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Temptation Island

96.5 x 76.2 cm (38 x 30 in.)

Object Type: painting
Medium and Support: Oil on linen
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of Alana and Adiel Hoch, 2020
Accession Number: 2020.14

Rife with sly symbolism, Emily Mae Smith’s "Temptation Island" conjures the dangers and decadence of a reimagined Garden of Eden. A bounty of perfectly ripe, unblemished fruit hints at fecundity and virtue, while everything else foreshadows seduction and sin. The rattlesnake coiled around the empty hourglass amplifies the threat of the white teeth, a recurrent motif that Smith describes as “a cartoon for a hyper masculine man-splain[ing] mouth—like an early 20th century tycoon, bared teeth blabbing wide.”

Smith’s work often bridges art history and popular culture to explore gender politics and representation. There is humor to her iconography—the hourglass riffs on the term “hourglass figure” and the snake doubles as a phallus. Her art helps us consider how women have been represented in everything from paintings to soap operas, with a limited cast of women as either femme fatales or the Virgin Mary. Here she traces these flawed types to their Biblical roots with Eve and original sin.

Smith describes "Temptation Island" as a “time's up at the dawn of the twenty-first century painting.” As she elaborates: “the hourglass is empty, waiting to be filled with the new content of the new female gender frame.” In this Garden of Eden, something or someone is about to bite.

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