Reporting historic rape; telling women’s stories; & the Solstice

It began in a funk; I was depressed and disinclined to leave my home on Thursday 1st June. Yet I had planned to go to a Women’s Equality Party meeting in Catford, of the Lewisham branch which I had recently become a member of. A friend of mine was going to come with me. She isn’t local but had also joined the party and encouraged me to do likewise. I messaged her to say I was not well and couldn’t make it; she responded that she was already on her way! So I quickly put sandals on (it was warm), and went to meet her. We had time before the meeting to sit in the park and chat.

After a couple of hours, and a drink, for by now we were in the beer garden of the pub where the meeting was due to take place, we got on to a subject she had been wanting to discuss with me for a while. Rape. I wrote a blog post almost a year ago, about being raped 22 years ago. This had resonated with her, but it had taken her a while to find the opportunity to bring the subject up. She started describing something that had happened to her about 9 years ago, being raped, and why she hadn’t felt inclined to report it until reading my blog.

As she described her experience and all the details, particularly of the man involved, I began to pick up on distinct similarities. I asked her pointed questions about the location and his physical and personality description, and came to the conclusion that this was the same man. We were struck with incredulity! How had this happened to us both, with the same man? Before we knew each other, and many years apart. How extraordinary. At that point it was necessary for her to check old emails, as her experience had, unlike mine, happened within the digital era. There were email records, with other digital links. This could lead somewhere and we were just left with the certainty that we would both report it to the police.

This process has since been underway, beginning with making contact with Rape Crisis UK. We wanted to learn about the system we would be getting involved in before contacting the police. We wanted to be prepared for a very challenging mission. This proved to be a brilliant move and I found much value from all contacts concerned. I was guided early on to the extremely helpful ‘From Report to Court’ document, written by The Rights of Women. This spells out step by step what to expect from the legal process and what you are entitled to as a victim or witness. It makes clear that there are a lot of safeguards and improvements in the system for victims these days. It actually made me feel firstly very empowered for the knowledge of the process, and secondly encouraged to go forward with my report. It made me feel supported, knowing that The Rights of Women exist, and that although there’s still a long way to go in dealing with sexual violence, there are structures in place to protect us. I knew there was help out there, and Rape Crisis also proved to be really efficient and supportive.

Not long after reading ‘From Report to Court’ I felt inspired to switch on Woman’s Hour one morning, and most fortunately the woman speaking, Karen Gardner, was describing her experience of taking a rapist to court and the legal system. I seemed to be in synch with the universe (I by no means often listen to the programme, and I had not checked the content in advance)! What she said was far less favourable than what I had read about in the document, and her experience was recent and in London. It made it apparent that sadly victims often don’t receive the good care and all they are in fact entitled to. It was useful to get this real life account, but also the speaker said that she still felt it was worthwhile. Even if there is not enough evidence to prosecute, and it is a very difficult case, you as a victim are doing your bit to achieve justice. This may be beneficial for your own inner peace and ability to move on, and it may also help to protect potential future victims. The report will still exist even if the perpetrator cannot be sentenced. It may add to a body of evidence. That said, I understand well why many women do not report, and that it may not always be helpful for a woman to do so.

I was assigned an advocate who I met up with a few days later. She added more insight to what I had gathered already. Where I had been led to believe that if my friend and I continued speaking with each other, this could be used against us if the case went to court, as we may supposedly be contaminating each others’ evidence, this turned out not to be the case, much to our relief. While we are obliged not to discuss the case once it is in the hands of the police, that does not inhibit our friendship otherwise. I had wondered how victims would feel encouraged to come forwards if they could not support each other during an already testing time.

My advocate accompanied me to the police station to make my first report. I was not exactly in a traumatised state, so many years later, but I did feel anxious and I knew that her presence would only be positive. In the end it took more than two hours with quite a lot of waiting around, and the policewoman not being sure of protocol in such a situation so checking with others upstairs. But it was fine. I had already tried to think about it from their point of view, the facts they would want to know, some of which are uncomfortable to remember, while others I could not. I was able to describe the scenario fairly matter of factly, while she looked up spellings in the dictionary! She listened, asked sensitively, and very importantly, I felt believed and treated with respect. I was thanked for my patience, for coming forward and being brave. This was the beginning of an important process that is a sort of turning point.

A few days later my assigned SOIT (Sexual Offences Investigative Techniques) officer called to check a few details that the first officer had missed. These concerned the nature of consent, or lack of; questions that help to determine if, when and how the perpetrator committed crimes. To understand how the case may unravel in court if it gets there, what sort of line of defence would be likely, and perhaps the probability of a successful conviction. These questions could feel intrusive, but they are important. I felt very grateful to be approaching this now, so long after as I am not so reactive. There are still triggers, but I can see them more. I was aware that if I was freshly traumatised, this process would be an ordeal I think. I don’t know how they improve that for victims. In cases where it is not physical overpowering that is involved so much as psychological manipulation, there may be a very strong burden of guilt on the victim, for allowing it to happen. Yet the more people that come forward about these sorts of cases, the better understood they should become and more familiar to those who work within the law and police.

