The word “fruit” has a complicated history. It has been used as a derogatory name for gay men who present more feminine than their heterosexual counterparts, a literary device to symbolize sexual metaphors in text and in paintings as a metaphor for temptation and sin.
When Sarah Dhyne, an artist in her late thirties, decided to create a series of artworks exploring gender and sexuality, “Fruits” was the perfect name for the collection of tongue-in-cheek paintings that resulted.
“The point of that series is to illustrate and [depict] a playful representation of what [the LGBT+] community and world looks like,” Dhyne explains.
“Phallacy” is the first completed piece of the “Fruit” series, which Dhyne submitted to ArtPrize Nine. It is a self-portrait of the artist in black lingerie holding a banana in a phallic manner. The expression on Dhyne’s face is confident, and she holds herself erect while posing provocatively. The background of the piece is composed of colors from the pansexual pride flag and various decoupage elements.
Per the painting description on the ArtPrize website, Dhyne says the title “Phallacy” is a combination of the word “phallic” and “fallacy.” By combining those words, she hopes to teach viewers “not to assign gender by sex.”
A graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design, Dhyne holds a bachelor’s degree in illustration, with a minor in photography. After graduating, she worked steady-income jobs, but she said it felt like she was trying to conform to someone else’s way of life. She just really wanted to be an artist.
Growing up, she felt pressured into an adult life all about getting married, having kids, and paying her bills and taxes. Dhyne recalls feeling liberated upon realizing it didn’t have to be that way.
“All the things I’m getting to experience now are really confirming to me that there are so many ways to live your life and society teaches us one path, and it can be really hard to see outside of that path,” Dhyne said.
Gender and sexuality play a big role in her artwork, and Dhyne incorporates that by striving to have her audience question what they know, as well as their place in the world. She aims to share her experiences, as well as other’s in the LGBT+ community, through her art.
Dhyne points out that people are brought up so that their genitals determine what gender they are, forcing them into certain gender roles. Now, with progress made by the LGBT+ community, the lines between strict gender roles have been blurred. More people are realizing that just because they were assigned a certain gender at birth doesn’t mean they have to present a certain way.
She created “Phallacy” to show how she blurs those lines herself.
“I identify as queer and genderfluid, I use she/her [pronouns]. I’m very feminine but when it really comes down to it, especially in my private personal life, that’s not always the role that I carry. Intimately, I present male.”
Dhyne admits the piece is risqué, and that it can imposing in person. The painting is quite large, only a few inches shorter than Dhyne herself.
“It makes you very vulnerable to have a life-size portrait of yourself, nearly nude, that you’re carrying around and putting up in other spaces,” Dhyne explained.
“Phallacy” is displayed in The Apartment Lounge, a gay bar in downtown Grand Rapids. While Dhyne feels that location is appropriate for the work, at the same time, she is disappointed that the only people who are going to see it are already in a queer environment.
“I was so happy that they wanted it, but also [there is] a limited audience especially for what it’s meant to do. It’s supposed to touch general society and make them question it.”
She hopes that people who visit The Apartment Lounge as an art venue will see the painting, and her message will get out that way.
When asked why she submitted her piece to ArtPrize, Dhyne replied with a laugh: “ArtPrize needs some edgier art.”
This is her second year participating in ArtPrize, and she doesn’t enter to win. Fully knowing her pieces probably won’t make it to the finals, she tries to shock her audience.
“I enter ArtPrize because there is a lot of eyes on it and it is a platform that I can utilize to get my message out there,” Dhyne says. She adds that it’s especially important to get her message to West Michigan specifically, a part of the country she views as too close minded, too white and too conservative.
She wants to change that, and be a part of that change.
Each of the pieces in the “Fruit” series has multiple elements. The background of each piece consists of one of many flags that represent different genders and sexualities. Her series include the bear, lesbian, transgender, and pride flags.
Another piece of the series, called “Melon” will feature a trans male holding a cut-open cantaloupe placed between his legs. His top surgery scars will be visible and the background will display the trans pride flag.
“Melon” addresses the female breasts portrayed as sexual objects by society. Dhyne says someone who is female at birth may have their breasts removed so they can fit in with what society deems “masculine.” She believes “Melon” will be as shocking and effective as “Phallacy.” The rest of the series will be more subdued in terms of genital references.
Other paintings in the series include portrayals of a male-presenting bear eating strawberries and cream, a drag queen holding an apple to her throat, a lesbian eating a muffin while covered in blueberries, and a bisexual genderqueer person holding a bowl filled with a variety of fruit.
Once ArtPrize is over, “Phallacy” will be displayed at a winery in Holland. When the series is complete, it can be viewed on Dhyne’s website here.