We cannot deny that there is power in looking. Often we look at something because it has caught our attention, it is attractive and/or we are curious. We have learned to evaluate the physical appearance of a person or object, and if it is pleasing to the eye, we continue to look. The concept of looking brings about many questions, including: “Who has the right to look?” “What social constructs, such as race or gender, affect our right to look and our way of seeing?” “When you are looked upon, what is the significance of the subject looking or responding back?”
Looking In On: The Gaze explores these questions and how they specifically concern African-American women and the concept of “the gaze”. The gaze can be used to objectify women but it can also be confronted and resisted. When looking at art, if our gaze is confronted and how our gaze is confronted are very significant in terms of how we read an image. Depending on whether the subject looks back at us or looks away from us influences the act of seeing and the meaning behind the art - especially in terms of our “rights” as spectators.
The issue of the male gaze arises when looking at images of women. It is at this point that the viewer assumes the position of the heterosexual male, in effect, denying women human agency and assigning them a status of objects which are to be desired. Women then assemble their own idea of femininity based how they are seen by men; in essence, they become a vision at which to look, displayed solely for the purpose of the audience’s gaze and from which to gain pleasure.
Neither the classic gaze nor the gazes of other types of viewers sufficiently examine the historical, cultural, or psychological forces that have shaped the representation of the female body of the black woman. This gaze should be evaluated not in relation to male pleasure, but in terms of public surveillance. The African-American female body is to be looked upon for purposes of identification - a collection of data for documentation of the body. It is a body that is simultaneously sexual, racial, and sociological – to any kind of audience. The point of view of “the viewer” always influences what is being seen.