Contemporary Venus

Contemporary Venus

Performance by Cristal Pereira
Text by Raphael Andrade
Translation by Danielle Cascaes

The Renaissance painting “The Birth of Venus”, dated from the 15th century, created by the Italian artist (attention to the male gaze when dictating what is conceived as “being a woman”) Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), whose pretension, in terms of form, was a harmonic composition of a classical beauty, in search of perfection in the construction of an archetype that reinforces the idea of femininity and, jointly, of the idealized standard of beauty throughout centuries.

Image 1: Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, tempera on canvas. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy (1485-1486).

If we look at history chronologically, it is possible to verify that the concept of beauty is changeable, subjective, and depends on the social and cultural context in which it is inserted. However, in contemporary times, the hegemonic beauty concepts, such as: tall, thin, fit body, are not much different from the 15th century, except for one determining factor: the aesthetic procedures/ plastic surgeries. In light of this, we can discuss the fact that the construction of female beauty restricts the singularities of differentiated bodies and perpetuates the maintenance of social coercion of bodies that are outside the norm of what is considered beautiful.

The influence of the capitalist economic system under our society reinforces archetypes and incorporates them into the subjectivity of individuals. Moreover, the concepts involved in these paradigms, models, or patterns are adopted as reference in the interaction with the other, whether they are present in advertising, in soap operas, or even in mythological narratives. There are also many stereotypes in literature, in the fine arts, and in other artistic specificities that have projected/ project ideal beauty, which will not fit in this article. However, there are powers that destabilize and challenge this oppressive analysis that incarcerates the body, especially the female body, such as the feminist movement, which was (and will always be) too important to start cracking the issue of the ideology of beauty imposed on women, especially when questioning the fact that women have their capacity evaluated by their physical appearance and, sometimes, reducing it to an ideology of beauty that conditions women to have an aesthetic standard considered socially ideal.

Pictorial art, as we have seen, previously, in the example of Boticelli’s Renaissance painting, tends to conceptualize what would be the ideal of beauty of that time, either by the symmetry of the bodies, or by the technique used, or by inserting in the social imaginary an ideal of beauty and perfection. In this approach, we can see the white tone of Venus’ skin, the blonde hair and the clear eyes, a concept of beauty characteristic of the white-European, similar to the Aryan standard, which still prevails in the tormented minds that favor eugenics as an aesthetic basis. From a different perception, Art also has the task of looking at the diachrony and making an altercation about axiomatic visions that privilege certain ways of being in the world, as we can see in Contemporary Art, especially in the specificity performance, which brings to the surface this incessant search for beauty, so that one can, through the body as a support, crack this oppressive ideology and, concomitantly, the market interests, which mold the bodies as eternal Renaissance paintings.

As an example, we can discuss the performances of the French artist Orlan, who, since 1964, has been working with the theme of plastic surgeries, with special attention to the female body and the oppressions exerted on them in contemporary western society. The artist makes videos and self-portraits, while performing surgical interventions on her body, aiming to destabilize the conventional image that, according to her, in this context, uses her own body as a political act, as the performer herself better explains in the excerpt:

Carnal Art is self-portraiture in the classical sense, but realized through the possibility of technology. It swings between defiguration and refiguration. Its inscription in the flesh is a function of our age. The body has become a “modified ready-made [1]”, no longer seen as the ideal it once represented, the body is not anymore this ideal ready-made it was satisfying to sign. Carnal art is not interested in the final plastic result, but in the surgical-performance operation and in the modified body that becomes a forum for public debate. (ORLAN, 2004) [2]

