The Empowered Nude: Is Female Nudity Always Sexual?

A reflective brain-dump by Jazz Moodie, founder of Mude Threads. Jazz hand-embroiders nude designs and nude commissions onto clothing as a means of reclaiming control over how female nudity is portrayed in society.

 

Until recently I have run Mude Threads alongside my University studies, making it really hard to dedicate 100% to either! I am finally creating art full-time this summer, until I start a full-time job in September. As a freelance artist I have faced quite a few challenges that I wasn’t expecting. Running Mude Threads full time has made me realize how important self-imposed structure and self-motivation are. It has become so important for me to set myself goals at the start of every day, so that I don’t slip behind! My advice:

Set your ‘work’ goals at the start of the day, so you can feel a sense of achievement when you tick off orders and admin.

I’ve recently found it really important to put time aside to create art for myself, not for business. That means, saving time to go with the flow, use riskier materials and be okay with pieces that come out ‘wrong’. I always need to remind myself that sketching and embroidering nakedness isn’t just for fulfilling orders…I started this ‘business’ because I loved doing those things for feeling of sharing and wearing my creations!

The second challenge I find running a feminist art business is that some people disagree with my art. Over the last year, I have received a handful of messages from outsiders who have interpreted my art and mission as ‘problematic’. It has led me to this point – I need a big ol’ brain dump of my thoughts and feelings to really reflect on the art of embroidering real womens’ nudity.

Can nakedness ever be empowering or have our nude forms been hijacked by the male gaze forever?

It feels as if nudity and sex are naturally intertwined, after centuries of patriarchal structures cementing this notion in place. Can we really look at our own bodies and breasts with a purely neutral mind, after a lifetime of conditioning that they are there for straight-male pleasure?

Mude Threads’ mission is to celebrate the empowered female form on our own terms, in the face of censorship and sexualization of our bodies.

A few days ago I received a pretty loaded DM via Instagram from someone who didn’t understand the ethos of Mude Threads: “I don’t understand why the sexual aspect should be removed from it [the female form], or treated as if it’s a bad thing”. This was a refreshing take on my mission from an outsider. Sometimes I assume that everyone has a clear understanding of my mission and the message behind my artwork. This particular question made me realize that Mude Threads sits on the knife-edge of empowerment and ridicule.

For me, embroidering real women onto clothing has never been about ‘removing’ the sexual aspect of our bodies. Instead, it is about making room for an empowered version of nakedness in a world that only has space for sexualized and objectified nakedness.

If my mission was the remove all sexuality from the female form, I’d be fighting a losing battle. It would also be a battle I wouldn’t want to be a part of – our bodies should, and always will, be naturally intertwined with sex.

SEX IS GREAT! Our bodies are great for sex!

The female body is scattered with erogenous landmines (anywhere on the body that has a heightened sensitivity and can elicit a sexual response when stimulated). The nape of a neck, an inner thigh, an armpit (who knew!?) – proving that ‘removing’ sexualization from the female form would quite literally require a physical removal of our naturally occurring erogenous zones.

In my eyes, we don’t need to completely eradicate the sexual meaning of female nudity in order to make room for a new meaning. My experiences of drawing real women have helped me to understand how empowered nudity can coexist alongside sexualized nudity. I have received intimate nude photographs from countless women who have trusted me to turn their body into a work of art.

The majority of nudes that I receive are unapologetic and natural – by this I mean, there’s no tummy-sucking, there’s no spine-arching, there’s usually unruly pubes, there’s body rolls and stretch marks, there’s funny faces and smiles. They certainly don’t feel like the nudes we’re used receiving, sending, or imagining.

The rules suddenly shift when women realize they can take nudes for themselves as an act of rebellion and/or self-love. When women acknowledge that the only viewers of this intimate image are themselves and an artist (a woman myself), any burden of appeasing to the male gaze can evaporate. Nakedness becomes empowering. Instead of avoiding spending time with their own nakedness, these women challenge themselves to spend hours with every inch of their bodies, for no reason other than art. Power-poses replace ‘sexy’ poses. Body rolls replace tummy-sucks.

