Waldemar Cordeiro, The woman who is not B.B.
Pop and the Vietnam War
Brazilian artist Waldemar Cordeiro was a pioneer of arteônica – an art movement that utilized computers to create artwork (Kac 24). Cordeiro believed that traditional artwork at that time was failing in the capacity to communicate to the masses and arteônica was a solution (Cordeiro 33). Digital art had a farther reach and larger audience than physical objects or artwork according to Cordeiro (33). Cordeiro’s “The woman who is not B.B.” (1971) is one of his digitally processed pieces. It is the image of the face of a Vietnamese woman in distress, her expression echoing the horrors occurring in Vietnam. The work uses black digital symbols and white negative space to create the image. The density of black symbols creates the illusion of depth. The original photograph, which also included the woman holding a little boy in her arms in a Time Life magazine, was transformed into symbols with values on a gray scale that were then reduced through a random computer operation that created a higher black and white contrast (“Catalogue Text” 2-3). Cordeiro uses cultural references and images of individuals and creates symbolic identities through abstraction. In “The woman who is not B.B.,” the importance and the reality of the Vietnam War and the people affected by it is the subject behind the individual.
By digitally simplifying the original image, Cordeiro made the Vietnamese woman a symbol for the struggles of Vietnam (“Catalogue Text” 2). Cordeiro uses the woman’s expression to convey the distress and the suffering of all Vietnamese bodies being affected in the war. The message is also more global as part of the goal of arteônica (Kac 25). The struggle of decolonization that Vietnam faced was one that other countries could relate to.
Another element of the piece and the global message is the title. It is a reference to the French actress and now-activist Brigitte Bardot, known simply as B.B. Bardot was very well known all over the world having starred in numerous films and as a sex symbol. Cordeiro makes the connection of a global symbol and the objectification of the female body in his references to Bardot and to the image of a Vietnamese woman. He is directly comparing the media coverage of the Vietnam War victims and of female bodies and their circulation in the media. The title is telling the audience that female victims in Vietnam shouldn’t be objectified. Their portrayal, while serious, is still problematic because they are treated more like an object and news story than a real person and experience. The stories about the Vietnam war should not be treated like news stories about pop culture, a fluff story that one can forget quickly afterward. Cordeiro is explicitly saying that the two types of stories are very different and should not be covered in the same format.
“The Woman Who is Not B.B.” shows the viewer how ridiculous it is to objectify the people who are suffering the horrors of war. Cordiero also communicates the disapproval of the more general objectification of the female body and objections to the war. The Vietnam War was a significant and critical current event and it didn’t need to be glamourized or made a sexier news story through the use of the female body (Fabris 30).
- Laura Arteaga
Cordeiro, Waldemar, “Arteônica”: Electronic Art, Leonardo 30.1 (1997): 33-34.
Fabris, Annateresa, Waldemar Cordeiro: Computer Art Pioneer, Leonardo, 30:1 (1997): 27-31.
Kac, Eduardo, Introduction: Waldemar Cordeiro’s “Oeuvre” and Its Context: A Biographical Note, Leonardo 30.1 (1997): 23-25.
“Catalogue Text”, Waldemar Cordeiro and Franz Mon, Ludlow 38 and Spector Books, 2011