‘Behind the Flesh’ explores female identity

Paige Strabala, a senior majoring in fine arts, debuted her newest art exhibit, “Behind the Flesh,” on Monday at the Lindhusrt Fine Arts Gallery. (Photo from USC Roski)

In her “Behind the Flesh” exhibit, interdisciplinary artist Paige Strabala depicts the complex nature of femininity and identity through a series of oil paintings. The exhibit opened Monday at the Lindhurst Fine Arts Gallery.

Strabala, a senior majoring in fine arts, expresses her own visions and thoughts about the female identity and the psychological masks people wear to control and shape their personas.  

“Behind the Flesh,” an exhibit of six oil paintings, utilizes figurative painting, a style of art that focuses on physical objects in the real world to portray women in different settings and various states of nudity.

In one painting, a woman looks into a mirror to see someone similar to herself in appearance, but adorning a mask against a background of a different color. In another, two women sit  — one on a leisure chair, and another on a table gazing into the mirror with an expression of confidence.

Strabala said that she imagines people possessing multiple masks or personas. These masks can be social constructs, like wealth and superiority, or personal dispositions, like vanity and obsession.

“We learn that by projecting a persona, we can [affect] how others perceive us,” Strabala said.

To Strabala, individuals’  personas exist simultaneously and are constantly in flux, interacting with each other and society to constantly shape behaviors. She feels that people try on different masks as they continuously adapt to uncertain and shifting environments. Personas can represent who people want to be or cover qualities that people are ashamed of.

“I depict the body, or rather the flesh, as a mask holding back the boundless world that exists beneath the surface of every individual and the constant state of flux between composure and the raw state of vulnerability,” Strabala said.

She said that individuals create these personas, or masks, because of the many, many expectations and limitations placed on them by society. Different identities arise as people struggle to abide by these pressures; an individual’s mask creates a manufactured image they believe will be accepted and approved by society. These masks embody human desires and can be defense mechanisms that hide true feelings and vulnerabilities.

However, personas and masks can slowly erode the differences between individual and social identities, Strabala said.

“The more we slip into these alter egos, it becomes increasingly difficult to define where the shift from the individual starts and mask ends,” Strabala said.

The masks and personas are depicted in her paintings not only through literal masks, but through the female subjects themselves.

“Behind the Flesh” attempts to capture the tension of maintaining multiple identities, some consciously chosen and others publicly adopted.

The opening reception for “Behind the Flesh” will be held Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit will be open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Oct. 12.