• Muse as Medium: On the Women Pablo Picasso Remade in His Image

    Mara Naselli Considers the Visceral Visual Violence of the Artist’s Oeuvre

    Featured image: Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon


    My husband and I flew to New York to see “Picasso Sculpture” at MoMA in February 2016, the end of an era we did not know was ending. None of the coming changes were visible to us then, though they should have been. What master did our blindness serve? That question came later. When we booked our tickets, my husband and I knew only that this was the first time Picasso’s sculptures had been collected and shown, and that it would be our only chance to see them in our lifetime.

    On that gray February morning, the exhibit galleries smelled of perfumed wool and vibrated with a hushed reverence for Picasso’s creatures—two-legged, four-legged, winged, taloned, hooved. A man with a goat, a tiny horse with casters for feet, a girl jumping rope, Picasso’s ever-present Minotaur. And many, many women.

    “Subjects are a bore, anyway,” Picasso told his friend the art critic Carlton Lake in 1957. “I’ve always said there are no subjects anymore.” And yet in the galleries I was surrounded: a Venus in a stove burner, a cock in bronze, a hand in plaster, the head of a woman in sheet metal and kitchen tools. Bodies changed from one form into another. Everyday objects transformed.

    Picasso copied Van Gogh’s wallpaper, Cézanne’s brushstrokes, Gauguin’s palette, El Greco’s compositions. He made theater costumes and backdrops. He painted Paloma’s espadrilles, made finger puppets out of cigarette cartons. But even Picasso could not have disputed that the vast majority of figures in his works are women. Women in bronze, plaster, wood, found objects, metal, clay. Bear woman, lion-baboon woman, bull woman, seated woman, woman at her bath. Even the guitars are women.

    A small bronze caught my eye: Seated Woman, 1929. She sits with one arm over her head while the other reaches deformedly from her buttocks to rest atop her knee. One hand is clawlike, the other a mitten. Her legs weigh her down. She is immovable yet pliable, her arms boneless, like dough. The trace of Picasso’s hand is plainly visible— you can see where he pinched and pressed the woman into shape.

    Several of his female figures share a bodily grammar. Women are made monstrous—elongated necks, gaping mouths, devouring vaginas. It’s impossible to generalize—Picasso produced thousands of works—but the women he painted and sculpted in the late 1920s are fantastically distorted. Bodies become armchairs, hands become teeth, arms become legs, breasts become buttocks, buttocks become breasts. They have metamorphosed, like a creature in a fairy tale, from one body into another. Walking around this diminutive sculpture, Seated Woman, alerted me to something that I should have seen all along: Picasso’s women are manhandled.

    Picasso submits to his mercurial, shape-shifting interior as if it were a tyrant, and we in turn submit to his art.

    As we continued through the galleries, my agitation built, as if the art was grabbing me by the scruff of the neck while cracking a joke.  A bicycle seat and handlebars make a bull.  A burn mark on a sheet of tissue paper makes a dog. A plaster cockscomb makes a warrior. Then came the tumescent chalky figures, flaccid penises bisecting heads, figures with limbs swollen to grotesque proportions. The sculptures exhausted me. Even my husband was struck by the works’ violence, musing whether it was something about form. At least with a painting, he offered, there is a problem to solve, rendering three dimensions in two. But a sculpture—we see it from all sides. There was something visceral troubling me—I neither had the words nor was sure of my feeling. I was embarrassed. After eleven rooms I needed something to eat.



    The problem was not abstraction. I’d grown up around artists who dismissed representation as uncritical (“learn the rules to break them” was the refrain). My mother made drawings, prints, pottery, fiber sculpture. Occasionally she taught art or framed pictures for pin money. She admired her brother’s career as an art professor as something out of her reach. For my father, a corporate salesman working in hospital supply, great art was something to respect from a distance, which he did on the rare occasions he allowed himself to look at it.

    But art was not real work—not the labor of long days so consuming that he forgot to tell his young wife he was going on yet another business trip to meet customers, anticipate their problems, have ready solutions. He ran himself down like a pinion on the corporate rack. He was driven to outpace quarterly benchmarks and the echo of his father’s baiting disdain—Hey, genius. What could art say to him?

