In 2020, I started a series of Feminist Nudes, aiming to raise awareness about controversial themes such as rape culture and gender-based harassment. Since 2021, I have given my project an extra dimension by painting the bodies of women who have themselves suffered verbal, physical or sexual violence.
My approach is to represent them not as victims but as fighters, heroines, queens. Through painting, their bodies become works of art, in a process of reappropriation of the body and empowerment.
What strikes me first about Sabrina is the light she radiates. That smile in her eyes, that confident voice, that uninhibited laugh… I feel all this via my computer screen, face-to-face on Zoom.
Sabrina lives in Belgium, I in Germany, we don’t know each other, and yet she agreed to tell me her story. An extremely intimate story, as difficult to hear as it is to transcribe into words.
Sabrina was raped by her great-grandfather when she was 6 years old. When the rest of the family were busy and “he managed to catch her, he was having fun with a little girl’s body.” Ashamed, paralyzed at the idea of someone opening the door and finding them, she kept it for herself, enduring her abuse until age finally took her great-grandfather to his grave.
After incest, she tells me, there are two possible paths: reproducing the same pattern or mistreating your body, disrespecting it. She took the second, alternating between phases of anorexia and bulimia, hiding her body, mutilating herself. She felt “dirty, destroyed”. For years, she refused to let her body be a source of desire for others or pleasure for herself.
Growing up, she is haunted in her sexual relationships. The men she meets find it hard to accept her blockages, show little empathy. For thirteen years, she lives with the father of her children, a jealous and violent man, before divorcing and falling into the hands of a narcissistic pervert. Followed 24 hours a day – thanks to the location on her phone and laptop – demeaned, humiliated, she begins a long descent into hell until an unexpected event saves her life: she has a near-death experience.
This is the click. During her NDE, she thinks about her children. The one she lost and those who remain. “Life isn’t that”, she realizes.
Then begins a long process of reconstruction. She loses her job, her home, divorces a second time. She is “stripped”, but regains her freedom. Like a second birth. Thanks to a few hypnotherapy sessions, but above all a long independent work on herself, Sabrina finds the road to recovery. She educates herself on energy healing, alternative medicine and quantum therapy. She develops a capacity for clairvoyance, is finally able to put words on her trauma.
The colors of her canvas, she was one the one who chose them: blue, green and mauve, colors of three of the main chakras. And especially the words, painted on her body: touching, beatings, hell, rape, threats, suffering… So many witnesses to a dark past, which she has chosen to put behind her. She sees the present and future full of light: confident, strong, creative, radiant…
Today, Sabrina is training to become a therapist. To “help, in peace“. She is no longer afraid, she is passionate, filled with joy and gratitude for life. She wants to talk about her story so that it doesn’t repeat itself. So that her daughter can grow up dancing with life, because “every woman has the right to be beautiful in safety“…
MY BODY MY CHOICE
This painting is named after the famous feminist slogan “My body, my choice”. This slogan defends the right to autonomy and bodily integrity, in particular the right to abortion. Many people do not know it, but there are still several countries in Europe where the right to abortion is not acquired!
In Poland, for example, the government attempted in 2016 to drastically restrict already very limited abortion rights. This sparked a huge wave of protests across the country under the name #blackprotest and the government finally backed down!
But the fight is far from over… On December 1st, 2020, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional abortion in cases of fetal abnormalities. Thousands of activists took to the streets and a veritable feminist revolution began, under the banner #StrajkKobiet (women’s strike). Red lightning painted on their palms and on their masks, they roamed the cities in protest. But now, because of the measures against COVID-19, it is more difficult than ever to be heard and almost impossible to get an abortion abroad…
And what about traditionally conservative European states?
Like Vatican City, Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino, Malta is the country with the strictest abortion regulations in Europe. In this highly Catholic nation, there is not even an exception when it comes to rape! Knowing that most of the sexual abuses occur within the family circle, many women are forced to carry the child of their father, their uncle…
If they have the budget – and there is no Lock-Down due to Corona – they can attempt to go overseas to have an abortion. Otherwise, they order abortion pills online – both dangerous and unsafe – or worse, they have an abortion illegally on the island… risking their lives and facing up to 3 years in prison if they get caught!
Such violations of women’s rights should no longer exist today, especially in countries of the European Union! Abortion must become an indisputable right for all women. That’s why my painting My body my choice embodies and supports this claim.
(I'M NOT YOUR) BITCH
Bitch, baby, honey, whore…
We women are given hundreds of nicknames in our lifetimes. Some full of love, others sexist, offensive, and hurtful.
(I’m not your) bitch deals with all those words that we hear from the very first day of our lives. These nicknames that we wear on us like a second skin, that are engraved in our minds and will remain in our memories for ever.
To create this painting, I conducted a social media poll asking women to tell me which nickname stood out to them the most. And I painted their answers on the skin of my nude. Delivering a clear message: such words do not fly away with the wind, they brand our innocent souls.
The colors in this painting evoke the jungle, a metaphor for the society in which women struggle to gain the place they deserve. Here and there, the paint voluntarily take over the frame, seeking to free itself from the constraints of this patriarchal society which has always strived to dominate women, to silence them.
Emma is the very first painting part of my Feminist-Nude series. It is meant to raise awareness about rape culture.
⏩ What is rape culture? It refers to the behaviors in a society which allow sexual violence to be normalized and even justified. Here are a few examples :
✖️ “come on, did you see how she was dressed?”
✖️ “she was drunk, you can’t call that a rape…”
An IPSOS survey conducted in France 2019 in collaboration with the association “Mémoire Traumatique et Victimologique” revealed these frightening facts :
- 27% of people think that a woman wearing an outfit described as “too sexy” is partly responsible for her assault
- 17% of people consider that many women who say NO (for a sexual intercourse) actually mean YES
- 18% even imagine that women can take pleasure in being forced (WHAT?!)
The survey was conducted in France but it speaks for many so-called developed countries. As long as people will be asking “what was the victim wearing?”, it will be essential to denounce and dismantle this system of thoughts.
EMMA is the most popular female given name in France in 2019. Nearly 4,000 families have given birth to a baby named Emma. A little Emma, now an adorable one year old, who is going to grow up, become a woman and will have one “chance” out of 5 of being sexually abused. 800 Emmas out of the 4000 will be inappropriately touched or raped in their life.
This painting is dedicated to these future Emmas. An uncovered body is NEVER a sign of consent. It’s about time that the world understands that.