Context changes everything – nude art created for women by women is powerful. A woman displaying her nudity for herself and for the process of turning herself into art, has no sexual baggage.

The current view of the female form is lazy. Society’s no-nipple policy is lazy.

Without bothering to understand new contexts, any kind of nude female form is sexualized. Humans are so much more complex than viewing a nude form and being immediately and uncontrollably titillated…(and if you are immediately and uncontrollably titillated by static nudity, check yo’self).

We can appreciate art, we can appreciate the curvature of a line intended to represent a breast, we can appreciate a nude female body as an act of self-love not solely as an act of performance for a viewer’s pleasure.

For women to reclaim control over the female nude, we need to create an abundance of new material. For every derogatory and hyper-sexualized image of female nudity, we need an empowered image of female nudity. Unfortunately for us, there are structures in place to stop us from carving out this new meaning…the elusive female nipple is censored and removed from any portrayal of the female nude, sexual or empowered. My original art account was deactivated with no warning by Instagram for ‘sexually explicit content’, despite all images being of a sketched or embroidered empowered nude.

Until we can display our own nudity on our own terms, our bodies will continue to be sexualized without our consent. Until we can display our own nudity on our own terms, there will be little means of creating a counter-gaze of empowerment. Until we can display our own nudity on our own terms, I will continue to sketch and embroider the empowered nude form!

By Jasmine Moodie

Follow Mude Threads on Instagram and Facebook

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Conversations: Habibi Caramel Princess

Jude Mansour is an icon in the Vancouver scene. She is constantly planning events, supporting artists, and perfecting projects of her own. An outspoken representative for people of colour (POC), especially women, Jude’s work is striking for its visual honesty. Her social media is colourful, bold, and never hides the frizzy fly-away hairs or tries for flawless skin. It bears a striking contrast to the carefully curated perfection of most Instagram content and makes us, at Grounders, feel more confident in our skin. As Habibi Caramel Princess, Jude has branched into the music realm. Her mixes are an eclectic mix of worldly sounds with an irresistible dance beat. Grounders co-founder Ash sat down with Jude to talk about her experience as an immigrant and future projects. 

Listen to Jude’s newest mix Flutter

First off, tell me a little bit about yourself.

I am an immigrant, I moved here almost seven years ago from Alexandria in Egypt. I’m an Egyptian – born and raised – I moved here in Grade 9, and I live in Burnaby. My highschool life was miserable. There weren’t a lot of African Arabs, Middle Easterners, or Arabs in general that I could relate to in anyway. I experienced a lot of micro-aggressions as a Muslim woman of colour (WOC) living in Vancouver.

I started coming out to shows in Grade 12 and went to Emily Carr. And I started meeting people and making connections and that’s when my life started taking more of a positive turn. I’m so lucky to have met the people I know now. I’m an artist – I’m a DJ.

So why did your parents come to Vancouver?

Well growing up in a non-western country the goal is to get anywhere. My Mom always thought Vancouver was safe and it worked out perfectly when she got accepted into SFU. I was living through a revolution and she got accepted right when the revolution ended. It was perfect timing and we got the fuck out of there.

Growing up in a revolution, do you find social media changes things? How does it empower people?

I think social media is such an important tool. I was so uneducated even growing up as an Egyptian woman. I was so uneducated about myself. I didn’t even consider myself as a WOC, I didn’t even know what that was. But, when I moved here I felt “othered.” I didn’t know where that was coming from or why I was feeling that way. Going on Instagram, I saw a lot of people talking about the same problems I had and it really helped. I think it’s such an important tool, especially for women in non-Western countries to learn. Those resources are really lacking and WOC need to know what’s going on and why they feel the way they do.

I really vibe with that. I always grew up in white societies and I never realized what it meant to be a WOC – not until I came to university. But seeing people on the internet who talk about being a WOC and how they feel, realizing I related to them was such an important experience.