    The Art Institute of Chicago’s sizeable collection of Picassos became so much part of my visual vocabulary during childhood that I hardly thought about it. Even now, when I go to the museum with my mother she becomes poised and at ease, gliding over the parquet, naming artists from a distance until she alights on a chosen focus, as if to orient me through a great cocktail party of illustrious guests—Here’s a Bontecou, a Puryear, a Rauschenberg. She taught me to read Picasso’s work as something revolutionary that challenged us to think about what art is and what it can do. The invocation of genius left off there, but I was beginning to see, in much of modern art, that abstraction created opportunities to express interior states, not just exterior subjects. Abstraction was still controversial, but I was taught not to fear it.

    Picasso’s campaign to sell himself cemented his status, whether you understood what he was doing or not, and I’d guess even my father respected his nerve.  A massive sculpture the artist donated to the city of Chicago in 1967 became a field-trip game for my friends and me—Is it a woman? A lion? A baboon? A dog? The question of whether we liked Picasso’s work was absurd, akin to asking, Do you like the weather?

    By 2016, nothing in Picasso’s sculptures should have surprised me. The shapes, the materials, the abstraction, the humor—it all formed a visual vocabulary that was practically a mother tongue. So why did I feel so evacuated?


    A year after “Picasso Sculpture,” I discovered Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. The subtitle promised to answer a question I’d been circling for decades but had never managed to ask. I thought I understood woman as object. I’d been propositioned, catcalled, spied, followed, run after in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Italy, China. Once, at a rural roadside stop between Nairobi and Arusha, a man attempted to buy me for twenty head of cattle from the woman sitting next to me, whom he assumed to be my mother.

    I shared with Isabel Archer a naivete—young American woman on her grand tour discovers her body has meaning apart from her—though I never understood why the fictional character wasn’t also terrified. It took some time before I understood these encounters were utterly mundane.

    Sexism naturalizes a woman’s subordination. Misogyny punishes her. She is expected to attend, defer, serve, submit. She is to pose in his picture plane. “She can escape aversive consequences,” writes Manne, “by being ‘good’ by the relevant ideals or standards, if indeed any such way is open to her.”

    “The subject is irritating,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her introduction to The Second Sex, in 1949. The irritation still smarts; we thought we knew ourselves. Yet Beauvoir shows again and again how women abdicate their freedom, even as we think we are free. What perhaps she didn’t grasp was the power of misogyny: a woman submits or is punished. In her book We Are Not Born Submissive, Manon Garcia elucidates the implicit mythologies that shape women’s consent to norms that diminish their own agency. Those norms, which are celebrated and revered, are the best of a bad situation. We don’t have a philosophy of submission, Garcia argues, because a woman’s submission is taken for granted, implicitly interpreted as natural weakness, or worse, as essentially feminine. When I read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s chapter on the education of women, in Emile, cited by Garcia, I saw my lived experience laid bare in his eighteenth-century language.

    By the very law of nature women are at the mercy of men’s judgments, as much for their own sake as for that of their children. It is not enough they be estimable; they must be esteemed. It is not enough for them to be pretty; they must please. It is not enough for them to be temperate; they must be recognized as such. Their honor is not only in their conduct but in their reputation; and it is not possible that a woman who consents to be regarded as disreputable can ever be decent. When a man acts well, he depends only on himself and can brave public judgment; but when a woman acts well, she has accomplished only half her task, and what is thought of her is no less important to her than what she actually is.

    She studies her surroundings. She studies how those around her move, think, feel. She listens. She makes them comfortable. She crafts gesture, tone, syntax to give their experience coherence because she knows it isn’t what she does but how she reflects what others want to see. She knows others better than she knows herself.

    When the screw of profit tightened (it’s about the shareholders, he was told), my father forgot the restraint he maintained in public and let loose an ordinary rage at home. There was nothing special or unusual about this. The house became a container for his fury—objects seemed to rearrange themselves around him. I learned to say nothing, to stack coupons by size, to organize unfinished art projects, to help my mother press his dress shirts and keep the hot iron moving as starch hissed under the steam, so as not to singe the cloth. If someone visited—and almost no one did—they were none the wiser.

    Manne documents, through police reports and court records, that the punishment associated with a woman’s failure to comply with certain expectations is physical assault. In many cases, the result is death, often by strangulation, which, Manne notes, is an attack on the woman’s organ of speech.



