When I got to OCAD I sort of had the understanding that the University would allow me to navigate myself in this sort of art-space, to sort of help heighten my ability to understand how to create work, and be inside and entrenched in the art community. However, from my experiences, I’ve learnt that it is not all of those things. And because of the way that my work is perceived a lot of the time, instead of sitting there and learning, I’m often times trying to fight the institution and trying to break down the way they view my work, and specifically depictions of the female body—through my work or, more literally, just the female body as it exists in the world.
But, for me, when I started creating work that was sort of derived from the body and nudity and things like that, my purpose for it was to debunk all these oppressive social constructs that are put onto the body and, more specifically, my own experience with being oppressed in terms of my sexuality and things like that. So I started to create very direct work, because I find that being very direct and bold in my statements was a way that I felt liberated. And so it was the body straight on, it was the body nude, it was the body in images, it was the body in videos, it was the body in performance, in real time, in real life. And a lot of the reactions or comments in my critiques were that I had to be more subtle in my depictions of the body because it was considered “too much,” and so it was sort of a way of censoring the work with that statement, because it doesn’t allow the work to exist as-is. Sort of saying like “You can be a sexual being, as a woman, but you can’t be ‘too’ sexual because then you’re sexualizing yourself, or it becomes this sort of double-edged sword where, apparently, now, you’re trying liberate yourself, but it’s actually oppressive.”
And this sort of notion of “too much” came, would you say, mostly from professors, mostly from peers, or from all sides equally? Do you think it’s an institutional issue?
Oh, yeah. It’s definitely an institutional issue. I think it’s definitely dealing with these so-called policies at OCAD, nudity policies, and also the profs that have their own personal opinion on how nudity should be perceived in such works and things like that. And I think that the major reason they give me for saying that they need to be more subtle is because of the viewers, and how it can be sensitive material for them. And so there’s this whole concept there. When I create work it is directly nude, but it isn’t directly triggering in any way.
What do you mean by directly triggering?
I mean it isn’t directly triggering in the sense that I’m not doing anything that is worthy of being called triggering, or worthy of needing a trigger warning because the body is simply existing as it naturally was when I was born. It’s just nude, right? And so for me that’s not triggering. And I often get this triggering thing constantly thrown in my face—that the work in itself is triggering and thus it needs to be more subtle, thus I need to think about the way I present work, I need to be more considerate of other people’s mental health in the institution. And I think that’s definitely a big deal, but then it’s really easy for them to make those claims and then to not look at things in our institution such as art history, which delves very deeply into this objectified, hypersexualized depiction of women by European men in this Eurocentric context. And they’re disturbing to look at for me because a lot of the times they’ve made up fantasies for men to gawk at, and that’s OK, right? It’s OK to look at images like that, that kind of nudity is fine. And not only is it fine, but I’m also told to address it on exams and various tests as to why that work is important in an art-historical context. Right? So it’s not only that “Hey, this is a legitimate work,” it’s “This is a legitimate work, tell me why.”
It’s sort of like… nudity is fine for them and it’s not triggering in the context of whatever they find to be an OK nude body to look at, in terms of the female body.
And also we have to. In order to be in all art programs at OCAD I think you have to take a drawing course. You have to do it in first year, and within that drawing course you have to do figure drawing of nude people. Real-time, real people.
But they don’t see it as the same as your work.
Yeah. And that’s also something that you need for credit! You need to draw these things. There’s no way out of that, you have to do it. And they’ll probably argue that, you know, it’s something that’s a skill you need, and it’s in the curriculum, and “It’s just a nude body.” I’m arguing the exact same thing! I can say “Hey, this is really important to my practice. I’m just naked. I’m just naked. And this is something that I definitely need to do to develop my practice further.”
And achieve what you want to achieve.
Right? So it gets confusing and this whole trigger warning thing gets kinda messed up for me, because if we’re arguing that the images are just images and they’re not actually the nude body then let’s talk about the figure drawing that we absolutely have to do.
