One of the first things that started me off on my adult journey into creativity and passion was a disdain for certain realities that were prevalent in our society. I discovered a book in the library and somehow got my hands on it and the book was titled 'Sex Traffic'. Being a naughty pre-teen I thought this meant something cool, and adult, and I so I took it and thought I'd discover something intriguing. However, this wasn't the case at all. It was in fact about the abuse of the sex industry and sex slavery in eastern europe and western europe specifically. The book was full of accounts and stories of women and children who had been subject to this form of abuse, and once I had been awakened to this, at age 11, I could not look back - I couldn't even look forward - I was frozen in a horror; that there was a society that existed that engaged in sexual-slavery of women and children and was run by male mafia lords and an overly corrupt system (that managed to even get itself to offical court status in Eastern European countries)
It is primarily this immediate reaction at a young age that much later on, especially after many of my own experiences with sexual assualt as a young girl coming of age in a big, unforgiving and lad-culture filled (London) that I came to the mindset of producing something like #waxchick.
The use of my own body in the series is often dismissed as an exercise in self-appreciation (;?) but the reality of the matter is the representation and ownership of the women's body; her character beneath vs how it is presented to the outside world / the use of clothing as suggestion/fetisisation of the body & the female body and the sexualisation of the woman in culture overall - from historically until now. And this isn't just an abstract work on the issue coming from an abstract perspective i.e. a considerate male perspective, but it's after having experienced direct impact of this world, this culture, on my own body. After having experienced the full impact of this culture's teachings; from my obsession with being considered desirable as soon as I hit 9 years old, and from the mis-treatment of my body and person by men young and old that is fuelled by content such as the robin thicke music video; and trust me, it wasn't funny - but I know exactly where this kind of behaviour is coming from, and I wanted to do something about that.

Being the female artist in question, the presentation, ownership and use of my own body in this particular context is most appropriate, as it displays the intention of the female artist (the producer of the artwork) to present how the portrayal of self-objectification vs the objectified/represented female form shot/drawn/seen by a male artist is received - which is a particularly crucial question. Portrayal of the perfected female form popular to the male gaze is seen across a wide range of media, both current and historic - the painting, the sculpture, the fashion image.

However the visual voice of the female artist and her portrayal of other women aside from this gaze is limited in culture, most images of women are generated by men, and many female concepts of themselves are repressed / internalised views that represent the male gaze inclusively - a self-objectification on the women's part. Debatably the issue of make up, body hair and body shape - particularly our understanding of this, social pressures to conform to this and why it exists.

Without delving into easily-overlooked formats and stylistic cliches is there a way to analyse this behaviour and attack it - challenge it, distort and subvert it - try to make the viewer, the actor, the participant self aware? How do you tell a person committing these acts they are wrong when the rest of society is telling them they're ok to do this? Being eastern-european myself, I can openly say this is a huge issue in eastern-european, ex-soviet-block culture. It is a form of accepted, and seemingly acceptable misogyny that pervades throughout day-to-day culture there, and is embedded in both men and women, regardless of their position in life. Women accept this kind of behaviour as part of life, and that is something that should certainly be challenged - to change, to alter, to remove if possible.

There is less obvious ingrained misogyny that people openly see here in Western culture, which confuses some viewers making them wonder ' but what is the need for this?', however sexploitation of women persists here most prevalently from advertisements, influence of american culture - (music videos, pop, big brands, cultural iconography) and fashion/media outlets. The most immediate way for me to consider challenging this state of mind was to start to attack or subtly subvert these areas specifically, and in doing so hopefully attract attention to the issue of our way of looking at and portraying the female character, her being and presence. I'm looking to discuss the areas of female sexuality, the male gaze, the dominance of male or female presence in storytelling, the issues of the 'powerful' female and issues of sex-positive female behaviour: women being shamed for their sexuality or sexual liberation - which works to keep patriarchal treatment of women rife.