    Picasso’s personal trail of destruction is well-known—seductions and abandonments, goddesses and doormats, feuds and suicides, and the reliably toxic addition of colossal wealth. There was something voracious about him—he devoured people and techniques. Dora Maar once told Françoise Gilot, her successor, that when the women changed, everything changed—the style, the friends, even the dog changed. With each era a house pet. Geneviève Laporte, a lesser-known lover and model, but an artist in her own right, asked Picasso late in his career why he painted so few outdoor scenes. “I never saw any,” he replied. “I’ve always lived inside myself. I have such interior landscapes that nature could never offer me ones as beautiful.”

    This gave me some pause. What beauty and for whom? Picasso submits to his mercurial, shape-shifting interior as if it were a tyrant, and we in turn submit to his art.

    In 1901, the year Picasso arrived in Paris, he made a small painting of a woman at her bath called The Blue Room. The piece is cozy with objects—a trunk, a table with a vase of flowers, a basin. The room’s fragile, domestic coherence is dependent on the woman, who, like every other woman painted at her bath, is seen but does not see. A rug flattens the picture plane.

    The artist’s audacity is evident, in part because the naked woman faces the viewer. She need only look up, but doesn’t. It is an exterior portrait of an interior space, as if the model and the painter shared something private and unreachable. But they don’t. She stands in a basin; the radius of her attention does not reach beyond its rim.

    The more I investigated Picasso after the exhibit, the more I kept thinking of the walls of our little house and what went on inside. My mother folded onto her knees, accosted, the light dim, a bent cardboard set of drawers. The interior may not be protected, but it’s always concealed. How to make her experience intelligible? She tries but doesn’t pursue it because she’s heard enough times that she’s crazy and doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and what’s the point in arguing anyway?

    So she forgets the pleasure she was just taking in the perfect architecture of a pregnant pod of milkweed and neglects the many different wools she has gathered to make a wall hanging. Her sentences break off. She lays a cold cloth on her face, sets right her hair, draws a wand of mascara over her lashes, and leaves the house to buy groceries and take her daughter to ballet before making dinner. Her interior has no purchase. But not so Picasso—his interior dominates.



    In 1912, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger stated in Cubism, a manifesto of the new school, that art is not narrative, not academic, not representational, not decorative. When the artist succeeds, they write, “he forces the crowd to assume, in respect of his integrated plastic consciousness, the attitude that he himself assumed in respect of Nature” (trans. Allan Bloom).

    I asked a painter friend if Picasso’s violence was apparent to her when she first encountered his work. “Oh yeah,” she said. “Demoiselles is the obvious one.”

    How do we weigh our experience of the art against the aura of Picasso?

    Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has never struck me as violent. The least disputed accounts of its inspiration point to works Picasso saw when the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s secretary stole two Iberian stone heads from the Louvre and sold one to the artist in March 1907. Later that year, at the old Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro, Picasso first encountered masks from Africa. The museum was opened in 1882 to exhibit material objects plundered during colonial expeditions; the artifacts were displayed with mannequins posed in scenes.

    By the turn of the century, as empires were falling apart, the museum smelled of dampness and rot. “I was all alone,” Picasso wrote to André Malraux decades later. “I wanted to get away. But I didn’t leave. I stayed. I stayed. I understood something very important: something was happening to me, wasn’t it? The masks weren’t like other kinds of sculpture. Not at all. They were magical things….The Negro pieces were intercessors….All alone in that awful museum, the masks, the Red Indian dolls, the dusty mannequins. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon must have come to me that day.”

    Picasso’s airy authority grates, but it is true that old forms were insufficient. European art failed to represent the mystery and incoherence that lurked under the polite exteriors of the new urban Paris. Behind facades throbbed industry, poverty, and dislocation. In the African masks young artists found something unpolished, affecting, and novel.  And Picasso found another visual language to ingest.

    Looking closely at Demoiselles you can see he’s applied crosshatch marks not just to the masks, but to the shadows, especially on the two masked figures on the right, separated from the others by a combination of sky and drapery. The women are wooden, fearsome, strenuously exotic, the palette limited, the lines insistent. No one had seen anything like this in European painting at the time. When he showed Demoiselles to Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, and André Salmon, they were struck dumb. In the 1960s, John Berger wrote about the painting’s rage. A curator at MoMA in 2017 said it always shocks.

    What I suspect surprised people so much about Demoiselles was not the women’s nakedness but their cold asexuality, their lack of dimension and perspective. They warn rather than seduce. They are not soft or sensuous, but detached, angular, vigilant. The women are thrust to the front, flat, foreboding. Not quite animal, not quite human, naked but not vulnerable, agents but not acting. They offend what we expect of the female nude. They seize the viewer with a strange, relentless gaze.

