Self-Portraiture and Healing
TORONTO | WORDS BY GEORGIA GARDNER | VISUAL ARTS - Issue 6
"STILL HERE JUST WAITING" by Quinn Rockliff
Over the last decade, social media has become a platform for sharing experiences, and in turn, a tool for healing. Quinn Rockliff, a multidisciplinary feminist artist from Toronto who’s work focuses on nude portraiture, understands the challenges of authenticity, and managing vulnerability online. Quinn spoke candidly about reclaiming her body after trauma through the repetitive act of self-portraiture, and how she hopes to help others do the same by creating spaces for ownership, self love, and empowerment. By confronting the shame surrounding womanhood and sexuality, she advocates for the unlearning of society's misogyny, and the practice of moving through the world thoughtfully.
sM | In what ways do you think women can and have been using social media to reclaim female sexuality? What do you think is missing?
QR — We, as millennials, grew up in an interesting time because we got social media right as we were coming of age, which means that we were the first to explore learning and playing with the boundaries of ourselves, our bodies and our sexuality. That also came with a really heavy price tag, which was the expectation to look a certain way, and feed into desirability politics that I feel that women can never win at.
There is a never ending double edged sword of sharing your body online but also not sharing too much. There is a narrative that we have always been told by adults and teachers that everything we post online will be out there in the world forever so we had better be careful with what we post. At the same time, all of our social value is being placed on likes and social media. At the time in my life when I stopped posting filtered selfies, and started posting nude drawings, it was my way of challenging these expectations of our generation. If you’re going to demand my sexuality and my nudity from me, I am going to be in charge of how you perceive me and how I share that.
There was this looming threat that when you share nude photos of yourself privately that they would then all of a sudden become part of the public sphere. So, by taking those nude photos of myself and painting them I was kind of saying, sure, you can threaten to leak my nudes, but I’m going to leak them first in my own way.
"MINE" by Quinn Rockliff
When we were younger, there was a lot of shame and no reality from adults about the ways in which the young men around us were invading our bodies and distributing them to others. At first I didn’t really know why or what I was drawing when I started my art process. I just found myself drawing my body again and again. Now I know that it was a means for me to really see and reclaim my own body after trauma, because I felt as though I had lost control over who got to see my body and how it was perceived by others. Through drawing myself naked I was able to spend time with my own body and appreciate it.
There was a wave initially of people online who were being honest and vulnerable. It was quite a new concept for women to be using an online platform in that way. However, there has definitely been a big shift as social media has become industrialized, where it has been commodified into a business. I think it's tricky when we see brands and influencers using honesty and vulnerability alongside product placement and branding. I feel as though these posts can be untrustworthy. Is that what they really mean, or are they just being paid to say that? Personally, what I try to focus on when talking about my experiences and about these issues of confidence, being a survivor, being a woman and being a growing feminist online is that I’m really only talking about myself as a cisgender white woman.
I cannot, and do not want to be the mouthpiece for any sort of agenda because I don’t experience what other people experience. I think it's really important for us to remember that when we are talking online and beginning to brand and commodify these ideas about self love. I think we need to be very careful of who is being involved in these conversations and who is being left out.
Photography & Illustration by Quinn Rockliff
sM | In what ways do you think healing is not linear, and how do you measure progress on a daily basis, especially on the bad days?
QR — So much of my healing is found through my art. That can be tough when you start to do art as a career because there is an expectation that you should continue to create your art on bad days. Something I’ve been working on a lot lately is taking a week or a day off and not painting anything on bad days. Even though art is my mode of healing, sometimes that break can be really restorative for me. Then I can return to the studio and really work through the things I was reflecting on, because it can take a bit of time to work through, and it allows my thoughts to catch up to the pen and paper, or the paint and canvas.
For me, progress has been about accepting that there will always be things that will sit with you for your whole life but you have the capacity to give yourself the grace to work through them and be patient with yourself . That is what growth looks like for me. There was a time where I thought if I just worked through this everyday one day I would be better, and I wouldn’t be sad anymore. But I don’t think that is realistic. I think you have to keep showing up and being gentle and kind to yourself.
"THAT'S BETTER" by Quinn Rockliff
Our bodies are not changing drastically from one day to the other but for some reason our minds play tricks on us and it is easy to be influenced by the content that you see online, or the people that you surround yourself with. The act of drawing my body everyday is a good way to battle any body dysmorphia that I might be feeling because when I abstract my body in these line drawings, I am able to see them in a new light, and not be so focused on the small aspects of myself in real life that I have decided to hate that day. When I decide to draw them I have to see them in a new way. That can be refreshing.
When I first started posting online the things that I was most scared to say, that I was really nervous to post about, were always the things that people resonated with the most. As women we have been taught to be afraid and shameful of things that most of us have experienced, things like body hair, body fluids, sexual desire. We have so much shame around all of these things and we don’t know why. I love talking to women about things they’ve realized just aren’t true. What are the lies you’ve been told about your body? Or the ways that we desire or feel? I don’t feel that much fear about what I post anymore, because most people tend to feel the same way.
When I first started talking online, no one was talking about how healing isn’t linear, no one was even talking about experiencing trauma. Now I hope we have become more sensitive about the ways we talk about these things online. Trauma is so wrapped up in our everyday experience that it is hard to parcel out. I do think how trauma is handled online is important to talk about.
sM | Coming out of a global pandemic, have your messages about body ownership changed since you started? Has it made you think differently?
QR — At the beginning of the pandemic I had a lot of time to reflect and be really introspective. This pandemic has given me so much time in the studio. That has required a lot of reflection. Like many others, my body changed a lot during the pandemic so it has helped me strengthen my desire to show up for my body and represent it. There has been a lot of learning in terms of what it means to be a white woman in a space, so I have been doing a lot of learning and reflecting behind the scenes about how I take up space and how to create space for others. Post pandemic, I’m excited for future generations to be more informed. The next generation of women in their 30’s and the Generation Z women who are reclaiming their body and sexuality have been given access to so many people's narratives that are not their own. This new age of women are given the ability to interact with people who have had similar shared experiences, that we perhaps thought we were alone in.
Once I became intentional about the people that I surrounded myself with and “unfollowed” people on virtual spaces that were not allowing for a healthy mindset, I was really able to imagine a new existence for myself. I saw women being shameless about their sexuality online. I saw men who were vocal about issues that I thought men didn’t talk about. I learned about the experiences of transgender women, and I learned and listened to women of colour. All of these voices online that I wouldn’t necessarily have had access to if I hadn’t "followed" them have really shaped me in how I moved through the world today, it is constantly challenging my perspective and requiring me to rethink how I want to talk about my body.
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