In various historic mythological traditions, Nereids were said to be the nurses of Gods, the enemies of men and fishermen at times, or even the patrons of the same, and supposedly called river and ocean deities their parents.
Nereids, mermaids and nymphs have been characterized as shape-shi ers and aggressive lovers. Indeed, metaphorically, they represent the powerful allure of feminine sexuality; the allegory is taken further with the deep sea, perhaps a motif of the mystery and depth of feminine sexuality. We need only to look to the titillating pictures of Nereids and of the perilously bound Andromeda to see the historic fascination with this story. There are countless examples, including ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque sculpture, as well as the paintings of Giorgio Vasari, Rembrandt, Gustave Moreau, Arnold Böcklin, and Edward Burne-Jones among many others. Even Yeats pays homage to the myth of the siren:
A mermaid found a swimming lad, Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body, Laughed; and plunging down Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
William Butler Yeats, The Man Young and Old, III. The Mermaid, 1927
In Wack’s Oceana, a digitally-altered photograph of finely-rendered tone, color and texture, two women dri in an illuminated sea, their long waved hair resembling the sirens of the sea: the elusive mythic mermaid. One of the models has her eyes closed, while the other moves with her eyes open in choreographic harmony, one in ecstasy perhaps, and the other voyeuristic. Boughs of acanthus-like seaweed winds around the ankles of these mysterious sea creatures that symbolize unachieved desire, lust, and beauty, their bodies depicted in the discrete naturalist style of Greco-Roman sculpture. These classic devices indicate a universal appeal and a quietude that is related to the tradition of the heroic nude, such as Antonio Canova’s smoothly-wrought Three Graces (1813-16). The metaphor of water and the ocean and its association with female sexuality is reinterpreted in this contemporary work that takes as its inspiration archaic myth, the tradition of the feminine nude in art history, as well as the refined editorial appeal of fashion photography. – Rosa JH Berland