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Month: October 2016

21 Oct

The Pervocracy

I get naked for a living.... I get naked for a living. I wanted to say that twice to make sure that it registers and that its not an incidental footnote stuffed in a small corner in the bottom of a book or something that no one is ever going to see. While the conservative right would call what I do sinful and anti-pro-sex feminists look at me with pity thinking that I’m a poor misguided soul seeking approval under the yoke of patriarchal powers, I remain fine with what I do and seek to be good at my job just in the same way any other person wishes to be good at their occupation. I’m self employed, I make my own hours, I earn my own money, I’m my own producer, and I am my own brand. If I were in another industry I’d be considered successful, but that’s not how society looks at what I do or people like me. “What we have here is a failure to communicate....” Ok I’m not good at impressions, but the truth is there is a lot of judgement, double standards and one sided discussion on the issue of sex and the female body. Griffith said that when a woman is depicted in a sexualized way, with no depth to her appearance with the intent of selling beer, cars, food or when overtly sexual or nude photos, like the Kim Kardashian nude tweets are posted online or printed in magazines, we call it objectification. Objectification, of course, has a negative connotation. I like to consider most objectification as self-objectification, considering that the women behind the image consensually, or even passionately wanted to be captured in that image. Objectification is a term with negative connotations.

That seems strange but easy to follow but it gets way more complicated. A model is still considered a legitimate perspective depending on who they are working for or what they are selling. A person selling sexuality, fantasy or themselves, however, is void of morality. Being a porn start is considered “incredibly shameful for a young woman” (Griffith, 2016). While female porn stars should be looked upon with shame, when the young boy is caught looking at porn on the computer or with his dad’s Playboy, we’ll probably hear “Well, boys will be boys...” Go back to the equation, boys looking at porn is OK within reason because it’s a natural part of sexual exploration. Girls providing porn, however, are sluts. So me, the self employed sex industry worker, is a slut that should be ashamed of myself. Rather than being some textbook equation that a couple guys in suits drew up in congress or the back room of a church, this is actually something that’s easiest to see as an unspoken undercurrent and cultural attitude present in our society. I have a simple story to show how it looks in practice.

Like many young people, I never wanted to disappoint my parents, who does? So you can understand my apprehension about telling my mother that I worked in the sex industry in a society where sex industry workers are marginalized. It’s not exactly the thing you bring up at the PTA meeting. “Well my oldest daughter you see is a sex worker.....” My Mom has a rudimentary understanding of what I do but like most people who go to work everyday, we don’t walk our parents through how our days look. “I get up, I brush my teeth, I masturbate, and go to work, at 10 am I have a break, and at noon we have a meeting, then I do content editing blah blah blah,” no one really has conversations like this so it shouldn’t be a surprise my Mom doesn’t know exactly how my day looks. She’s a woman, she’s seen my websites and she’s seen prints of my nude self portraits. She’s even been to a burlesque show where I stripped fully naked. My mom, therefore, is as supportive as I could ever want her to be, however, still I always feared my Mom would hear about or see something about me doing “porn” on the internet and this could be the one thing she may not understand or could not be able to handle.

So when the phone rings and it’s my mom, I naturally get nervous sometimes and recently, my worst fears were realized. Chatting with her college student neighbors, who are younger than myself, the young men informed my mom that they were on a website and they saw my porn online. Thankfully, my mother wasn’t bothered by this but I was. In fact, the implications of culture and society that are revealed from this little act say multitudes about double standards and gender norms in our society. Let’s frame all the details from this particular story:

(1). male college students told my mom they were watching porn
(2). male college students told my mother they were watching her daughter do porn

This solicits a few logical questions, first, what was the intent of them telling her this. Were they attempting to warn her so she could save me, were they attempting to shame our family or were they just having casual conversation. Let’s rule out option three because we don’t have casual conversations about watching pornography, having sex and/or masturbating, particularly with someone’s mom. So, that means these boys, who were themselves watching porn and perhaps viewing intellectual properly illegally, either wanted to shame me to my mom or warn my mom so she could save me.

In their own culturally inundated and gender role inundated psyche, they saw nothing strange about telling my mom they were viewing pornographic images, but they felt it important enough to have an awkward conversation with her so they can either “help the poor porn star” or get on their high horse and “shame the porn stars family.” In either way, it didn’t work, but let’s be honest, my Mom probably is not the parental norm in such a situation. Had I been born in a different home this could have met losing my place to live, getting disowned by the family or under Sharif law this would be grounds for death. We have to identify these antiquated double standards and ask ourselves as a society what is the motivation other than control and subjugation behind these cultural artifacts.

"If men can watch porn without judgment, then women have the right to make sex their career." - My mom.