It is an unexpected turning point, even if a natural progression from sharing the blog post. I did not expect this, but it has been a game-changer in terms of going to the police. This has allowed me to consider the past differently already; I have imagined being in court, seeing him again, what I would say. It has bonded me in a newly bizarre way with my friend, and that certainly helps one to feel empowered on this path. I reconsidered the actual impact of the rape all those years ago. Where I had blurred the memory into the hectic and intense events that soon followed in my life at the time, I now unpicked it. The rape itself had happened at a turning point. I was at a very critical juncture; soon to leave home, make a new beginning, and I lacked strong guidance. What was going to affect my choices? Maybe I would have made the same ones anyway but I will never know. That incident stood out at the time as extremely disturbing. I masked it with drugs because I didn’t know how to get justice.

Apart from this serious matter, I have been aching for new activity on the artistic and activist front. Something to distract me from dwelling too long in the past, and focus instead on creating a new Spirited Bodies format. I met the Feminist Library last year when working at the Fawcett Society conference in London, and having visited them knew that they have a workshop space. I wanted a venue that share my values and were not commercially driven. I also felt it was time to involve professional models in a more active (and paid) way. It is all very well creating a space for body empowerment through life drawing, but as a professional model myself, I want to work with my colleagues rather than separately. I want them to share their experience in a way that enhances their modelling role. I want to include all our voices, especially of women who are outside of mainstream beauty ideals. I want to give them a chance to share their feelings and any difficulties they may have come up against by giving them a lot of freedom to create their session in their own way (with some guidance), so expecting variety! The new series is called the Stories of Women and began on 17th July, for women only. The next is on Monday – 21st August, featuring model Jennifer Farmer.

Finally, this year’s Summer Solstice celebration was exceptional with the heatwave coinciding perfectly! This time my friends and I were not the only ones with the same idea at Hilly Fields stone circle! We were in brilliant company and enjoyed sharing a ritual with lovely folk, dancing naked until late. I leave you with a few images and a lovely clip which was originally found on Instagram.

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By Rodger Kibble

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By Rodger Kibble

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Day of the Girl – a feminist Love revolution

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Looking East as we rose on the London Eye, #DayoftheGirl October 11

In December 2011 the UN decided to create the International Day of the Girl, which is October 11 each year. The day is to raise awareness of the many inequalities faced by girls around the world, and to celebrate their achievements. Women of the World (WOW) at Southbank Centre, London, mark the occasion by a day filled with activities for girls, including speed mentoring early in the morning with successful women in a diverse range of fields, on the London Eye. I took part as a mentor on Tuesday and found it very rewarding. I remember how much I could have done with some good advice on real life matters when I was a young teenager. At that age the adults you mostly get to speak to may be family or teachers, and may not touch on all your areas of interest. I was very moved and this is what I wrote.

Caitlin Moran said, this country has been run by men who went to boarding schools for far too long. These schools are like businesses that people pay to send their children to. They are not like the real world where people care about each other.

She said, she’s met these men, and they are not more clever or special than many of us. They were just brought up to feel entitled to lead, but they do not understand most of us. She said, no one will ever just hand you power, you have to go and get it. Don’t worry that you don’t look like the others who have power, it’s ok to look different. She said it’s an exciting time because we have the possibility to change things in massive ways.

She had a message for the teenage girls, to be kind to themselves, and to learn how to accept compliments, because many find that very difficult and struggle with low self esteem. She advised them about their future – to follow their passion and make something of their own, a project or career. Because in the end the satisfaction you get from those achievements of what is within you to succeed, will be far more rewarding than what you get from a marriage or from having children. My heart sang. It is so important that girls are told this, that they (we) are reconditioned.

She said Love yourselves, and be nice. Be kind to each other and support other women.

This Day of the Girl had already moved me so much. It was afternoon now in the Royal Festival Hall, but breakfast had brought me to tears.

I had been so hard on myself the day before, so angry because I thought I had failed. I had performed Girl in Suitcase at the weekend and was looking back with unflinchingly self-critical eyes. I knew I must do much better, and told myself sternly what needed to change in future.

Still I went to bed early and though it took a while to quiet my mind for sleep, I was woken by the alarm when it played at 5:30am. Deliberately getting up at that hour is usually reserved for journeys to foreign lands. This, however was to take a different sort of flight. I showered, dressed, grabbed a bite and then cycled to Southbank Centre. I went in the building and was given a name badge and told I was in Capsule U. I got a cup of tea and waited; I was in good time. To my surprise when the voice on the tannoy announced the first groups to make their way to the London Eye, U was one of them. As we gathered, I recognised one of the women. I was unsure if she was facilitating, or mentoring like me, as I had seen her working at Southbank Centre before, as well as giving a talk at this year’s WOW. It was about her experience of the criminal justice system – serving time in prison and coming clean off drugs after many years’ addiction. I introduced myself and told her I had seen her powerful talk. She said it had been an important moment for her as since then she had gone on to give many talks in prisons and to the NHS for example. By telling her story she could destigmatise people with addictions to help health and legal professionals understand that treating them like patients is far more positive than as criminals. Her name was Nina, and she was also mentoring. It was her first time, my second. I had taken part in this 3 years ago, but had since doubted how helpful I could be to school girls. This year however I had regained confidence and felt that this would be a very good thing for me to do. Meeting Nina before we even started really reassured me. I was not alone with my dodgy past and unconventional pathway. I was in brilliant company! I settled into my group with ease, feeling absolutely certain that I had very valuable contributions to give to the girls we would be mentoring. Whatever they wanted to know, I had real life experience, and I had come a long way. I knew things they for sure were not taught in school. What a privilege and wonderful opportunity for me too.

