Both a feminist and daring cultural figure, French contemporary artist ORLAN chose to fight against the tyranny of beauty through the power of her art. She questions the unfair standards to which women are held in society and offers a redefinition of what true beauty really is. KAZoART looks back on the career of this extraordinary, constantly evolving artist!

ORLAN : 3 Things to Know

1. An Ever-shifting Artist who Refuses to Live by the Rules

Born in Saint Etienne in 1947, French contemporary artist ORLAN, whose real name is Mireille Suzanne Francette Porte, currently lives between Paris, New York and Los Angeles, depending on which project she’s working on at the time. 

Portrait d'ORLAN / ©Claude Truong-Ngoc
Portrait of ORLAN / ©Claude Truong-Ngoc

In order to fully express herself, this multi-faceted artist practices painting, sculpture, photography, video projects, installations, performances, BioArt and body art.

Her goal? To be different, to not conform with the artistic tendencies of her time. For her, nothing is worse than normalization. She never stops reinventing herself.

Her artist name is written in capital letters, which is highly intentional and another key detail in her self-expression.

In 1964, she produced her first photographic work, “ORLAN accouche d’elle-même” (translating to “ORLAN Gives Birth to Herself“), during a performance that propelled her into the public eye and launched her artistic career!

2. A Subversive and Feminist Artist

A feminist at heart, ORLAN has been fighting for women’s rights and against the violence done to women’s bodies since the 1960s. She challenges outdated stereotypes and the way society tends to view women today.

Thus, her works allow her to condemn the social pressures exerted on those who are constantly being oppressed and discriminated against, especially for their appearance.

ORLAN, Installation Le Baiser de l'Artiste à la FIAC (Paris, 1976)
ORLAN, Installation Le Baiser de l’Artiste at the FIAC, Paris, 1976

In 1976, she put on a performance during the FIAC (International Contemporary Art Fair), entitled « Le baiser de l’artiste » (“The artist’s kiss“).

For 5 francs, she offered to kiss any man or woman who desired to. She heckled the visitors, shocked and disturbed them with sudden outbursts in order to gain attention to herself. Censored by the administration, ORLAN was even fired from the art school she taught at!

A thought-provoking text accompanies this artistic approach: “At the foot of the cross, two women, Mary and Mary Magdalene“, two roles to which the contemporary artist has always refused to lower herself to.

3. Her Body as a Medium

From 1990 to 1993, the artist went even further in the art of provocation. In fact, her own body became its own living, breathing art installation. A true medium for her experimentations and artistic expression.

She staged 7 plastic surgery operations in order to transform her face and create protruding silicone implants above her eyebrows.

7e opération de chirurgie esthétique d'ORLAN, New York, 1993 / © ORLAN
ORLAN’s 7th plastic surgery procedure, New York, 1993 / ©ORLAN

ORLAN is opposed to any type of beauty standard and refuses to believe that there is one. She is not against the use of plastic surgery but does not agree with the idea of normalizing it; especially amongst younger women!

Her extreme “performance-operations“  show her intense dedication to her craft and the constant need to reinvent her image for the sake of creativity. The artist thus turns her own body into an artistic project by remodelling her own anatomy. By doing so, she becomes a work of art in her own right.

So, what is there to remember about trailblazing artist ORLAN? Her determination to overturn societal codes, including those relating to plastic surgery. She takes it on herself to try to undo the blatant misogyny and destigmatize the feminine figure in society.

Each operation corresponded to a purposefully different aesthetic, with the idea that there are as many pressures on the body of actual works of art as there are on the human body itself. Art must shake up our preconceptions, upset our thoughts, step out of regular norms, think completely outside of the box.*

Self hybridations, ORLAN, 2005
Self hybridization, ORLAN, 2005

Between 2000 and 2008, she alternated between the roles of a Native American, an African and a Colombian. In her Self-hybridization series, she plays with her appearance, proving once again that her originality knows no bounds – reminiscent of artist Cindy Sherman and her whimsical array of characters.

*Article ” Interview with ORLAN ” conducted by psychoanalyst Brigitte Hatat, member of the School of Psychoanalysis of the Forum des Champs lacanien (hosted on the Cairn review site).

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