The Relational Self
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This thesis focusses on a relational understanding of the self by asking how the self is relationally constituted through others and the natural environment. This question is addressed by visually analysing Ettinger’s “Rachel – Pieta – Medusa 3” (Ettinger 2018c) and Mendieta’s “Imágen de Yágul” (Mendieta 1973). The research question that this thesis aims to answer is: how do Ettinger’s painting on family relations and Mendieta’s photograph on natural relations address relational understandings of the self through vulnerability and entanglement of the self with others and the world? By putting these artworks in conversation with each other and contemporary theory on relationality, this thesis approaches relationality through the entanglement of the self with others as well as through the entanglement of the self with nature. Through visual analysis of the artworks and an agential realist approach, this thesis reads the materials through each other rather than against each other. First, this thesis analyses Ettinger’s “Rachel – Pieta – Medusa 3” (Ettinger 2018c) to address relationality through family relations and the self as relational with the other. Second, this thesis analyses Mendieta’s “Imágen de Yágul” (Mendieta 1973) to address relationality through nature and the self as relational with natural surroundings. Finally, this thesis addresses how notions of self and vulnerability feature in both artworks and how the artworks bring up notions of self and vulnerability differently to consider the self as vulnerable. This thesis works towards understanding the self as intra-actively co-constituted through the blurring of boundaries while simultaneously addressing relational differentiality through the articulations of boundaries in both artworks. A relational understanding of the self challenges western individualistic notions of self that consider the self as separable from others which has resulted in the unequal distribution of vulnerability and safety, and as superior to nature which has resulted in environmental devastation. Understanding the self as relational is important to consider the self an active agency with ethical responsibility to care for others and the natural environment.