.’”

Check out more of Maren Karlson’s work here