Honestly, shout out to Nazlie Najafi, my baby – my child. She saved my life. She is one of the co-founders of Elastic Collective. When I met her I was so insecure. I straightened my hair everyday, I was scared to go into the sun, and seeing her talk about that stuff online made me feel inspired.

Seeing how proud you are of your heritage now, it’s hard to imagine. Did you try to hide your heritage in highschool?

Oh yah, I was so embarrassed. Where I’m from we hate ourselves and each other. Even in Egypt, women suffer the most. Women of darker skin are the most oppressed. I hated myself so much as a woman of colour. 

When did you start becoming proud of your heritage?

I would say half way through first year university when I started unwhite-washing myself and my values. Because I tried to be that for so long. Again, social media, seeing beautiful women of colour who are so proud and outspoken. I thought, I’m like that too why can’t I be proud and like that. I’d say every POC country and society carry a lot of internalized racism.

photos by Shanice Bishop

Switching topics, when did you start making music?

That literally started last December.

That’s so recent wow!

Yeah, it all started when Rhi Blossom and Mairin Miller came up with Recess. One day I was at Rhi’s house and they asked if I wanted to try DJing and they showed me how and then asked if I wanted to do an event. And I thought “hell yeah!”

Wow, you jumped right in, were you confident about your first gig?

I kind of was, I was always a dancer so music feels like a part of my blood. So I went into it right away and Habibi Carmel Princess started popping off and I realized DJing is my shit.

Is that your go-to art form right now?

Definitely, I used to study photography at Emily Carr but I wasn’t really passionate about it. And every faculty in every university is normally male dominated but the photography department was very dominated and I was so uncomfortable.

Your mixes blend a lot of ethnic sounds, do you have a vision before you start a mix?

I usually do have a vision for sure. My art and music is mostly inspired by how vibrant and lively my culture is – it celebrates happiness and dance. I try and project that into all of my work, even if my mix is sad it’s still upbeat. My new mix is called Flutter. I’m also working on two other projects. One of them I want to release in the summer because it’s sexy and dance music. The mix afterwards is going to be all Egyptian artists, I’m so excited for it.

When does Flutter come out?

April 12th! I already did a photoshoot for it. I worked with Zuleyyma Prado on the photos.  

Listen to Flutter here!

photos by Zuleyyma Prado

In the future do you want to start producing your own stuff with beats and vocals?

Eventually yes but I’m very shy so hopefully in the future.

How would you compare the art scenes in Alexandria, Egypt versus Vancouver?

Alexandria is the second biggest city in Egypt after Cairo and it’s still pretty small. This shit doesn’t really happen there and I was really young. My life was school and sports, I was an athlete. I was a rhythmic gymnast and competed nationally, I was a competitive tennis player, I did equestrian, and I spent my youth in motion. I love to execute my feelings through energy and dynamism.

You’ve been pretty involved with the Elastic Collective, could you give me a quick rundown on them?

Hannah Turner, Rhi Blossom, and Nazlie Najafi are the founders and they are trying to make a space that celebrates art while including people who are often marginalized in society, such as women, BIPOC, and queer folk in Vancouver.

Are you guys planning to do anymore events?

Yah Elastic, Nazlie and I want to do a MENA party. Like a Middle Eastern – North African party with an art show and some poetry readings, maybe a DJ. Because Vancouver lacks a lot of representation in that region. 

Looking to the future, do you think you will stay and try to make Vancouver a more inclusive community or try to move?

I definitely plan to live here for a bit but I also plan to travel a lot. In a couple of months I’ll be going to Toronto and Montreal, hopefully playing shows.

What’s something else you want to say to readers of Grounders, POC, or people who moved here?

Stick to your roots, stick to what you know. You’re going to get confused in the long run. For immigrants, what you are is what white girls wanna be. You are what society is trying to profit off. You are magical and special, just glow and do your thing and no one can steal your glow because it’s impossible. 