Right. And, even with these sorts of obstacles in communication that are put in front of you, you constantly get a lot of… Well, have you not gotten a lot of academic recognition? But then you have issues. You get the scholarships for instance, right? What percentage of your work do you think contains nudity?
Literally all of it.
I’d like to ask you to talk a little bit about that experience you had with the event that you were invited to, but you couldn’t show your work. Because that’s, to me… It’s almost as if they’re putting up this front, and in reality they do know what you mean, what you’re trying to get at. That you’re right, but they just can’t say it in public.
Making reference to the time you’re talking about… Yeah, I was invited to this event because I’m a scholar, and so the point was to show your work to the Chair and the donors that are giving you the money. And it was an event to socialize and then go around and see everyone’s work. And I walk in with this huge poster. It was basically just me completely nude. Just me nude. That was the baseline of the work. That was it. And so I walk in, and then I show the coordinator (the person that’s organizing the event) the work, and she looks at it and she says “Oh, no! We can’t show this work here. The donor can’t see the work. She just can’t. I don’t think this is appropriate.” And so I stood there with my work and they were just all deciding whether or not this was appropriate to show, and it’s kind of like alienating, in a sense, because I know that I’m there because I am student that gives a fuck. And I’m there because I have the ability, and I give a fuck enough to have a good academic standing. I care about not so much the grades that I’m getting, but I care about the work I produce enough for me to be there. So it was just really alienating to me. Not embarrassing, but I just felt like these people that have been dealing with art (like my profs) for their whole career, and the fact that they still can’t stomach the image of a woman naked…
Well, maybe that wasn’t even the case! I sort of hold my theory that, in secret, they know it. But maybe they were just worried about the donor. In that case, it’s just putting another issue on top of the issue. How do you deal with that? What do you do if you choose to show it anyways? Did you ever think there’s a way to go around it? To solve it and be one hundred percent comfortable with the result? How has your attitude for confronting these things changed over the course of your stay at OCAD? If it has changed.
A hundred percent has changed, in the sense that my attitude towards it is more so like “If I wanna continue making work that’s important to me I can’t listen to all these comments.” I simply can’t. I can’t listen to the fact that it needs to be more subtle, or that it’s not appropriate for X, Y, Z institution or person.
Would you say that’s true regardless of whether or not your academic standing is on the line?
Yeah! It’s good that you brought that up, because when I got into OCAD I swear I was so concerned about maintaining this average. I was so concerned about letter grades, but it has taught me that that letter grade is merely a reflection of what this institution thinks of me and that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really matter.
I’m here because I need the facilities to do the work that I want to do. At then end of the day that’s what it is. I don’t necessarily give a fuck about getting a shitty mark because the critique wasn’t good because I needs to be “more subtle,” I care more so about creating work that I feel proud of, that I feel is progressive in terms of the work that I wanna create. What I say to myself a lot of the times, when I get down about shit like this—because it’s really hard to create really great work but then constantly have to be fighting with it and about it, and it’s just like a lot of fucking stress. What I say to myself is “If a nude female body is still this much of a fucking problem in 2018 then this work has to exist. It has to exist.” Because work like this is gonna be confronting that problem, instead of merely agreeing with it and then me making it “more subtle.” That’s not gonna help cause a progression. Because of this, OCAD has taught me that I don’t necessarily have a space. I have to create a space.
I think also the major thing, for me, with that whole trigger warning thing, especially in presenting a nude body, is the fact that there’s a lot of concern given to the viewer but not a lot of concern given to the person that’s creating the work. So we’ll make sure that’s palatable enough for viewers, but in terms of artistic expression and freedom, and that kind of understanding, and just generally respecting somebody at a human level—because, honestly, it doesn’t matter how many fucking times you get naked in front of somebody, it’s still hard to fucking do. That needs to be respected, but it’s not.
— Interview by Sebastián Rodrìguez Vasti