The Origin of the World

L’Origine du monde, Gustave Courbet, 1866


At the time Courbet was working on the painting his favorite model was a young woman, Joanna Hiffernan, also known as Jo. Her lover at the time was the American painter James Whistler, a friend of Courbet.

During the 19th century, the display of the nude body underwent a revolution whose main activists were Courbet and Édouard Manet. Courbet rejected academic painting and its smooth, idealized nudes, but he also directly recriminated the hypocritical social conventions of the Second Empire, where eroticism and even pornography were acceptable in mythological or oneiric paintings.


The putative upper section of L’Origine du monde


La belle Irlandaise (Portrait of Jo), Gustave Courbet, 1866


Courbet did another painting whose model was Joanna Hiffernan. During his whole career, Courbet did four portraits of Hiffernan. She was probably the model for L’Origine du monde, which might explain Courbet’s and Whistler’s brutal separation a short while later. Whistler then returned to London. In spite of Hiffernan’s red hair contrasting with the darker pubic hair of L’Origine du monde, the hypothesis that Hiffernan was the model for it prevails.


Photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, circa 1984-86


L’Origine de la Guerre, Orlan, 1989


The image is also referenced as inspiring Catherine Breillat’s filming of the female genitalia in her 2004 film Anatomie de l’enfer (Anatomy of Hell)

African Self-Hybridation

African Self-Hybridation: Ndebele Giraffe Woman of Ngumi Stock, Zimbabwe, With Euro-Parisian Woman, 2002


African Self-Hybridation: Pregnancy Akua Ba Acbouti Doll From Ghana With Face of Orlano Woman, 2003

African Self-Hybridation: Three-Headed Ogoni Mask, Nigeria, With Mutant Face of Franco-European Woman, 2002


African Self-Hybridation: Sande Mask of Sierra-Leone, 2003


African Self-Hybridation: Fang Initiation Group Mask, Gabon, With Face of Euro-Saint-Etienne Woman, 2003


African Self-Hybridation: Songye Secrecy Mask With Gloved Euro-Forezian Woman With Rollers, 2003


African Self-Hybridation: Mask of Nigerian Woman With Face of Euro-Parisian Woman, 2003


African Self-Hybridation: Half-White Half-Black Mbangu Mask With Face of Euro-Saint-Etienne Woman in Rollers, 2002


African Self-Hybridation: Ife Statuary With Face of Euro-Forezian Gloved Woman With Facio-Templed Bumps, 2000


African Self-Hybridation: Ekoi Janus Mask, Nigeria With Face of Euro-Forezian Woman, 2003


African Self-Hybridation: Mask of Kom Notable, Cameroon, With Face of Euro-Global Artist, 2002


African Self-Hybridation: Profile of Mangbetu Woman With Profile of Euro-Saint-Etienne Woman, 2000

Since 1994, ORLAN has been creating a digital photographic series titled Self-Hybridizations, where her face merges with past facial representations (masks, sculptures, paintings) of non-western civilizations. So far, three have been completed: Pre-Columbian, American-Indian and African.

A Bump on the Way

“…Not only did Lady Gaga reproduce works by the artist, but she also drew inspiration from her concepts. Orlan’s entire universe of hybridizations was copied in the Born This Way album, such as giving birth to oneself, which is seen in Orlan’s photography series Orlan accouche d’elle-m’aime (ou d’elle-m’aime)”, 1964-66. The inspiration went too far.”

Philippe Dutilleul-Francoeur
(ORLAN‘s lawyer)


(Orlan Gives Birth to Herself) or (to Her Beloved Self)


Orlan (born Mireille Suzanne Francette Porte) is a French artist, born May 30, 1947 in Saint-Étienne, Loire. She adopted the name Orlan in 1971, which she always writes in capital letters : “ORLAN”.

ORLAN, well-known for using her body as a tool for her art, sued Gaga for plagiarism, saying the singer has counterfeited three of her works through her Born This Way era, and especially in her Born This Way music video.

The works that are being talked about here are Bumpload, a sculpture representing ORLAN as a sort of bionic hybrid, that is, according to the artist, what inspired the Born This Way album cover.

The second work is the 1996 installation Woman with head, that has apparently been “copied” by Gaga through one of the BTW video sequences.

Finally, ORLAN pretends Gaga simply stole her life, her universe, and especially the face implants that the artist has infamously got through a surgery-performance in the 90s.


Bumpbload, ORLAN, 1989


 Album cover designed by Nick Knight


Woman with Head, ORLAN, 1996


Screen shot from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (Nick Knight, 2011) music video