 

To keep up with Jude follow her on Instagram and SoundCloud

Conversations: Leo Alexander Krukowski

Leo Alexander Krukowski, a softspoken 26 year old, is a Canadian artist based in Toronto. Leo’s projects probe at the meaning of what art is, how meaning changes over time, and the context of materials. As Leo explores new concepts he pursues new media creating a blend of techniques  throughout his work. 

 

Grounders sat down with Leo to discuss his latest series, Lionize, future projects, and his inspirations. Keep reading for the full interview. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself before we get into your work?

Right now, I’m sitting in a place called OFFSITE Concept Space where I will be having an exhibition from the sixth of January until the middle of February. The open invitation will be on my website and that is the most important thing to know about me, right here right now.

Will pieces be on sale as well?

They will.

All part of Lionize?

There will be one or two other things included but it will all about Lionize. Right now I am also speaking with a computer scientist named Xavier Snelgrove and we are working on making procedurally generated series of short videos based on my pieces – based on components that are extracted from my photos and analyzed by a computer.

[confirmed: Xavier has contributed a video experiment called Subjective Functions x Lionize]

[note: there is also an installation by Calder Ross, the curator and director of OFFSITE, which is based on Lionize]

What do you mean by procedurally?

It means algorithmically generated. So, we will feed images of Lionize through a program by Xavier called Subjective Functions which will learn, through viewing them them, a language.  Sometimes there are patterns of light and dark, sometimes there are dots of green, sometimes there is a fancy border… It will look at all these traits as components of the entity it is looking at, make a language based on them, and express sentences in that language. But, the way this program speaks is in images; so, it might create images and pieces in this series that don’t actually exist. For example, we may ask it to interpret the Mona Lisa in that language from my work.

Do you think it would be possible for any of these languages to be robust enough to create useful or relevant images?

I think technology is much more useful than art as a baseline. I don’t think it’s about usefulness necessarily, it’s about exploration in the same way these (Lionize) are an exploration of what a painting is, what an image is, what bronze is and what history and art are. Because these all contribute to the materiality of the project. The videos that Xavier is producing are treating data and information as a material.

So, coming back to Lionize, what is the process?

For those of you who are not sitting with us right now, this is one of the pieces from the series. It is the eighth piece and it is called Unseeing. This is what it sounds like [see below]. This is the remnant of the investment, which was used to produce the second piece in the series called Self Portrait. The process I am using is an adaptation of what is called the Lost Wax Process which is 4500 years old and allegedly invented by the Prince Sennacherib of Assyria.

The way you do that is you make a mold of an object, you pour wax into the mold, you remove that wax and cover it in ceramic, you melt the wax out through a hole, pour bronze into the hole, and then break the ceramic once it cools and hardens.

This is part of the mold that was facing the painting, so this is the texture of the second piece.

What is the wire for?

 a portion of the mold
a portion of the mold

When you pour in the bronze there is a thermal shock to the shell which can crack it or warp it. As the bronze cools it contracts which can warp its shape. This wire is to add strength against unexpected tensions.

Are you working with multiple people to produce this series?

Right now, I am working with a company called Artcast based in Georgetown. The owner is named Marcus Knoespel and he is doing a lot of the work directly with me. They are a really good company.

On your website you mentioned that most of your work is exploratory. What have you learned in your exploration through Lionize?

It’s hard to put into words. I’ve learned a lot about death, and the ends of things. About half of the paintings I used for this are destroyed in the process – and they are not my paintings with the exception of one of the recent ones. So, I am learning what it feels like to destroy something very personal to someone else to achieve some kind of ideal – which is something happens all the time to people who are hurt or abused or exploited.

I’ve learned a lot about appropriation. I was concerned about that at first. I am less concerned about it now. I’ve learned for me, the sensation of appropriation requires assuming the identity of someone else which I am not doing. I am very firmly seated as the person who is making these sculptures, not the person who painted them. I’ve learned a lot about durability as the absence of fragility rather than as something protecting fragility. It’s been a sad and painful process. Self Portrait is from a picture someone painted of me, and it is not one of the paintings that survived. So in making this I learned what it felt to tear apart a portrait of my own face, and then also have it gone in the final piece.

