Beyond Westworld: “Picturing Female Robots and Androids” in Media and Other Art Forms

New exhibit explores the depiction of artificial females throughout history

Clementine Pennyfeather on Westworld

Westworld isn’t the first time beautiful, compliant androids have been portrayed onscreen – humans have a long history of fascination with artificial women. The idea of creating the “perfect woman” has been explored over time not only in film and television, but in art and literature as well. One of the earliest examples is the Greek myth of Pygmalion, who carves the ideal woman from ivory and marries her when she becomes real.

In a new exhibit at the New York Hall of Science, “Picturing Female Robots and Androids,” curator and professor Julie Wosk examines the diversity of these artificial beings, from docile and obliging sex objects to powerful and independent beings. The exhibit features images from movies, television, video games, art, and robotics and includes some mannequins and dolls. The subjects range in date from antiquity to modern day, with many so realistic they are difficult to distinguish from humans.

Based upon Professor Wosk’s book My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids, and Other Artificial Eves, the exhibit highlights how the line between artificial and real is becoming increasingly blurred with the advent of modern technology. It also explores fantasies of the ideal woman across different historical periods and cultures, as well as the fears these creations embody.

Much like the hosts in the Westworld park, the notion of perfection for most female androids involves them being easily controlled, unthreatening, and sexually available. A recurring theme, however, is the possibility of malfunction, rebellion, or developing self-awareness. The exhibit – as does Westworld – aims to raise questions about the future of artificial intelligence, and how these beings will interact with society.

“Picturing Female Robots and Androids” will run from April 22 to September 3rd at the New York Hall of Science. The exhibit is free with general admission, and tickets can be purchased here.

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