We were on the Eye for an hour, in each capsule a group of 8 mentors and 8 mentees, and each mentor spoke with 3 different girls for 15 minutes each, answering their questions, having a dialogue. Two of the girls I connected with were considering futures in the arts, one with singing, the other in musical theatre, so I was at least partially in the right ballpark. I know how tough it can be in the arts as a performer, but also how important to follow your calling. I have been through drama school, a bit of university and chanced my way as a jobbing actor before deciding I preferred to create my own work and perform it. Mostly the girls’ questions and conditioned attitudes reminded me (remarkably after 25 years difference! – they were 14 years old) of how school and middle class norms taught me to think when I was their age. How little has changed! It’s not all bad, but it’s not necessarily realistic, or helpful. Mostly the prevailing attitude talks up the importance of financial security, so anyone considering a career in the arts is advised to have at least one back-up plan in case it doesn’t work. That’s all well and good, but starting out with that in mind is a bit like sabotaging your truest desires. Thinking you have failed before you begin. No one wants to prepare young people for the possibility of being out of work for a while, taking low level jobs so you have the headspace to be creative, and definitely not that you might end up doing a more dodgy job like I did. But it happens, quite a lot. My pathway is unique, but so many women try similar things to get by and maintain their independence. The reality is, for most of us if we want to make it as an artist, it will take a while to find our niche. There will be struggles, but that doesn’t mean the moment there isn’t a stable income (!) we should give up and become an accountant. Unless that works for you, and, some people are better at managing several jobs at once, so again you have to find how it is for you. How many of the older people I model for say they wanted to be an artist, but needed a proper income, so after going to art school decided to train in something else. They then got caught up in a mortgage and raising a family until much later in life when freed up, they decided to enrol in art classes. This generation might not have such options – perhaps it’s better to follow dreams in the present instead of deferring.

My other mentee wanted a career in games concept design. Not so much my area but I do model for quite a few animation studios and games design students at university, as well as having dated the odd geek, so I knew a wee bit.

After our Eye revolution, I caught up with Nina a bit more over a coffee, before the talks in the Clore Ballroom led by Jude Kelly. I filled her in more about my past; Soho and the drugs. She asked if I, like her, had told my story. I said I’d been inspired by Jude’s rape survivor talks at WOW, as I had largely buried some of my own experiences, or classified them as insignificant, not worthy of note. A misappropriation, since rape was being opened up for discussion now in the 21st century, and the definition considered more widely without fear of shame. I told Nina I have been writing about some of my experiences, and performing them. Some of it is quite recent. She has a few years on me, and she looked at me wisely and said, “You’ve just begun to tell your story”. I could tell she meant that I would need to tell it and tell it and keep telling it before I was properly healed, and empowered by it. I knew in my blood that this was true, I felt it. I shed tears, and welled up some more as Jude got started with some very stirring speakers.

There was Fatima Manji, the news reader who wore a hijab whilst reporting on the recent Nice attack, and was subsequently criticised for doing so by a Sun journalist. She had spoken up bravely to make it known that it is not ok to discredit someone because of what they choose to wear. There was Frances Morris who is the new artistic director of the Tate Modern – and the first woman to have the job. There was Chi-chi Nwanoku who founded Europe’s first BME classical orchestra, and Luisa Omielan, an award winning comedian. There was also an inspirational 6th form prefect. Two other teenage girls were given the mic too, later in the day on stage with Caitlin reading excerpts from her ‘Moranifesto’, and I think it was important to include them. To show we are not just listening to the mostly white “successful” women in our society, but are also aware of younger women of colour (as it happened) who may be lesser known now, but are already making their mark. One was a spoken word poet leading a collective of performers in her school, and the other, June Eric-Udorie. The very articulate June successfully campaigned a year ago to keep feminism on the Politics A Level syllabus (it was going to be removed), and as well have more female thinkers added, as there was only one (Mary Wolstencraft) out of 16, included. Whilst doing her A Levels, she also writes for the Guardian among other publications.

By the time we went upstairs to listen to Jo Brand and Jude chatting, I was beyond speaking during the networking periods before and after. Nina had gone to a meeting, and I had spoken all that I needed to for the morning. Something had moved inside me, in my heart something was healing but still tender. I was very happy to sit on the floor and just enjoy Jo Brand’s deadpan wit combined with reassuringly human nature. I am quite used to listening to Jude, so it is a more familiar pleasure watching her in conversation with many amazing women.