21 Oct

Shameful Doing

If you've spent much time on twitter lately, you've probably come across a graphic video of a few Middle Eastern men creating a female eunuch, that is, forcibly and without medical skills or tools, removing a twelve-year-old's clitoris. If you read the NYTimes you've probably heard of the story of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who killed himself in September 2010 after discovering that his roommate had secretly used a webcam to stream Mr. Clementi’s romantic interlude with another man over the Internet. Or a similar story on Amanda Todd a 15-year-old Canadian girl, whom after exposing her breasts via webcam committed suicide after suffering torment from cyber bullying that led to depression and anxiety.

Somewhere between those points is where most Americans would find themselves on the sexual shame scale. The young Middle Eastern girl wasn't ashamed, not before being mutilated. I'll bet that she is afterward. Why would huge men bind her and pin her down and cut out a part of her? A part she couldn't even really see, but probably, by then, knew was there. Possibly she even knew it was a source of pleasure. Now, forever and ever, it would be a source of pain. And shame. It would be the odd culture in which a pre-teen would be comfortable with several grown men seeing her maturing body, never mind cutting it to pieces.

Young girls and boys are learning everyday that their sexuality and their bodies are shameful. But what about adults, male and female, who would be too embarrassed to even watch that horrific video, who avoid going to art galleries where sexuality is obviously part of the artist's statement?

About a year ago, an article on Salon.com suggested that sexual shame causes cancer. The author came to that conclusion because half of the women who have Pap smears never return for a second one, having found the experience of an often-male doctor too embarrassing to cope with again.

Sexual shame causes enormous suffering, even when it isn't accompanied by forcible sexual mutilation. Women spend enormous amounts on clothing and cosmetics in order to feel attractive. When they attract a man, it's a toss up whether the man will think the woman is “frigid” if she fails to allow him access to her vagina when he decides it is time, or a whore if she allows him to to penetrate when he wants to, or worse, invites him to do so.

What's a woman to do? Simple. Confront sexual shame where it lives. One way to do that is to create art that uses female bodies as essential elements. But there's an element of ethics that enters the discussion at this point. If an artist wishes to attack the creation of sexual shame in a society by making art that involves overt female sexuality, whose sexuality is she entitled to use? She could, of course, ask her friends to permit her to use their bodies. She could hire models.

In fact, hiring models is very basic to the creation of art, as it is necessary to see and know where human muscles and bones are in relation to each other. It is the rare model of either gender, however, who displays sexually active portions of their bodies except insofar as those areas are naturally exposed in an ordinary pose.

And therein lies another possibility for sexual shame, but usually on the part of the art students rather than the models. The models have decided, before the first class they pose for, that other people looking intently at their bodies and drawing all parts thereof is fine. Students? Not so much. When I was still a student in a art university, my professor had to repeat time and time again, “How can you draw the model if you don't look at the model? She doesn't mind, I promise. LOOK AT THE MODEL.”

It is obvious that young Americans of college age—for no high school would dare in repressed America to offer life-drawing with nude models—are completely abashed by the thought of looking at a naked, usually female, human body. And this despite the fact that they spend a great deal of non-academic time figuring out how to get some sexual experience themselves.

The most ethical thing for an artist to do, then, is to use her own body as a subject for her work. This will open her to all sorts of unwanted attention, of course. She will be thought a whore for being an exhibitionist (the fact that there are Kardashians in the world notwithstanding.) She will be exempted to work in many other work fields. She will be verbally abused; those who are wildly conflicted about the place of sexuality in the universe and their own part in it will attempt to threaten her. Stalking is common for women artists and sex workers who create erotic, or even clinical, works using their own sexuality. While most artists and sex workers are treated to a modicum of disdain, at least until they become famous, a woman who uses her own body to create portraits displaying sexuality will be subject to all that in an astonishing degree.

The duality in American culture regarding proper sexuality and improper sexuality is not only mind-boggling, but unworkable. It results in sexual misconduct, but mainly because sexual good conduct is so completely stifled and narrowly defined.

It would seem, if one is concerned about the fabric of society at all, that it is one's duty to confront sexual shame early and often. Not all artists will decide to take on that task; some will prefer to engage in experiments with color or form or mixed media or Peeps. Some will, however, decide that it will be impossible for society to actually see art properly until their eyes are opened to the totality of human experience, which includes sexuality.

Sexuality, being central to the human experience—indeed, there would not be a human experience without it—seems a fitting arena for artistic sexual exploration. Like color. Or form. Or media.

However, color, form and media do not carry huge burdens of loathing and fear; sexuality does. Just as Van Gogh is known mainly for cutting off his ear because his behavior was outside the mainstream of his society, so modern artists who work in sexual formats are likely to be known for that for some time to come rather than for their work itself.

A woman who creates erotic work using herself as a model will have to take her work as a mission in order to survive. She will need to dedicate herself to it not as art for art's sake or sex work for sex work sake, but as open sexual expression for society's sake as well.