    Rendering alienation in a monumental painting might have shocked, but I recognized the isolation from my parents’ sunless little house. The crouched walls were studded with Cubist-informed studies. Textured and geometric block prints. An investigation of depth and planes. A ceramic sculpture of breastlike shapes, glazed white. A portrait of a musical instrument playing itself.

    In Demoiselles the planes of flesh are aggressively compact and disconnected at once. I cannot remember the first time I saw Demoiselles; I certainly don’t remember ever being shocked by its boldness or unselfconscious cultural appropriation. The fact that Picasso’s argument with art history found expression in the bodies of naked prostitutes was somehow above or below the discussion. It was a given. Like wallpaper.

    When I asked my mother about Demoiselles after the exhibit, she came alive with questions. She wanted to know why the drapery divides the two masked women on the right from the unmasked women on the left. She noted that the women are explicitly separate. Their arms are up, like Seated Woman, in that pose of self-conscious exposure, but the painting is devoid of eroticism. The fruit has fallen out of its bowl.

    I asked my mother if Picasso’s work strikes her as misogynistic. But I see now that the question wasn’t right—the idea of misogyny is already abstracted from lived experience. How could her experience of Picasso have been anything but indoctrination? She was an art student, an artist, an art teacher. No, my mother said. She admired Picasso’s innovations with the figure; she scolded him for stealing from African art; she reminded me that Braque was really doing the Cubist thing first.

    What I wanted to know was whether her experience of seeing a Picasso, of interacting with a Picasso, of entering into Picasso’s interior landscape through his art ever affected her body. But I backed off, because I feared more of the party line I’d heard so many times before. She told me she appreciated Picasso’s extreme departure from conventional art. “It was exciting,” she said. “It was bold, aggressive. It had the power to shift thinking. The internal desire to do that—I found it interesting and admirable. I could never find that in myself. It’s why I admired him and why I admired your dad so much.”

    I wonder if my mother—or anyone for that matter—can see Picasso’s work directly anymore, and not through the intellectualized scrim of fashion and cultural authority. She has internalized Rousseau’s idea without ever having read him, because it’s the oxygen we breathe. How do we weigh our experience of the art against the aura of Picasso? My mother told me a critic had once pointed out the inextricability of anger and love in his work, as if they were necessary to each other. “That makes sense to me,” she said, “for obvious reasons.”

    “For we like to force our preferences on others,” write Gleizes and Metzinger in a passing parenthetical, as if we’re all trading in worldviews and dime-store fortunes—anything to hold together a splintering world. I wonder if the interiors of my childhood somehow inured me, originally, to Picasso’s inner drama. The hallway of our little split-level house was covered with a wallpaper of grass cloth woven over a gold foil background.

    When a strand comes loose, I can’t resist pulling on it and trying to unravel the whole thing. Plumes of wheatgrass arranged in my mother’s pottery disintegrate, milkweed pods explode. The wall’s gaudy glimmer bothers her, but she doesn’t ask permission to repaper. She cannot hear her child’s body thrown against the empty washing machine. She is in exile from herself.

    Outside, houses stand firm. Streets make room for a passing car. Inside, even the furniture lacks depth. Feeling crushes perspective. Everything is flat, dry, rough. What is language to mundane violence? Nothing.



    For months and years after the exhibit, I gnawed on the problem of Picasso. I was tempted to argue myself out of my own feeling. My mind kept turning over that moment when, weak with hunger, I made my way to the museum café. The server, wearing a starched apron, smiled and took our order, as if everything was fine. She brought me a pastry; I devoured it. I wanted to leave. But as I moved toward the exit, Picasso intercepted me, my momentum stalled before a cloudlike, stately work painted in 1905, two years before Demoiselles.

    In Boy Leading a Horse, the motion flows through the horse’s neck and stepping foreleg to the naked boy, unifying them. He steps with one hand on his hip, the other positioned to hold a lead rope. But Picasso has explicitly left out the halter and line. The horse’s body is accentuated in black strokes against a muted, placid ground. In the triangular space between the horse’s jaw and its foreshortened hind is a bright salmon color not anywhere else on the painting, as if it were a second deliberate mistake. For months, like a crazy person, I ruminated on the explicit absence of the lead line and the presence of the salmon smudge.