The strong warm glow and buzz that I left Day of the Girl with, was the same feeling I get at WOW, but I think it’s growing. I really felt that the intelligent women in this country and beyond who have achieved some power, have gotten together and decided that they want all girls and women to share that, to have the same and more. They want to change the world and they are inspiring all of us. They wanted to support us all, in a really loving way, to big us up and encourage all our aspirations. It is a political movement, but there is spirit in it too. It is full of heart and Matriarchal Love. I felt like I belong, and I never want to lose that feeling. I noticed afterwards that some of my usual default thought patterns of comparing myself with others negatively especially when tired, had evaporated. I could overide them now, I was on a higher level. There were more important things to connect with, and bigger aims were possible. I ceased to self criticise as well, as I felt in my heart that there was a reason my weekend performance hadn’t been polished. A superficial shine hadn’t been important for this show – it was all about the content. I was delivering some very personal lines for the first time, live. Revealing sensitive material about my past, to both friends and strangers in my own city. That was what counted, Nina had reminded me without realising. That was what I had to prioritise. Not the blood and glitter, nor interacting with the audience like a cliched hooker, nor allowing them to body paint me – albeit this created a beautiful connection. My focus must be the lines of truth concerning delicate intimate secrets of my past. That’s all. My performance, my therapy.

Caitlin said, we don’t yet know what the world looks like and feels like when women have equality, it hasn’t been created yet. It’s up to us to make it, to have a revolution. Everything could be different; we might invent new economic systems since capitalism doesn’t work. We might create new political systems as the current one is definitely corrupt. Family, social, religious and geo-political structures may completely change. If each of us chooses to live our lives as fully as possible, to make the world better for everyone.

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My view from the London Eye on the morning of October 11, 2016.

Spirited Sound, Love and Life

I want to begin a while back, because this road has been a long journey. This year has been more challenging, but also finally a turning point – in my art, with Spirited Bodies, and in my love life. It all happens at once, yet in stages. I get challenged about why I am sharing the personal, in an art project which is supposedly more for the benefit of others, and I respond, because when I was a younger woman I missed an older female role model, who had the appropriate life experience. I struggled with that, until things gradually fell more into place. I wouldn’t have listened to anyone who purported to understand, and I’d know if they really did. Any more privileged woman who thought she knew best, definitely didn’t. Now of course, I may be the more privileged woman for many, but I am happy to share that it hasn’t always felt thus, and if in some way my message can reach distant others, that is what was in my heart all along.

In short since late May, this year has included several frustrated attempts at connections with venues and individuals with whom I seemingly failed to build a rapport. Trans activists (who were not actually trans themselves) with whom it was impossible to have a sensible discussion about trans issues and how they intersect with the needs of cis women rape survivors in some cases. Competitive women with similar projects to mine, who either viewed me with suspicion, or just thought they knew better. Community collectives who were not open enough to host Spirited Bodies! What could be more appropriate for a community…?

Earlier in the Summer I met Sarah Kent at Brockley Open Studios, in my neighbourhood. We got chatting in artist Gill Hickman’s studio, and something resonated. I attended Sarah’s soundbath and experienced the healing sounds on the floor of her living room. I felt at ease with her, as well as moved by the intense yet soothing vibes. She said expect changes in the next few days, and ideally make space for them.

What I hadn’t known was that my old friend Michael, had died that day or the day before… and I found out a few hours after the soundbath. Michael’s death, for me marked a turning point, a shift of focus. In the middle of Summer this news penetrated layers of the fabric of my being. It took me back to the late 90s when I knew him best, the times and the company we shared. Though I had not been so in touch with Michael in recent years, his strong uncompromising world view sank into me as I relooked at the world through his imagined eyes and the filtered lens of the girl I used to be. Somehow both introvert and extrovert, rebellious, even fearless. The power of youth! While most of us had mellowed, to be fair including Michael in his own minor way, really he had sustained a strikingly similar mentality to what we all remembered. I instantly felt tougher, unaffected by petty crises previously around me. For a while I was invincible! Untouchable. I thought of Michael a lot.

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

My erstwhile longterm relationship that had been faltering, now felt briefly healing again. My partner, connected to the old tribe including Michael, understood intimately my feelings, but the ending of our relationship was imminent. We had drifted apart, and I craved cohesion in my life. A nervous breakdown at one of my modelling jobs alerted me that something had to give. I could not visualise a future that felt fitting, under my current circumstances. The breakdown involved intense feelings of being violated by the artists sculpting me, when in fact I was also aware that neither they nor the tutor (who is one of my favourites) was responsible. The conditions of my life were so disadvantaging me, that I could not see light in my routine. To make a success of my art projects I needed all energies and people in my life to point decidedly the same way, otherwise it was dissipating. I needed freedom. We technically had an open relationship, so when I did find closeness with a new partner, it took me a little while to realise that I could not be so intimate with two men simultaneously. The new relationship rapidly came to mean so much more to me than I could have anticipated. So intense is this new connection that it felt prudent to break up with Aaron. Simple is better; and freshly blossoming love deserves the richest, most fertile ground in which to take root.

In my new partner I found a fellow life model and writer, as well as an enthusiast of all my projects, sharing much passion in nude art adventures, and travel, something I had missed in the past. I also found so much love I hadn’t dreamed of, expected, in one with apparently such different background. His openness, sensitivity, intelligence and understanding take my breath away. As the Autumn took hold, this new excitement grew, and grows. I am in love.

Spirited Bodies again feels in a good place. I have resolved some issues, and feel confident about the involvement of men modelling again. For Spirited Sound I didn’t take any chances with male models. I knew all of the chosen ones personally and felt 100% safe with them. With the help of my partner and other trusted male models, we are creating an exceedingly safe space for everyone. That’s not to exclude the trusted women models from this equation, or the artists, but it was mainly an issue with deceptively inappropriate male models, so feels apt to be solved first, by male models.