Waxchick is my own project so it is limitless - boundary-less, I can go exactly to the furthest realms with it, and that is what I have tried to do. My own frustration at the commercial industry has led me to create the series. Initially wanting to comment on the representation of women in advertising & pop culture, the series has now expanded to a general critique of 'forced media' - forced advertising, and consumer culture. The main aspects of Waxchick in the imagery is the analysis of the male-directed gaze in the way we see women stylised, portrayed and exhibited for selling purposes - in cinema, music videos, pornography and outdoor advertising. Critics have asked many questions that are all important - 'why is this relevant?' ' 'do we need to address how women appear in pop culture, when women have lots of power here in the UK' etc. But the point is global.

It is very personal, and its personal for women, men and LGBT individuals too. The point is regardless of the amount of women 'in power' - it is the voice I want to challenge - how often in popular media do we see positive roles that women portray? In how many films do we see women being versatile, diverse characters? Why are women in the 'minority / special ' categories of film festivals, doctors forms etc - we are half the population this is ridiculous, so how can anyone suggest this is an area not to challenge!
I rarely see portrayals of women that I can relate to or believe in cinema, advertising, publications, music - most media output seems to retain the conventional male gaze and male view of women, and this really affects the younger generation of how they see themselves and as modern women in the West with an essence of ability, we need to make our voice heard in regards to this.

In regards to critics who consider the images to be sexualised - I think its important to note the reasoning behind that. That the pictures are designed to create a stylised version of the male-gaze specifically, and must do so subtly, not with any overt feminist undertones so as to pose this as a question to viewers particularly in the outdoor advertisement-parodies: will these images affect our common passer-by or are we so immune and bombarded with such existing imagery that it doesn't seep through?

I'm a female artist, so I direct my own work, and promote it and make use of it. I also feature in it as the performer - the object / the subject / the situation / the female. So in opposition to male artists who use the female body, I am using my own body to tell the story - not the body of another. I am using it to tell the story of women, and of where women have come from and where they are going - so I start with talking about where they are now. And where I see them being now is still in a place of transition from the male-view of themselves that they outwardly wear and carry - to the future view of themselves that they hope to achieve. And that middle area is where many women still see themselves through that internalised male gaze - so they style and dress and think themselves as part of that - and the future of women - where they are truly sexually liberated, strong / vulnerable , themselves, versatile, however they want to be - uninhibited! Where they can photograph their body, they can talk about their sex lives, they can post topless photos and naked photos and not be afraid of being shamed - this is what we want for the future and not where we are.

I wish we could do as we please and feel good about it, but even my series is causing controversy and being banned in places when it really isn't that intense at all in terms of 'banning' - I think its crazy. People just don't seem to be comfortable with the topic.

Gisele Defares answered that well in an article for Literally Darling where she referred the historic nude to the contemporary woman - that we have only just started to see the 'uninhibited woman' being presented and displayed in art and people seem to be so shocked and surprised by that. The arrest of the female artist in Japan who created a 3D sculpture of her vagina is a shocking problem - how can someone be arrested by an 'obscenity law' for documenting her body, while Manga and areas like this create very explicit illustrations of violence against woman - a hypocrisy at the very least. 4 of my billboards were denied posting by the advertising companies as they were deemed too explicit although they just showed women with more 'force or presence' - there was no nudity, no overt explicitness, they just seemed to have a character and were in underwear - but as the advertising interim agency that also was surprised at the censorship said "We see thousands of underwear adverts with models so we thought your image would be fine, we didn't understand why the billboard company denies its publication." They answer from the billboard company was that the image was too "provocative" or had "provocative implications" - so as long as it just showed a passive underwear model this would be fine, but as it showed a woman in underwear with a purpose it wasn't!

What are the most important influences in your work?
Powerful and independent women who are upset at the status quo, female film-makers and female artists who often take on areas that are considered 'male' I find inspiring and exciting. Women that ‘balance beauty and brains’ (scoff!), and intellectual women who help create change, inspire ideas and encourage confidence in others. 2016-2017


Vasilisa Forbes 2018