    Picasso’s drawings of horses began with the picador who, from horseback, lances the bull in a bullfight. The horses ridden by picadors were old and spent from a lifetime of service, useless except as a sacrifice to flamboyant spectacle. Hemingway compares the picador’s mount to an awkward bird:

    lifted by the thrust of the bull’s neck and shoulder muscles their legs hang, big hoofs dangling, neck drooping, the worn-out body lifted on the horn, they are not comic; but I swear they are not tragic….when the canvases are stretched over the horses, the long legs, and necks, the strange-shaped heads and the canvas covering the body to make a sort of wing, they are more like birds than ever.

    Hemingway lamented the regulations, mandated in the 1930s, that required a mattress-like covering over the horse’s girth. The measure did nothing to protect the horse, but it shielded the new bourgeois audience from witnessing its disemboweling.

    In Picasso’s pencil drawing Gored Horse, 1917, the horse’s head strains upward in extremis, its intestine empties where it’s been gored, and its legs are beginning to collapse. Picasso has drawn a spike under the horse’s chest. The viewer draws the finish: when the second knee folds, the horse will lance itself.

    Whose landscape is this? Naked women, dying horses, phalluses, monsters—all isolated, all thrown in the face of an audience that would prefer to avert its eyes. Animals and women are rendered unconscious of their own mortality, Claire Dederer writes in “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” If they were conscious, capable of articulating their own stories, the artist would not be so alone. But in his world he is alone, moving from one band of mares to another, working with such intensity, such grind and such fever, he can’t contain himself. That’s when I realized women were not Picasso’s subjects. They were his medium.



    Open books and exhibition catalogs pile around me. A garland of tabs trims my browser: An interview with Paloma and her love of the color red. The paintings of Françoise Gilot. A new piece on yet another unknown mistress, whose legs are described as if she were horseflesh. Disputes over the leadership of Musée Picasso. The interior of the Miami home of Bernard.  A memoir by Marina. An ill-attended show in a basement gallery of work by Georges Braque. More new exhibits. Diana’s new jewelry line. Bernard’s book.

    Diana Widmaier Picasso has organized recent shows that present a tender version of her grandfather—as a father, a lover, an admirer of women. “What I have learnt over the years is the respect he pays to women,” Diana said to a reporter. Picasso’s arguments with art history, his prodigious grasp on technique, his access to the interior anxieties of modern life, his monstrosity—all neutered and packaged into a banal marketability. Picasso transformed by his own progeny. There are many pictures of Diana standing next to her grandfather’s more erotic pieces from the 1930s, paintings of her grandmother, Marie-Thérèse Walter, drawn in bold jewel tones and ample, tumid shapes.

    Marie Thérèse committed suicide after Picasso died. Her granddaughter poses hipshot in spike heels. Picasso secured a fortune for his descendants, their portraits and homes and personal lives featured in glossy magazine spreads for decades now. The irony of Diana’s revisionist narrative proves that Picasso could not, in the end, have it both ways. He could not unleash his interior—its jangled energy, jacked-up anomie, its feverish destruction, showing the audience what they could not, would not see in themselves—and remain palatable for consumption. He might have wanted to be rich, but he refused to submit.

    I realized women were not Picasso’s subjects. They were his medium.

    For years after that destabilizing day at MoMA, I wondered what could account for my earlier blindness. I tried to remake my seeing, poring over catalogs and art history scholarship choked with jargon. I followed feuds over his legacy, the institutional administration of rights to his name and work. I watched Hannah Gadsby call Picasso a prick biscuit. I was in his grip. I argued with him in my dreams. We were together, Picasso and I, balanced on a makeshift wooden structure hanging from the rafters of an unfinished building that smelled of raw pine. He pinned me in his gaze and for a moment I felt seen. I was to remove a piece of wood, turn a loose eye bolt, and string a wire, while keeping us both suspended far above an indiscernible bottom. Whose balancing act was this?

    I returned to a painting that I’d read about years before, The Painter and His Model, which is closely guarded in the basement of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. It rarely travels, but is reproduced and discussed at length in T.J. Clark’s Picasso and Truth, and by Clark’s student Jeremy Melius in his “Inscription and Castration in Picasso’s The Painter and His Model, 1927.” The painting is nearly seven feet square—another intentional masterpiece. The figure on the left, the model, has two eyes set perpendicular to each other, a small nose, a vagina-like opening rimmed with hair, where we might expect a mouth. One breast suggests a horse’s head. The model is grounded on one foot and propped by the other. Another, larger vaginal opening cuts into her shape. The room seems to wrap around her while two apertures of light—one resembling a blade and the other a palette—illuminate both her and the painter.