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15, at the Bargehouse, Oxo Building, Southbank

The healing power of Spirited Bodies is very important to me. I have explored this a few ways; in more intimate workshops, through interviewing models (and artists) about their experience and playing their recorded voices during sessions. Now with Spirited Sound, a new, more direct, less personal but more universal model has been born. The sound instantly seemed to free up the format, necessarily instigating greater experimentation. Traditional life drawing standards according to the wants of some artists are thrown out. This is all about the Spirited Bodies, and this time we tried some movement poses which was a beautiful way to discover even greater harmony as a group. Three minutes of very slowly opening up from a closed posture into something more expansive, and five minutes of flickering gently together, moving as flames of a fire burning brighter and closer.

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The session was divided into 4 sections, each representing an element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Shorter and movement poses in the first 2 parts, then longer poses for Water and Earth. The models connected with each other when they felt drawn to, as they collectively expressed themselves elementally. Dynamic and expansive for Fire, including a slightly longer Scene from Hell – the fallen among the devils. Light and floaty for Air, as well as being blown together in a very strong gust of wind. Flowing waves for Water where the models lay variously in a row, some interconnecting; and pure grounded connection for Earth, each model occupying their own comfortable (I hope!) space. It was a big pleasure to work with the group of models, several I have gotten to know over time with Spirited Bodies, including professionals who enjoy the deepening experience a lot. They create a warm atmosphere for any newcomer.

5 minutes blowing in the wind

5 minutes blowing in the wind

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Spirited Sound happened because I had connected with Sarah, and she was interested and happy to bring her sound art to Spirited Bodies. It was her idea to work with the elements as a theme, and she created sounds to fit each mood, to accompany and inspire the models (and artists), and weave a layer of vibrational texture into the space. There were bells, singing bowls (including one large one containing water), large gongs, a rainstick, a jingly instrument which when shaken lightly produces an array of gently tingling bell sounds of different notes.

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Spirited Bodies becomes something more layered with the inclusion of sound art; another type of art is intersecting with the life modelling and drawing. A new relationship emerges between musician and models (and artists). Is the sound influencing the models, or vice versa? A bit of an exchange for sure. At one end of the room Sarah laid out her instruments, from where she could see all the action (and stillness) of the models. Had we been in the larger attic space as originally planned, she may have arranged herself in more spread out fashion around the room in order to move about and be among artists and models, so that sounds would emerge from different areas and directions, possibly moving too. Sarah and her instruments could have been linked to the visual aspect of the artists’ attention, perhaps appearing in the art, as positioned within the scenes of poses. The attic also had a particular atmosphere which would have lent itself well to the gravitas of gongs, however it turned out that heating and lighting that space was a task beyond the electricity supply. It was great as it was, but it would also have been fantastic for Sarah to have been slightly more integrated with artists and models. Nevertheless, her presence and sound creation were deeply felt and appreciated by all. This was a joyful collaboration which I hope we may explore again.

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I feel more comfortable with the trans inclusion (to women’s sessions) now. This is very delicate, but it’s important to be open. I sometimes feel that a separate group for women only – excluding non-transitioned trans women – will be helpful (particularly for cis women rape survivors, of whom there are probably more than the entire population of non-transitioned trans women). I will tread carefully. One thought is that, if women’s events are open to all trans women regardless of transition, that gesture is what is important. Possibly those trans women themselves are not interested to come along, and may well realise that their inclusion can be tricky; without wanting to be divisive, there are very different needs at play.

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The issue of competitive women is being resolved too. I am not taking this personally, but see it as symptomatic of us women, learning how to share our power. This might seem odd to be so gendered, but I do think we are not so familiar as men are, with having power in the first place, and often if we do, we are encouraged to beat off the competition. This doesn’t make sense when our projects are about liberation and empowerment, for all, not just some elite. These higher principles must filter through otherwise projects will die.

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Leaving you with a few more pictures of artwork from Spirited Sound. We were very fortunate to have a lovely photographer with us at the event too, so there will be photos of the group of models to follow at some stage. Also, I am just planning an event for December, so keep looking out! And a blog post about the women’s event at Bargehouse will also come soon.

Watery bodies

Watery bodies

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With much gratitude to all the models, artists, and Sarah, as well as Kathy, Angie and Jenny from the Southbank Festival of Creativity at the Bargehouse

Taking the Men out of Menstruation; Return to Women Only at WOW

When I bleed the artists Love me more.

They sense my edge more clearly and it pleases them in their aim to capture me, define me. Even if the power of the Mystery is actually stronger, their overall grasp of my Being is deeper, more profound at that time, because I radiate so vibrantly.

Other times perhaps I’m a bit blurry, but day 1 of my cycle, I’m as crisp as an iceberg, as hot as a volcano, and I melt and pour all over their page. During Menstruation, the artists compliment me more, rebook me more, and generally become more fascinated with me. I have observed this over 8 years of primarily making a living from being a life model.

