how the internet has given marginalized artists a voice
Internet artist Vanessa Omoregie talks to i-D about being young, black and female in a predominantly white male art world.
From revenge porn to cam girls, thanks to the all-seeing, ever-prying lens of the internet, images of naked and objectified women are being circulated more frequently than a Kim Kardashian selfie. In almost all circumstances, these women are both sexualized and objectified under the male gaze. But you only need to look at art's history of traditional nudes to see how this isn't something new. White male image-makers have been objectifying naked women for centuries - and artist Vanessa Omoregie has simply had enough. Melding art historical nudes with webcam shots of semi-nude women, the south London born, UCA graduate is turning a history of oppression on its head. But it's not just images of women she wants to emancipate; she wants to empower women and other minority image-makers, too.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
I'm from south London; I've pretty much lived here my whole life. I graduated a year ago after studying fashion promotion and imaging at UCA and since then I've been working on trying to create work out of the context of school and trying to be an adult at the same time.
When did you first become interested in art?
Hmm, that's so hard to pin point. I took a few art-based subjects at secondary school so I want to say it was then, but I feel like it was before that. I've always been interested in making things and playing with the way things looked even if I didn't really know what I was doing at the time.
How would you describe your overall aesthetic?
Lazy luxury, too many files on my desktop, cut and paste.
What is it you're trying to do with your work?
I think most importantly I'm really trying to document how the internet is being used, and expose how our virtual counterparts can be as real as 'real life'.
What do you stand for?
Black artists and black women, putting ourselves in spaces and discussions where we're not immediately welcome.
If you could change one thing about the art world what would it be?
It's so expensive but at the same time, it's not taken seriously enough either in some respects. I don't get that.
You're a member of the Bunny Collective, why is it important to exhibit in female only spaces?
It's really hard to find your voice and what it is you actually want to say. Then it's even harder to be heard and not be drowned out, so it's great to find people in the same position who share the same struggles. It's really important to have spaces not just for women, but also for marginalized groups and those who are so easily overlooked. Spaces where we don't have to strain over the voices of people who are constantly center stage.
Would you consider your work as empowering?
I feel like we should attempt to remove discussions of 'empowerment' as a universal term, it seems like it's becoming another way to tell women how to act and feel. I feel really uncomfortable talking about my work in that way. But I'm empowered by my own art because it means I'm sharing ideas and seeing my thoughts in front of me. I hope people who have the same ideas feel like they've found something they can relate to.
What's the story behind your CamGirls project?
I wanted to explore how women are perceived in art and how the internet skews things. It's a project that's grown a lot from its point of origin. I got into a lot of discussions about themes of censorship, respectability politics and digital identity.
What is the significance of historical nude references?
They were a good starting point I felt. They're a type of art that's so dominant and it was very tempting to try to dismantle it in some way.
Can a naked woman truly be celebrated on the internet without it being objectified and sexualized?
It's annoying, but I don't think so. It shouldn't be the case. From this though, I think it's more about changing the narrative into a positive one about ownership rather than constantly being worried about the male gaze. But it's difficult to escape judgment in an environment that feels both private and exposed at the same time.
What reactions did you get from participants?
Extremely mixed, some found it great and took it into their own hands and interpreted 'copy this pose' in so many different ways. Also a lot of negative opinions where I got into discussions about the project's intentions, and if I was actually doing the project for the right reasons. I think people thought I was a guy.
What does beauty mean to you?
What is the story behind the Venus Self Project?
I wanted to step back from CamGirls, but I still wanted to explore the same topics of identity and women pictured in art. I wanted to put myself in the place of Venus and how she would look like on screen, and not just as a painting. So I played around with how I viewed her as a file format, as different pixels put together to let her really exist in a virtual way.
Does it matter if people are only making feminist art because it's cool, if it's still getting the message out there anyway?
I don't like the idea of it as a trend, because it should be something that's the norm. It shouldn't be something that makes a boom one season and then a few months down the line suddenly people stop caring about how women are being treated. I hope people aren't that fickle. Genuine art that's raising questions about something that affects us all shouldn't be dismissed as a trend.
What has the internet done for female artists?
If anything it's helped people to mobilize and get in touch with so many different kinds of women that maybe we wouldn't be able to meet in our day-to-day lives. Exposing our work is easier and faster so we can break more boundaries, and become more than just 'female artists'.
What would you say to those who don't take internet art seriously?
It's boring constantly trying to defend it. Get with the winning team!
Text Tish Weinstock
Imagery courtesy Vanessa Omoregie