Though it might not feel like it outside today, springtime is well under way, and what better way to summon back the sun than visiting an exhibition which celebrates all things natural?
London-based photographer Maisie Cousins’ first solo show, grass, peonie, bum opens today (17th May) at T.J. Boulting Gallery in Fitzrovia. It’s an exploration into the relationships between women’s bodies and the natural world, often with exaggerated aspects of both included in the same frame, and it’s full of the weird and wonderful, designed to draw you in and dazzle your senses (part of the show is a scent, created by perfumer Azzi Glasser, which is piped into one of the rooms, so it really is an immersive experience).
The images in the show are explicitly feminine, and the cute, pastel colour palettes might remind you of the work of another Glasshouse favourite, Petra Collins, to whose book Babe Maisie contributed. They’re also especially body positive, with women of many sizes and ethnicities represented.
But, it’s not a portrait show. Bodies are shot in close up, and there seems to be a direct challenge levelled towards the literally impossible-to-attain beauty standards of a beauty and fashion industry that always demands more. By placing the bodies she photographs among nature, Cousins reminds us of what’s real, and her photographs are strangely comforting – more than likely you’ll recognise yourself in them much more than you might in the pages of a magazine.
Speaking to Dazed about the exhibition, Cousins says that she “wanted to create something that felt familiar” but that wasn’t necessarily completely comforting either, citing the “push-pull, love-hate, attract-repel” relationship that we often have with both our own bodies and the natural world. “We all produce and emit things,” she says. “We’re made to look like these hard objects but we’re soft. Our bodies are living, breathing, slimy entities… They’re not polite objects.”
What grass, peonie, bum – the culmination of years of work for Cousins – does so well is that it interrogates and ultimately celebrates everything about our bodies, not just the parts that we feel are the most appealing, by portraying even our least glamorous bits as actual works of art. It encourages us to embrace our bodies, literally warts and all, and that’s a message that we at Glasshouse can certainly get on board with.
Grass, peonie, bum is on show at T.J. Boulting gallery from 17th May - 27th June 2017
All images: Maisie Cousins
Words: Lauren O’Neill