Sometimes I can smell myself, maybe a little blood has rubbed onto my thigh. Can they smell me too? I’ve heard of artists taking offence at male models getting hard or just dribbling! But female models bleeding; I think they are simply grateful I turn up at all. Lots of female models won’t pose at that time, but I do and I know I excel then. I don’t care if my mooncup overflows and artists get a sight of my rich blood flowing down my leg. In fact I like that they see the whole deal uncovered. It doesn’t happen often as to pose without mooncup or tampon would be extreme, blood necessarily instantly gushing. Only a very feminist life drawing group might go for that, but I haven’t found such yet. To be honest, I haven’t asked. This post my first overt foray into the grit of menstrual posing.

I love my periods and decided to celebrate them with my girlfriends in a red tent group every new moon. The female body and our connection to the natural world and the universe is incredible. I hardly get PMT; at worst it tells me what I need to remove from my life. At best it makes me a lot more badass. Sometimes I want a lot more Me time. I’m less malleable.

I used to experience it more painfully when I was younger, in my early 20s, but I think becoming a life model improved my relationship with my body. I can use the poses like yoga to stretch parts of me that need releasing, sending endorphins on a regular route round my nervous system keeping me in check.

Every day I go to work is a celebration of my body.

Also over the years I have attracted partners who respond more positvely on all levels to my form; less jealousy, greater acceptance and gratitude. Naturally this is a mirror of myself.

PMT may be very individual, but I think many of us can work through it, unblocking its potentially negative hold on us. I believe that it is a cultural construct (and very powerful at that), but it can be undone. That involves unlocking the burdens that have been placed on us by others and ourselves, and figuring out what we actually want for ourselves. In some cultures and in some cases, that may be nigh impossible, but here in the post-Industrial West where the traditional family unit long disintegrated for many of us, reconsidering the life of womankind must assume prominence. We are ripe for it.

Men & Spirited Bodies

Some men are sneaky fuckers. They know how to behave in front of me so I’ll think they are kosher. Then they act like a dick with the female models. They don’t realise some of the women are my friends, so I know all about their idiot tricks.

I’m left with a choice.

a) Don’t bother with men any more.

b) Only invite men to model who I really know and trust. (Male artists very rarely a problem).

c) Get funding as dealing with idiot men is very consuming and one ought to be paid to bother. It would be a great shame to miss all the lovely men out there who may benefit and not cause any problems. But dealing with men in this game involves many idiots.

d) Make the issue clearer at events with announcements at the start outlining the rules.

What can happen when the wrong men pose at Spirited Bodies

Staying still in close proximity to several nude (desirable) women – they get carried away in male fantasy of what this long awaited opportunity means. They have been conditioned to think that because these women are happily naked with them, they may be sexually available. Perhaps they have never been naked with a woman before, never had sex or a girlfriend. There’s a lot of potential issues rumbling around the studio. Not just about the body, not just about sex, but concerning the entire Patriarchal corruption of the male/female relationship.

One more thing about the Blood

That bit at the end of the period or the beginning or even somewhere in the middle on an unpredictable one – where there’s not enough blood to warrant an insertion (tampon/mooncup). Fuck it. I’m just going to bleed a little, smell a tad, because that for me is going with the flow.

Spirited Bodies at Southbank

On Saturday 7th March we return to the Women of the World festival at Southbank Centre. We will be in the Blue Room on the Spirit (ground) Level, from 5 – 7pm. This is a Women only event, for women wanting to model, draw or witness. Interviews with some of the women modelling will be played while they pose (sound recording). Get in touch (info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com) if you would like to book a place to model, draw, or even be interviewed. Limited places. If you get a day pass or a weekend ticket to the festival you can also come. There will be guidance on how to pose if you are new, and this is a very supportive environment if you are nervous. If I have time I will schedule a smaller workshop for women a week or so before the event to warm up for it.

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These pictures are of myself and Hope Deeney posing at Toynbee Art Club, December 2014

A Christmas Workshop in Highgate

I thought for Christmas, a light hearted, fun event, more like the workshops we used to run, and without the intensity of the interviews. Creating amusing scenes with a group of models, so that with the focus on some abstract drama, there is a distraction from the possible discomfort of being nude. A bit of wine and some music to ease the flow, and we will be transported from a community centre to a Winter scene from popular fiction or a fairy tale. Also a return to the workshop format, where each participant has a chance I hope to try modelling and drawing, if that balances with the numbers. There is always space for those who only wish to draw, and for women who only wish to model; for men to model or do both however may be more over-subscribed is usually the case.

In the Autumn I reconnected with Camilla Scaramanga who runs life drawing classes at Holly Lodge community centre in Highgate, and after a chat she was keen to collaborate. I saw the centre as an ideal workshop venue for the upcoming season. She liked the ethos of Spirited Bodies, and shares a feminist disposition, but agreed that a mixed event would be most fortuitous now, to introduce the idea to the area and her group.

I have some personal history with Holly Lodge estate where the community centre is – in the next road down, my Mother grew up when she moved to London in 1963. I visited the place often where my Grandmother resided for many years until she died when I was 14. Her flat was the first place where I came across life art; she herself was an artist who sometimes drew, embroidered and sewed nude women in her art. Her walls were decorated with female nudes by various artists and I did not quite understand her appreciation as a girl. I preferred her more abstract pieces, or those featuring animals as was more fitting with my socialisation, which little did I know included some inhibition about the naked body.