Another striking example is the conception of Cristal Pereira’s performance, which brings up the social criticism about the aesthetic procedures that are healthy or become a “sick compulsion in search of an unattainable beauty and also, in turn, a plasticized beauty that does not concern the reality in which we live” (PEREIRA, 2022) [3]. That said, Cristal seeks to create a performance that goes against the dictatorship of beauty, despite being inserted in a hegemonic European standard – because the performer is white, has blue eyes and blonde hair – in the manner of Boticelli’s Venus. For the sake of clarity, her intention in performing about the questions of beauty is not a paradox, because the artist’s intention is to show that even the accepted standard in society seeks an idealization of beauty that is impossible to achieve. And so, the performer presented the performance “Contemporary Venus” on a night in August 2017, among engrossed looks of people arranged in the courtyard at Escola de Teatro e Dança da UFPA [School of Theater and Dance of UFPA] – ETDUFPA, in the prevalence of an unveiling formula of possibilities capable of merging the performing body and the sound of a violinist in the scene. Cristal brings her body marked up by stitches, wrapped in bandages and using crutches that, looking at it quickly, the audience had doubts about her real intention, as described by herself:

First there was the issue of the dots, which refer to the places that would, metaphorically, need repairs, symbolizing the medical markings, which were on the whole body, to enhance the visuality. The face, showing a very heavy makeup look, already reminding several other aesthetic procedures performed, such as: the big mouth, the extremely marked face and the body covered with bandages, which signaled aesthetic procedures done not so long ago, which have not yet been fully healed. So my body had these three stages: the procedures, poetically speaking, that have already been done, the ones that were in progress, which symbolized the bandages and the ones I intended to do in the future, with the dots marked on the body. (PEREIRA 2022)

During the performatic act, the performer clearly shows that she was delirious, staring at the audience with a disconnected expressions, until she starts to (metaphorically) puncture her breasts, her mouth and while prostrating herself before the present audience- is it the consternation before the frustrated human condition or the coercive exploitation that acts on her body?

I confess that, having a violinist (Igor Amaro) on the scene, the melodic nuances in practice at that moment meant that it was a man commanding and dominating the female body once again, as the performer acted in a kind of metaphorical ballet to his orders. However, the artist reveals us that, during the conception of “Contemporary Venus”: “the violinist was the “stick of a maestro” and indicated where the “orchestra” should go (…) and the orchestra was my body, an instrument guided by his sound, and he was guided by my gestures in a reciprocal way” (PEREIRA 2022), nothing had to do, therefore, with the male gaze, but we can’t help but make that analogy anyway.

Returning to the “Contemporary Venus” performance, the artist’s body that is wrapped in bandages begins, slowly, to become bloody, even with the crutches zigzagging along her trembling arms, she balances on one high-heeled shoe, in a kind of eccentric parade full of futility. As we look at the action, Cristal uses a syringe that reminisces a botulinum toxin used in procedures, applying the liquid to her face, which shows a dubious restlessness: at one moment she seems happy to be the center of attention, at another she frowns, showing insecurity in front of the audience’s gazes, in a kind of self-dissatisfaction, because of the obsession with a perfect body. At the end, at the peak of her hallucinating vanity, she ends the performance crawling to the bathroom, a place of garbage, of excrement. And the audience, taken by the silence of the human futility of that moment, can only applaud after a few seconds of the violin’s last note.

In the performance, therefore, there are many nuances that we can explore, such as those reported here, which were not previously targeted in the idealization of the performance by the artist, but are subject to good correlations, such as: the female body from the point of view of patriarchy, the capitalism that profits on her image, the male dominator look. However, Cristal potentiates these issues by bringing her body as support/object/discourse, aided by contemporary concerns of exacerbation of plastic surgeries that made her act, seen as a clear exposure of the fragility of the limits between art and life. And every action reporting coercivity, which encourages bodies to mutilate themselves for a non-existent ideal of beauty, is more than pertinent, it is necessary!


[1] The term “ready-made” comes from Marcel Duchamp’s strategies to interrupt the craftsmanship of the artistic operation, since it is about appropriating something that is already made. For example, transforming a utilitarian object into a work of art.

[2] Interview for the French newspaper “Le Monde”.

[3] Interview granted to the extension project “Carga Viva”.


ANÉ, C. Orlan, artiste: “Mon corps est devenu un lieu public de débat” (entrevista) in Le Monde. Disponível em: Acesso em: 13/06/2022.

PEREIRA, Cristal. Entrevista concedida a Raphael Andrade em 18.03.2022.


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