    The painter (Picasso’s “poor devil”) is all lines and zigzags. His canvas and brush encroach on the model’s face, and his mouth appears open and animal-like, despite his fragile, wiry weightlessness. The texture is rough, the paint flat and depthless. The tone of the work suggests a back stairway, a broom closet, or a lavatory. The grit and belligerence is Picasso’s argument against the placid, transparent certainty of the Old Masters, as in Vermeer’s The Art of Painting. I learn this in my slavish deference to Clark, which I cling to in my attempt to understand Picasso’s quarrels with his predecessors.

    In looking at several notebook sketches, Clark and Melius find that the violence of decapitation and castration is inextricable, for Picasso, from the violence implicit in the act of painting. The drawings are disturbing. The model, contained in the room, is a monster. She destroys the painter, she makes him powerless to do his work. She devours him.

    It’s ridiculous to confuse woman and model, yet I can’t help myself. Picasso makes visible the violence and destruction intrinsic to creation—his violence, his creation. I can’t not feel the resonance. I am material. I am not material. This is the problem—“it is not some ‘real’ body that has been deformed and pulled into shape from one configuration to the other,” writes Melius. Me. Not me. Not horse. Bird. Woman. Not lion. Lion. Not woman. Isn’t this the very power of art, to charge other bodies with metaphor? Picasso’s women are monsters. How could it be any other way? His picture, his frame.

    “Always justify the cares that you impose on young girls, but always impose cares on them,” writes Rousseau. “Girls ought to be vigilant and industrious. That is not all. They ought to be constrained very early… All their lives they will be enslaved to the most continual and most severe of constraints—that of the proprieties. They must first be exercised in constraint, so that it never costs them anything to tame their caprices in order to submit them to the will of others.”

    My husband tells me Rousseau was a famously lousy person—that he had several children by several women, that the children ended up in orphanages, that Rousseau lived off people, complaining how awful society was, and then wouldn’t leave his hosts. David Hume, “a nice guy,” my husband says, was someone Rousseau took advantage of, and Hume couldn’t get rid of him. I tell my husband that Berger uses Rousseau’s idea of the noble savage to understand Picasso. “Another awful human being,” he says.

    Biography isn’t irrelevant, but it’s not the point. If the work irritates, vexes, and enervates me, don’t I owe it to myself to figure out why—to disentangle history, artwork, experience? To move beyond an authorized interpretation? Picasso reminds me of a child who, feeling his own wants frustrated, feels nothing else. Picasso’s emotions didn’t obliterate form, they governed it. We hold the frame for him. What is perhaps most modern about him, despite the art, is that he made himself a product. I can’t get rid of him any more than I can get rid of my own father. The phantoms of his interior are now mine. They are ours. But they are no longer new.

    Several months after “Picasso Sculpture,” I returned to MoMA with my younger son; he was six at the time. We entered the gallery early, before the crowds, and sat on the bench in front of Demoiselles. What brought us here was the children’s activity pamphlet, a kind of art-history scavenger hunt. I wanted my son to see the painting for himself, to take it into his visual world in his own way. The gallery was dim and quiet. The fleshy paint glowed in its light. I handed my son a pencil. He began to copy the painting’s blanched fruit at the bottom of the frame.

    Meanwhile, I looked at Desmoiselles and its collapsed perspective. The cloth covering the middle figure is transparent. The women are nippleless, hairless. Sky blue cuts through the center of the painting and leaves off, edges unfinished, while the interior of the room is muddied—brown on one side and putty on the other. Planes of pink, yellow, russet. Ears folded. Only three hands visible. Three women raise their arms, exposed; rough planes of blue intrude.

    As my son, absorbed in his drawing, pressed the pencil onto his page, a man arranged himself in front of the painting. He was preparing to take a selfie, trying different angles as he observed himself on his phone. He edged closer, trying one side and then the other. Finally, finding the right mark, he smiled and snapped a picture as the women, indifferent, looked on from behind. He didn’t seem to notice us. My son bent over his drawing. I watched and made room.


    “My Misogyny” by Mara Naselli appears in the latest issue of AGNI.

    Mara Naselli
    Mara Naselli
    Mara Naselli is a writer, editor, and recipient of the 2014 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Foundation Award. Her work has appeared in AGNI, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She lives in Michigan.

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