In both fetish and fantasy, the “bad girl” is deviant, overtly sexual and dangerous.
She is the one of temptresses of the Bible (Salome and Magdalene), she is the sword-wielding Judith who beheaded Holofernes and she is the courtesan prostitute looking coyly in your eye as depicted in Manet’s Olympia. She the whip carrying, leather-clad Cat Woman. She is the smoking (literally and figuratively) Madonna who croons in her video, Bad Girl, about being “drunk by six.” She is the lady of the night that Donna Summers sings about in her disco hit (toot toot, AHHHH beep beep!).
But who really is the bad girl? Are all of these popular representations actually damaging stereotypes that only reinforce the idea that a woman is limited to being a Madonna or a whore? Is the bad girl someone who steps out of line to get what she wants? Or, has the bad girl become as commodified as the girl groups who sing about her (Hello, Danity Kane and the Pussy Cat Dolls)?
Dayna Danger uses her art to explore the meaning, imagery and construction of the femme fatale in her exhibit, Bad Girls, currently showing at the Gallery of Student Art. The University of Manitoba fine arts student feels that the term “can be seen as degrading, using the adjective in a way you would speak to a pet.”
Despite this, Danger began to research a different kind of bad girl. She didn’t focus on those created through advertising and products such as “bad gal” mascara or “vamp” lipstick, or on those naughty women who flash their private bits to the tabloid photographers. Rather, her art explores the women who have “done actual bad things or were just misunderstood because they were women.” Through this, Danger’s idea about the bad girl has changed. She explained, “It made me realize, heck yes, I would love to be a bad girl if it meant I could rise above what society expected of me and what I needed to accomplish.”
Danger uses her photography to fuse together the lives of history’s most notorious bad girls with those of the modern day woman. Her photography was inspired in part by the rumors, legends and myths which surround history’s most scandalous women. Her work has a distinctly punk rock pin-up feel, partly inspired by Bettie Page, the woman who Danger personally feels best captures the spirit of the bad girl.
One of the photographs in Bad Girls features a woman with bright red lips kneeling on a bed, wearing a black leather corset, garters and thigh high stockings. She wears a thick choker necklace and a similar bracelet on each of her eight hands. Did I mention that the girl has eight arms?
This image of a modern day dominatrix can be seen as an interpretation of Kali, a Hindu goddess known for being dark and violent. In many representations of Kali she carries a sword in one or her arms and a severed head in another. In another hand she holds a bowl, which catches the blood dripping from the head. Danger’s interpretation of these symbols has her model holding a bull whip, a dildo and a leash attached around the neck of a man leaning on the bed. He is wearing a cat mask, and behind him there is a dresser with care bears. This bad girl means business.
Through Danger’s lens, the bad girl is not some condescending term or pet name. She is powerful, dangerous, sexy and mysterious. History has recorded countless versions of the bad-ass babe and Danger was drawn to the subject matter precisely for that reason. As she explained, “No one remembers a good girl; it is always the bad ones who make history.”
Bad Girls runs until Feb. 5 at the Gallery of Student Art in University Centre.