How did that make you feel?

Serious. When I do things like this it makes me want to earn the position of what I am doing.

When you mention durability and the feeling of destroying other people’s work. How do you feel about your work being destroyed?

Oh, it’s really hard to destroy this.

Do you mean physical or emotionally?

All of them. To be serious, it’s hard to destroy these because destruction is implicit in the process. When the vector you are on is degradation anyways they are really good at absorbing abuse.

Do you keep photos of the paintings before you use them?

No.

Is your main format normally sculpture?

No, it’s kind of new to me. The last artwork I made – you know how I said that these I made of art and history? The last artwork using this metaphor was made partly of privacy. It was a book of pictures that I made over the course of two and a half years. It was my third or fourth attempt at making it. The thing I did before that was study the French painter Delacroix and make kind of mashed up copies of his pictures. Before that I mostly painted pretty birds and trees.

You mentioned, on your website, that you get more inspiration from Asian art over Western. What are the main differences between the two?

One of them is an element of service. I was sitting at this table yesterday with an artist who is a friend of mine named Ekow Stone. He draws a lot of imagery from his roots growing up in the West Coast looking at Haida and Coast Salish art and his heritage from Africa – to engage with the spiritual symbols of his ancestry. We were talking about that yesterday and there is a greater sense of seriousness as soon as you get out of the European tradition. It is about honouring things. I don’t really buy the whole European notion of art being about expressing yourself. I don’t feel creative when I make work. It doesn’t feel like something I made. It feels like it’s something that I found either inside myself or outside of myself – and I’m trying to honour that.

When people look at your work, what do you imagine is the ideal response from someone looking at your work?

A moment of honesty. I describe a lot of my work as being quiet.

Funny because the pieces in Lionize make sound.

I’m talking with a local musician, Just John, about organizing a series of musical soirées where drummers from various percussion traditions would perform on pieces from Lionize. This, which is now a secret between me and Grounders, might happen at some point in 2018.

What was the question? Oh the perfect circumstance.

A few years ago, I made a work of art that really humbled me and taught me about being honest and I haven’t really made anything for someone else since about a quarter of the way into that project. I know that what I am engaging with, with my work, is vital and true enough that if people who are in a position to engage with it, to meet it, they will. And I’m really only concerned with my relationship with it. Not that I don’t appreciate my audience. I have a lot of people who don’t notice my work. I’ve also had people who spend an afternoon staring at a piece, and people who laugh and cry. Those are all amazing responses including the people who didn’t notice them.

 

After Leo’s showcase at the offsite space he will have another show at The Peäch Gallery (722 College)

You can also stay up to date with Leo by following his Instagram

 

 

 

Artist Profile: Karen Davis

Name: Karen Davis

Location: Draper, Utah

IG: @karun_the_wzrd

 

At only 19, Karen Davis has established her artistic style as one that gives the audience a peak into another world. She has dabbled in photography for most of her life, and recently began experimenting with complimentary poetry that gives the viewer an honest look into her mind. Below is a short interview with Davis, and samples of her work.


Tell us a little bit about yourself! When did you start writing poetry and taking photos?

I started taking photos at a very young age. I have always had a love for photography, and I have taken a liking to poetry recently. I enjoy letting my feelings out and maybe having someone relate to how I’m feeling.

Your photos all seem to tell a story, could you share what some of them are? Or the thought process behind them?

Most of the stories that I want to show through my photographs are ones that I want someone to look at and wish they were in. They’re an escape from my reality to a dream world! It’s everything I see, everything I would want my life to look like.

  

 

Are you behind the entire production of your images or do you collaborate with other people?

I generally have the subject do their own makeup or I will do it, but I have collaborated with a makeup artist and they’re fun to work with.

What would you like people to get from your work?

I want my work to inspire people. I want to motivate them and make it easier for them to express themselves. I want to support and love everyone for each one of the ideas and the creativity they have. I also want them to look at my photographs and wish they were a part of my own dream world.