My Grandmother was apparently more relaxed, and looking back I realise she was a greater influence than I ever had the chance to fully acknowledge during her life. She embodied a woman who lived for herself as well as for her family. Her life spanned several careers and different socio-economic climates as well as 3 different husbands. She always married for love, and husband number 2 was a communist American. The plan to migrate to his home in Seattle was thwarted by the US government’s House of Unamerican Activities Committee, so they tried in vane to settle in London, Paris, Switzerland, Austria… and finally grew tired of being tracked down and blocked by the FBI. They found sanctuary in East Berlin where they remained for the rest of their marriage and the formative years of their daughters. My Grandmother – Mary Wolfard, worked for the communist party at various stages in the early years, became a journalist while they lived in Europe, notably though sadly lacking evidence she interviewed Picasso on a beach in Spain, worked in radio in East Berlin; and when none of her socialist credentials were recognised when she moved back to London, she decided to become an artist. I have often wished she might have lived a few more years, as an adult I have so much to ask her! I unfortunately don’t have any photographs of her work, though plenty of it is on the walls of my parents’ home. I have a few pieces at my home also, but just now I am away in France modelling for a month in the Loire valley so unable to provide images. This however has reminded me that some record ought to be made.

I haven’t been to Holly Lodge estate at Christmas time in 23 years. I very much look forward to returning.

For more details please see the Events page, and for inquiries relating to Women, please see here.

 

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Coming back down to Transition Heathrow

My favourite grooove lingers and rolls, batting away the overgrowth in a cave, Dead Can Dance soaring through a number. It’s the call of the wild on a Tuesday evening, and then you know it’s coming. What is keeping this foggy relationship alive? It must be the noxious tentacles wrapping themselves around our limbs and entwining us from the edges of the floor boards. It’s all in the unravelling. Somehow I have a feeling that the past is also the future, well at least part of it.

If I had to stop living in a flat on my own and I wanted to be free to travel, I might appreciate a tent on a site occupied by eco-warriors. I might learn about the land and how to grow food. But how to let go of creature comforts of being coccooned in a dwelling in this society, my own income, my own time. Choice about how I use my space and time, some of which would go if one joined a commune. Yet I might be on a plane more frequently to far away outposts, learn to live with others again, and how to share more. Know that I was off-grid, making it work outside of housing benefit and at a remove from the big conglomorates controlling our direct debits. I don’t think I want it, but at some point I may need it, to shed a layer I don’t even know I can do without.

This year I am shunning bigger opportunities, but I am grabbing wholeheartedly what calls to my soul. As expressed at the beginning of the year (or end of last), I am called to let go of people with interests outside of my own. I am to return to the essence, whatever it takes. I love my autonomy, not being told what to do or fitting in. Then the magic can flourish with abandon when no one else is looking, except the others at the gathering.

As a teen I was drawn to Industrial music, because it encapsulated the horrific sense of being immersed in the grit. Thrown up, left crawling till you fight back. It deconstructed the bullshit with dancefloors pulsing instead of text books. Hormones and endorphines racing and a tribal pounding felt like a sort of initiation when I’d broken away from normality. I was rising in sublime fashion, not without falling first.

Each Spirited Bodies event is a meeting of new models with their inscribers, the people who see them and commit the memory to paper. We hear what drives those on both sides of the platform. Why is this activity so compelling? Being a witness to transformation in an intimate act, in a spiritual, non-judgmental fashion which makes no intrusion, just allows the naked expression to flow. We know this act is helping to unravel individuals from the tight bind they find themselves in. When it’s ready to let go of the knots then the journey is glorious, unblemished and bountiful, the unlocked doors to self-knowledge. I recommend a life time course to get the best results.

For the next Spirited Bodies event in Leytonstone September 18th, see here

Outside a climate camp, Grow Heathrow

Outside a climate camp, Grow Heathrow

Ursula leads the way to an out of the way spot protecting land from becoming another runway

Ursula leads the way to an out of the way spot protecting land from becoming another runway

Gypsy in Roehampton

Gypsy in Roehampton

series of quick poses I think in Sidcup

series of quick poses I think in Sidcup

A double pose at The Mall

A double pose at The Mall

with Alexandru

with Alexandru

Life Art & Therapy in Highbury

I had been busy working on my play – Girl in Suitcase – in recent weeks, and left editing new interviews a bit last minute. I wanted to hear how they would flow with the material from March which was being reused, so naturally I gave each model’s interview a listen. Getting to Mum’s on Thursday afternoon left me with a heavy impression. The power in her voice is so disarming, to appreciate life so readily when one’s experience has been shockingly limited. I was reminded of the caged bird. My heart moved, and when I arrived for work in the evening, they knew something was up. Luckily they’d requested a Tank Girl look, so I was wearing stompy boots (and stockings) without anything else. They took a while to prepare their easels but some hiphop was playing and I just had to dance in my performance space. My way to release, to express, to flow back into a safer, happy place from where I can observe my emotions without being too caught up. The boots helped to ground me, as well as swing me around.

I just about managed to organise the interviews in time, but I was nervous. Every little thing – replenishing art materials, briefing models, instructions for how to maintain the pristine haven of a venue, biscuits, suitcases full of kit to charge across town by bus… and why had so few artists booked places? Would there be more models than artists? Turned out I had sent out a faulty link to the online booking  in my invitations and on the flier! Well it is the first time I have sold tickets that way, and now I know.

