The Use of Hannah Wilks Chewing Gum in Her Art

Topics: Artists

Hannah Wilke (1940–1993) originally named Arlene Hannah Butter, was a conceptional artist that manipulated several art mediums to communicate her feminist views. She was born in New York City, New York, where she attended primary school in Queens. After high school, she studied fine art at the Stella Elkins Tyler School, at Temple University in Philadelphia. She graduated from Temple University with her Bachelor of Science in Education and her Bachelor of Fine Arts. With her acquired degrees, she taught for several years at a high school level in Philadelphia and New York.

At a university level, Wilke founded the ceramics department at the school of visual arts from 1974 until 1991. Throughout the 70’s Wilke expressed her voice and views through her art often using herself as the subject, by doing this she trailblazed the way for many woman’s rights artist and addressed many issues such as the misogynistic male gaze that erotized the female figure, the sexist objectification of woman, and even the representation of the self that during the 1970s received very little consideration.

The heaviness of her message and her choice of subject brought her great controversy within the art world. She is known for her fearless pioneering within the woman’s rights movement and her daring exploration of the female body. The prevalence of her message and underlying themes seen within her pieces makes her relevant to this day.

Early in Hannah’s art career, she developed a love for sculpting and visual art, but later in her career, she discovered film and what would be her trademark, photography.

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Hannah had a strong vision and she appointed those close to her to take her stills and help her create what she had in mind. She was the subject of her own pieces, she knew what she wanted, and no one could recreate it like herself, Hannah’s husband and colleague once said in an interview , ‘My contribution was to do a good lighting job and a good photography job, and Hannah was a good model. She knew herself, she knew how she looked, and she knew what she wanted.’

The most controversy that Hannah faced in her art was because of her choice of subject. In all of Hannah’s pieces she decided to use herself as the subject for a multitude of reasons. By Hannah using herself, she used her body as a tool to portray her frequent themes. As Wilke created a piece that included her being the subject, she was simultaneously the object of the viewer’s gaze and the driver of her own objectification. Wilke fed off of transferring an uncomfortable atmosphere to the viewer, almost as if the viewer was a guilty voyeur.

In most of her series Wilke decided to be nude and exposed to signify that she is vulnerable to societal expectations of woman this artistic choice furthered her theme of objectification within the viewer, piece relationship.

Hannah Wilkes is most known for her S.O.S Starification series. in this series Wilke posed nude with pin up girl looks to parody the modern American woman and the traditional household feminist. The series is an accumulation of 28 still shots each packed with raw emotion. In the series Hannah can be seen chewing gum pieces attached all over her face and body in various areas. To the common viewer this just looks odd, but from Hannah’s perspective and intention she is doing much more. The title “starification” is a euphemism for the term, “star” referring to celebrities and pop icons. The title certification also serves to be closely related to scarification referring to the daily issues of vulnerability and objectification that woman faces every day in their daily lives. These two juxtaposing ideas of the celebrity and scaring are compelling enough, but there is more in Wilkes intentions. Wilke can be seen in her art to utilize malleable household materials such as, yarn, chocolate, doe and in this case gum.

These products were utilized to symbolism the vulnerability of women and how easily they must conform and shape society. Female agency in the world. If you look closer, you will notice that the gum pieces are sculped to resemble the shame of female genitalia. The reason Hannah chose to chew gum Is this ‘I chose gum because it’s the perfect metaphor for the American woman — chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece,’ Wilke once explained. Her colleague once explained ‘If you look at [the game] as gum, you’re always going to look at it as gum,’ says Wollam. ‘If you look at it as a metaphor, you can see what she was doing. Hannah used this series to trailblazed the way for the feminist art movement

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The Use of Hannah Wilks Chewing Gum in Her Art. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from

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