Shaye Duong’s work seeks to bring into light the issues of representation and inclusion within the current body positivity movement, creating a space within contemporary feminism for her own experience with the body, hair and beauty ideals.
The human figure has always been the most prominent area of interest within my art, however, I have also grown and learnt that I prefer to create art that contains personal meaning or reflects my passions, surroundings and personal experiences. As a strong advocate for contemporary feminism, I have noticed that a predominant concern within Western society includes the censorship of the female form and toxic expectations of appearance that have been embedded into our socio-culture. Women are only presented in the media on the condition they appear as a ‘woman’ is expected to look, these constraints are highly damaging for people such as trans women or women of colour who do not identify with these problematic ideals. Girl Sap aims to challenge these ideals and honestly portray my experience as a woman, free of any censorship that appears in the media.
Sap runs through the veins of plants just as blood does through humans, and will bleed out if the surface is torn. The title, Girl Sap, resonates with the authenticity of women and all their experiences; women who are humans that belong to this earth as equally as all life forms, regardless of appearance. Utilising an intricate and highly refined realistic approach, my series of small graphite sketches aim to portray the figure as realistically as possible, using both close up details of my anatomy in various poses. These initial images were inspired by Dutch photographer, Daantje Bons, who also explores the finer details of the female body and the often confidential experiences of women.
The realistic approach to these graphite drawings was intended to create a genuine representation of my figure and my experiences as a young woman, while also crafting a personal connection with the viewer. The empty lines and faded tonal value that extend from the figures represents the absence of honesty within the exposed female form in our society. The splashes of colour add elements of abstraction to resonate with the vibrancy and uniqueness that all women possess.
The challenging of beauty ideals especially indicative to Western feminism that involves growing out body hair, specifically the areas of the armpits and crotch, are productive to an extent but often exclude women of colour due to sparse representation or acknowledgement of the struggles with hair and appearance they face. As a woman of colour, myself, I have had my own experiences of harassment about body hair in other ‘unglamorous’ areas. Thus, I felt it was vital to create a conversation within my works by depicting hair on the face and stomach as well. Women’s bodies are mostly represented in their most flattering forms and more than often unrealistically, the remaining pieces within this series confront the viewer with natural poses. These include hunching over to reveal rolls of fat juxtaposed by an elongated torso to show bones which demonstrates that the body can be manipulated to appear a certain way, as is seen in the media. Moreover, makeup depicted on the teeth of the subject aims to portray the tedious effects of the pressure put on women to present themselves in the most desirable way possible.
What Is Contemporary Feminism to you? Would should current feminisms constitute?
Contemporary feminism, to me, must incorporate intersectionality in addition to challenging the ongoing struggle and fight for equal acceptance, appreciation, acknowledgement, treatment, and opportunity for all women, particularly the inclusion of transgender people, queer women, women with disabilities and women of colour. Yes, white women definitely still experience oppression, but not in the same way that the aforementioned women do, I think confronting the more prominent issues that are endured is crucial to contemporary feminism. Contemporary feminism inherently umbrellas a vast array of subtopics; in saying that, I think it’s important to acknowledge that while an issue for one woman will remain as valid as another woman’s problem, one women does have the potential to possess more privilege than the other. It is important for such women to recognise the privilege they have and that we are all responsible for making feminism more inclusive. We must all be conscious of issues that are unique to different women and more importantly, provide support for each other - and that includes ALL individuals. Presently, concerns that are most prevalent to me include fetishisation, in particular the fetishisation of women of colour, the under-appreciation and underrepresentation of women of colour in the media, the appropriation and distortion of their appearances and customs and the Eurocentric beauty ideals heavily ingrained into society.
In which ways does feminism play a role in your art practice?
I aim to incorporate elements of feminism into much of my work, as equally as it seems to naturally inspire the majority of my work itself. I’m 18 and currently studying, so I’m yet to have created a large body of work, or more truthfully, explored myself through art that reflects issues and ideas inherent to intersectional feminism, most of which is pertinent to my own identity. However, as my education as a feminist grows it becomes inevitable that I will continue to record down concepts for future projects that I will be able to execute once I’ve finished studying. Currently, much of my work concerns the liberation of women’s sexuality and bodies, though I would definitely like to expand on broader issues in the future.
Words and images by Shaye Duong