WOMEN X ART X SIMI JOHNSTON

Simi Johnston is a student at Sarah Lawrence College who works in mixed media arts and studies gender theory. She grew up in Vermont and recently went on birth control.

Fuck Pretty

Fuck Pretty is an all female photography exhibit based in Los Angeles and curated by Angela Featherstone. Though the show recently ended its term in the Robert Berman gallery, its ability to pull together personal growth and the universal female experience is one that leaves a lasting impression. The provocative title of the show, Fuck Pretty, in many ways was what brought around this compilation of works from only female artists. While dealing with childhood trauma, Featherstone (as a model and actress) found herself confronting issues specific to her beauty and gender. Featherstone explained that the title came from a phone conversation she had with comedian Richard Jeni in 1994. She explains that while talking to Jeni about a deal that had gone south, she said, “They always say, ‘she’s so pretty and funny,’ but I say fuck pretty, gimme money.” This statement lead to Fuck Pretty, a collection of images that portray the process of self-discovery involved in the journey from child to woman for both Featherstone and the other artists involved. Furthermore, the show stands as a brave and aggressive consideration of Rei Kawakubo’s quote that “in order for something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.” As Featherstone puts it, her show is one filled with the “violent act of truth telling” and is both a public and private investigation of beauty and the liberation art can bring.

{photo “Julia” by Siri Kaur}

A Naked First

Simi Johnston is a student at Sarah Lawrence College who works in mixed media arts and studies gender theory. She grew up in vermont and recently went on birth-control.

A week after my 20th birthday, I had my first naked photo taken of me. At the time, I was in Alaska with my family. With thousands of miles separated us from society, my sister, a professional photographer, asked if she could take photos of me. We wandered deep into the rainforest. Among the trees and my kin, I removed my clothes. I left nothing on; no shoes to elongate my legs, no thong to frame my ass, no bra to erect my breasts. As she photographed, I stood proud of what I had to offer her lense. I felt the woods, my body free from manipulation of society, my sister looking at my shape in awe of my growth. It’s corny as fuck, but I felt liberated. At the time I didn’t care who saw these photos. I was in art in a purest way, untouched by all the labels I had in “real life.” I was not sexy, or beautiful, or even female. I did not bend my shape into the given female form. I did not push out or suck in. I did not think about my angles or mimicking the images I wish I looked like. I was simply a naked creature.

When I returned home, things changed. Two months after we returned home from Alaska my sister asked if my photo could be shown in galleries in Los Angles. Suddenly, I felt nervous. I wondered about the consequences of having a nude photo in public. My female friends were split on the subject; some said it was just art and “they would do it.”  Their nonchalance reminded me of my attitude before I was faced with the issue. Others worried about negative judgment.  One of my male friends told me he would not want a girl he was dating to have public naked pictures, even if it was “just art.”

Eventually, I decided to allow my sister to show the photos. I did not want to devalue my experience by not allowing others to see the photo. I knew audiences might label the photo, but I realized this was not different from labels females receive every day. This experience validated for me what many female artists have expressed in the past: that being female in the art world is a double-edged sword. There is a liberating aspect of art, a liberation that women are not often given the space to feel. Art provides us an outlet to process or escape confining labels or critique. However, as a woman creating art, you subject your work and self to these very labels and critique your art may have attempted to question in the first place.