People showed up regardless. The right people. Not too many, but enough, definitely enough.

The planning for this event happened just before I was set to look after Mum a few days back in May. I planned the Girl in Suitcase performance then too. I needed a focus to make my days as a carer ok. Sounds terrible when some people like Dad do that all the time, but nevertheless, so it is. So there was a little urgency in the planning, which is great for making things happen, though bound to be a few hiccups.

One of the main models I had planned this event with, had dropped out last minute, due to a very important court case she was involved in out of town. Couldn’t be helped, but I guess it threw me a bit, seeing as she’d been a driving force previously. But hey, she helped get the ball rolling, and, I am so pleased with the outcome. For sure there are improvements to be made; interviews which need more editing mainly, and the possibility of some models doing a longer pose, while others move more often. What worked really nicely was Niomi’s (the absent model) idea of having a post-event debriefing session for all who cared to stay. There had been considerable discussions a while back about how we would ensure that the right people stayed, but in the end, it just happened organically. By that time, with the intensity of all the interviews fresh in the air, the people who can and want to stay on know who they are.

I tried to make sure everyone who wanted to, contributed to the discussion, and it was rewarding for me to discover how much people enjoyed hearing the interviews. As they played I had felt painfully aware of background noise, and parts of interviews which made the model in question (and me too) squirm inwardly as s/he heard her/himself. It was remarked that it was refreshing that it was not overly edited. Made it more authentic, genuine, to hear that I’d caught them at teatime, and this must have been my only opportunity to interview them, so I had just pressed record whilst kettles were boiling, cutlery chinking, or people shouting across a hall in the background. Not all the noises could be edited out, if the words were very important.

There was a difference in the way some interviews were received at Southbank Centre in March, and then at Skylight Centre now. In March at WOW the room was packed to bursting, and women at the festival had spent much of the weekend building the feminist momentum listening to talks, taking part in discussions about the female slave trade, getting more women in top positions, and getting rights for women in the middle east. By the time they got to us at the end of Sunday, they were ripe for each and every woman’s voice at our women only event.

I only invited one male model to Highbury as I was playing it very safe. I knew others would come to draw anyway and they would have a chance later in the session to pose, but I wanted to be extra picky at this stage, for this event. I won’t explain who he is or why I chose him here, as that might compromise his privacy, as with other models. But he stood out in a few ways, and I knew he wouldn’t come otherwise. My main objective might be to offer the Spirited Bodies experience to people who would otherwise not find it, and who may gain the most, as well as contributing most meaningfully to the ensuing dialogue and others’ experience.

One artist mentioned that he was amazed to hear how the interviewees expressed such hatred towards their own bodies, and that it made him realise there were likely a lot of people going round with those negative thoughts in their heads. Tragic. It was news to him (he’d been brought by a friend) that the model might be experiencing therapy whilst modelling. He wondered if all models gained in this way. I explained that for most regular models, after a while one is relatively free of body hang-ups, but that modelling may continue to offer valuable insights due to its meditative energy sharing nature, even for the seasoned model, and that’s part of what can keep its appeal. Another artist who tried the posing stated that modelling raised his energy in a trance-like way, took him to a higher place. I totally agree.

I am aware of a block I might have towards applying for funding. I guess that (funding) has never been a reason for doing the project, as my drive is born more directly of passion, a need to create and to share. I mean, funding might be great, but I would not wait for it. When I need to make Spirited Bodies or a piece of theatre happen, I just do it. I loathe the idea of fitting my plans into boxes for others to judge if my intentions and methods fit with their criteria. On the other hand, at some point I may cross that threshold as I know this is worthy of funding. It just has to happen before I get the itch to be doing the event, because then I have no time for forms.

On Friday evening there were 8 interviews, including one from an artist. There was going to be music too, but due to a technical hitch early on we only got the sound started a bit later, so no extra time available. At least 5 of the artists tried the posing. Mum received a round of applause after her interview! Revealing her identity is a little controversial as she is shy about people she knows knowing that she modelled nude. But I have this feeling it’s like worrying that someone from work will see you at a fetish club. If they are there too, surely you’re in it together? Moreover Mum’s voice is too powerful and my connection to her too strong for me to present this less personally. A middle-aged woman with advanced MS who is paralysed from the neck down poses and tells you about how in her dreams she is in her 20s and can walk, but in waking life she requires anti-depressants in order to feel ok about everything. She would hate it if the people on her street knew about the modelling (but some of them do as she’s proud enough to have some of the pictures from her previous sessions up in the kitchen). Her voice is slow, and would be quiet without volume control. Normally it’s lucky if one person can hear her, let alone an audience. She tells it like it is, and she almost has nothing to lose. Women in the audience who may be too worried about the size of their behind to pose, or think they have a big nose, rethink their concerns when they hear what Mum has to contend with. It puts everything into perspective to have an elder (63, but in a condition more like a 90 year old) like that. She hadn’t thought she could be a role model, but it dawns on her during the interview. By the end we are all extremely grateful to be able to move independently, to pick up a piece of charcoal or remove our own clothes unassisted. Life takes on new meaning.

model Liliana

 

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All pictures taken from the event. There were many more good ones I missed, but hadn’t got that far in my planning. All the same, brilliant memories.