She is likely to have her private information leaked; to those who fear sexuality, the fact that a person would paint her own breasts on a canvas, and display the resulting artwork to others, is the same as inviting the world to her bedroom. She is likely to be ostracized from certain groups. She may have her own family refuse to tell people what her work is; she may be prevented from babysitting the family's children, as if her sexuality and how she uses it had anything to do with caring properly for children. In short, the rampant confusion in American society resulting from its fear of female sexuality (although there is also some of male sexuality, although that most often has racial overtones, still, as well but would need an entirely new blog entry) results in all sorts of rending of the normal social fabric into one that is riddled with lumps, bumps and extrusions. A cancer of sorts, one might conclude, of the society itself.

In a world of political correctness, it is not nice to talk about religion if it might make atheists uncomfortable, and vice versa. It's a world of yellow elongated fruits, not bananas. But if we stop identifying reality, then we live in a fantasy land and, unfortunately, every person's fantasy will be different. So it's important to present people with the real face of real human sexuality. At this point, with open season on anyone or anything the religious right sees as 'abnormal'--that is, normal—it is essential to demystify female sexuality, and to present it as it is. If I am willing to do this, then I will have to accept that, until a critical mass of information is produced and a critical population of people have seen and accepted it, I will be subject to the fear-bases lashings out of a sexually repressed society.

Today, still, many women use their sexuality as an empowering economic advantage; others hide their sexuality so thoroughly that it is difficult to tell that they are women at all.
This is the truth: Ethical artists and sex workers interested in improving the social fabric will continue to bear the insults, the stalking, the threats and use their best material—their own body and their own body of knowledge—to display female sexuality in ways that cannot be ignored. Only when female sexuality is open to the entire society will the tendency to feel shame disappear, along with the tendency to engage in shaming others.

It is difficult. It is an extra step into the unknown that most artists don't have to contemplate, never mind take; artists and sex workers step off into one unknown or another every day they work. As an artist working in eroticism, especially one ethically using my own body as model, I need to be mentally strong, just as the freedom riders for legal equality of the races were. In the end, using art to change ignorance to acceptance to knowledge to celebration is not an easy task. Only when one requires no approval from outside themselves can they own themselves. But it is one artists of both deep perception and willingness to take bold and difficult steps are uniquely qualified to do.

21 Oct


My photograph 'Blindfold' is a contemporary take of the struggles of female sexuality in the 19th century. Many of the nude photographs of women in the 19th century were usually found to be wearing blindfolds to hide their identities. The blindfold illustrates the struggle of a women presenting herself in the nude to the public eye and the battle between human inhibitions and the cultural norms.

I'm hugely influenced by a 19th century photographer, Belloc, E.J.
Belloc who began a series of photographs of women at brothels during the 19th century. He had a desire to protect these women by concealing their identities. The blindfold allowed these women to feel comfortable to be photographed in the nude. The very act of using a blindfold is a very conscious decision that I find very moving.

Coming from a conservative background myself, I felt an ease of being nude in front of my lens, and the blindfold allowed me to explore nude self portraiture in a way I have not yet experimented with. The anxieties that I harbor in accepting that my work evokes a wide range of reactions are irrefutable, but the blindfold removes these fears, the misgivings associated with dirtiness and disgrace that was associated nudity in the 19th century, and I find is still very prevalent today

Shame and suppression when talking about nudity and sexuality tells us it is immoral to act upon sexual desires. The battle between legalization of same sex marriage, shows us that same sex relationships is controversial or wrong. Female and male genders who discover romantic desires towards the same sex are taught to suppress them- including, those who identify with a separate sexual orientation than the body they are born in. Finding comfort under ones skin is not celebrated but I believe if celebrated, an open dialogue can happen dealing with a subject we all keep private.

This. Hurts. People.

Imagery of a nude body and public expression of sexuality provokes derogatory name-calling and hate speech. Inflicting shame does more harm than it aids people. The open expressions of sexuality has become in a way, the ability to break the cultural standards. In a sense I am objectifying myself. But in many ways my body, which is the subject of many of my art pieces, is an object of meaning. My body- the subject of a lot of my work, has become for me an object that harbors my weaknesses, my fears, but also my strengths. I find that objectification when dealing with the nude body has negative connotations. There is a huge misconception that objectification of the body is objectification that happens without meaning. Photographing myself has became a personal journey of self acceptance, and self reflection. Being comfortable in my body in the silence of my own home and photographing myself is not the hardest process of creating my photographs. The biggest struggle is the response of the public eye but learning to accept that this is why creating this work is so important and meaningful to me.

To view the other self portraits taken during this set, and receive all the outtakes of all the other photographs in my portfolio, become a member to access member's only archives.