There's nothing quite like a classic Western movie. The smoking guns! The drama! The tumbleweed! The boots! They're absolutely alluring, but it only takes watching about 30 seconds of a Western to realize the genre isn't exactly winning at the representation game. Artist Felice House noticed this pretty quickly.
House moved to Texas to get her Master's degree and fell in love with the Western aesthetic, as one does.
"So, instead of writing it off, I decided to use it to start a conversation," House told R29 in an emailed statement. "And that conversation goes something like: What if the power handed to icons like John Wayne and James Dean were handed to a woman? What would society be like, how would education be different, what would our priorities be in society?"
Thus, the painting series Re-Western was born. In it, House casts women in the roles of iconic film cowboys — from John Wayne to James Dean to Clint Eastwood. Although House typically used family members and friends as models prior to this series, she wanted to cast these female cowboys without any preconceived notions about who the model was as a person. So, she put out an ad on Craigslist.
"I got a flood of responses!" House says, adding that many of the women already knew which cowboy they wanted to play.
The hardest part? Perfecting the stone-cold stares. "Women are kind of trained to make coy, approachable facial expressions," House explains. It looks like these ladies nailed the stoic-cowboy look in no time.
Re-Western is currently on display in the U.K., and House is working on a spin-off photo series about what she calls "the performative aspects of embodying the facial expressions and assertive posturing of the western film stars."
"I believe is the responsibility of both men and women to redefine what is acceptable in relation to images of women," House adds. "Images cater to the market. In order for change to occur, both men and women must own the equality of women."