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Collections Browse Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic

Collections Browse Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic

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Courtesy Walker Art Center
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Title
Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic
Artist
Jana Sterbak
Date
1987
Dimensions
mannequin 62.25 × 16.5 × 11.875 inches
Materials
mannequin, flank steak, salt, thread, color photograph on paper
Location
Not on view

Object Details

Type
Sculpture
Accession Number
1993.54.1-.3
Edition
2/2
Credit Line
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1993

curriculum resource Jana Sterbak, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for An Albino Anorectic (1987) Walker Art Center, 2002

Vanitas is a term originally used to describe 17th-century Dutch still-life compositions of rotting meat and game, guttering candles, and skulls. These paintings were intended as meditations on the fleeting nature of life, the inevitability of death, and the necessity for a spiritual life. By calling this work Vanitas, Sterbak points the viewer toward ideas that animate her work: the alienation humans feel from their own flesh, aging, and mortality. Here, the natural aging process takes place before our eyes as the meat passes from a raw to cured state.

The work also addresses issues concerning women, fashion, consumption, and the body. The equation of women with meat and the notion that “you are what you wear” are common ideas in Western society. In the United States, statistics have pointed to a growing number of young women with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa (referred to in the title), because their body types do not match the prevailing fashion or “look” sported by the tall, thin models populating the media.

The dress was stitched together from 60 pounds of raw flank steak and must be constructed anew each time it is shown. Following a centuries-old method of food preservation, the meat is heavily salted and allowed to air-dry. Over the span of the exhibition, the aging process drastically changes the appearance of the work.

Text for Jana Sterbak, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for An Albino Anorectic (1987), from the curriculum guide So, Why Is This Art?, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2002.

Copyright 2002 Walker Art Center