Unmentionables: Confronting Fantasy & Femininity

April 26 – 30, 2021

Honors Candidate Exhibition
stArt Gallery

Riley Phillips


“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.

– Margaret Atwood, 1993


The male gaze instigates the expectation for women to be beautiful, sexy, or refined for male pleasure. In public or private, clothed or unclothed, I have struggled with the personal pressure, and even desire, to maintain this appeal– performing pleasure and femininity for male audiences both present and absent. These pervading expectations interrupt moments of even individual intimacy to further incite a struggle for comfort and satisfaction. Unmentionables explores this struggle of coming to terms with the internalized male gaze while pursuing sexual pleasure.

Juxtaposing mess and refinement, ecstasy and discomfort, the conflict between seeking and inciting pleasure is confronted in the voyeuristic viewing and confrontation of the isolated nude gestures. The orgasmic tension of the female figures on the sensual fabrics and personal slip dresses invites the audience to analyze their role in internalizing, falling under, or viewing women through the discomforting male gaze.

The suspension of the fabric allows for unbridled movement of the surface and depicted body, seeing both the right and wrong sides of the fabric. The wrong side of the fabric is the matte, less luxurious side which would typically touch the skin of the wearer when sewn into a garment. With aggressive drawing on the wrong side, I challenge the expectations of women to remain refined and “put-together,” yet the ink bleeds through to the right side of the silky satin, reinforcing the frustration of the male gaze as it infiltrates the raw, even individual, sexual experience.

The scale of the fabric demands a distanced viewing, while the intimate slip dresses, textured and embroidered, invite close inspection. These dual viewing experiences confront the consumption of the female nude. In seeing the nude body overlayed on the woman’s underwear, or “unmentionables,” the viewer looks both upon and through the garment. Whether viewing from afar, or getting up close and personal, the viewer becomes a voyeur, analyzing the most intimate areas of the sexually open, naked woman. I seek to evoke an emotional response to the forms’ frustration and struggle for pleasure– forcing the viewer to identify how they approach women’s sex and participate in the discomforting male gaze.


Riley Phillips is a Studio Art & German double-major and Art History minor from Orlando, FL. As an artist, photographer, and fashion designer, Riley’s work often explores female sexuality, style as expression, and influences of travel. Riley is a Richter Scholar, completing academic fashion research in Berlin, Germany in Summer 2019. Through the WFU stArt.yourself program, her research culminated in the solo street photography exhibition, Seamed|Ripped, in October 2020. Her interdisciplinary work has been featured in many other showcases, publications, and exhibitions worldwide, including Vancouver Fashion Week, Allen & Houston Magazine, Local Wolves, a handful of independent art ‘zines, and multiple stArt Gallery and Hanes Art Gallery exhibitions. Riley is thrilled to continue her involvement in the WFU Arts community as the incoming stArt Gallery Manager following her May 2021 graduation.


stArt gallery in Reynolda Village is not open for public in-person programming. Please note that due to WFU COVID policies, only WFU students, faculty and staff will be able to access the campus for the time being.

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