Portraits of covering, portraits of flaunting
Not too long ago, I was chatting on the phone with a potential client about the timeline for a project. When I suggested we meet sooner rather than later to further discuss the work, the client responded with: “woah, wait now! Do you have children?”
His question threw me. For one thing, I was confused at first about why he wanted to know this, especially in the context of making plans. For another, I not only don’t have kids, but it’s very likely that I can’t.
I took a breath and put the conversation back on track. “I work for myself, so my time is my own.” But that wasn’t enough for the client. Again: “do you have children?”
For a heartbeat, I wanted to cry at him over my infertility. I wanted to make him deeply uncomfortable. I wanted to make sure he’d never again ask that question of someone he was speaking to for the first time.
Instead I simply told him “no.”
The intrusive question. The “where are you from?” and the “why are you in a wheelchair?” as well as the “can I touch your hair?” that are part of living in society.
I know I’ve been on the asking end of such boundary-crossing inquiries even though I’m aware of how hurtful and annoying they can be from the other end. And I’m fascinated by the natural human curiosity that prompts them as well as by the lengths we sometimes go to in order to avoid them.
So I’m going to paint about it.
My upcoming series, Cover/Flaunt, explores the way we minimize or emphasize different facets of our identities in order to navigate mainstream culture. It’s a series of portraits of individuals or couples who each have an aspect of their appearance or their selves that tends to be perceived of as a disadvantage.
And all the subjects will be painted twice: once how they feel they cover, or how they feel they should cover, or how they have been asked to cover; and once how they flaunt, or how they wish they could flaunt, or how society thinks they flaunt. Participants will include a disabled person, an elderly person, a fat person, a hairy person, someone who struggles with mental illness, a person of color, an asexual person, a gay couple, a lesbian couple, a transgendered couple, a very feminine woman, and a single mother—and these identities often exist within the same individual, since we are, after all, complex creatures.
The series is meant for those of us who believe we are accepting of others, while at the same time maintaining that fat means a person is unhealthy, that a hairy back is gross, and that mental illness is just people overreacting. This work is for the judger and the judged in each of us.
Cover/Flaunt is about understanding why I don’t make a scene when people ask me if I have children but instead I flaunt my infertility in my art. These portraits are about searching for an authentic expression of self while participating in society.