Photographer Reka Nyari – #MyBodyBelongsToMe

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Geisha Ink
Ginzilla in ‘Geisha Ink’ by Reka Nyari

Artistic Directors of Creative Pois-On Tommaso Cartia and Daniela Pavan interview the Master of visual storytelling at the Black Book Gallery, New York, on the occasion of the artist’s ‘INK Stories’ exhibition. In the month dedicated to the storytelling of Love & Erotism, Creative Pois-On embarks in a voluptuous journey with this sensorial conversation where the photographer shares her aesthetic and narratives surrounding gender and sexuality in refreshingly unapologetic ways.

When asked about her creative process, and the subjects that she captures on camera, Reka Nyari has stated, “I want to find out the darkness and the edge behind that person.” The central theme of Nyari’s storytelling finds its completion in the ‘INK’ series: an intimate study of self-identity and female empowerment through nude portraiture.

Reka Nyari
Reka Nyari

Her vision and her visuals turned her into a worldwide known phenomenon. She is the recipient and the winner of many prestigious awards, including first place at the International Photography Awards (IPA) 2010, Beauty Pro Category. Her 225-page Monograph titled “Femme Fatale: Female Erotic Photography” has been published in 6 languages. And her commercial client list includes names like Kiki de Montparnasse, Fleur du Male, RADO Switzerland, AOL, Liz Claiborne, Makeup Forever, DC Comics, Sally Hansen and Ultra Records. She appeared in various magazines like Esquire, Vanity Fair, Tatler, Korean Cosmopolitan, and Vogue. Outspoken and elegant, poignant, eversive but also embracing, inclusive and motherly, Reka’s spirit embodies the most ancestral powers of the archetypical female figures but she is also very current, a woman of her times. Proof of that is the #MyBodyBelongsToMe campaign that outraged the social media and the predominantly patriarchal society with its raw message: “I shot over 60 women from all backgrounds, ages, and sizes to protest control over the female bodies. It made the news all over the world as a commentary to Facebook censorship.”

Find out more in this interview where the artist opens her heart and unleashes her passions withing to our Artistic Directors.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE HERE

Daniela Pavan — I would like to start by asking you. What does love mean, to you? Do you have an image, a photograph of it?

Reka Nyari — The first thing I think about is my family, my amazing husband of fifteen years, who is super sweet and supportive and then our four-year-old daughter. I love them very much and it fills my heart with happiness when I think of them. 

Tommaso Cartia — Your nudes are some stunningly beautiful works of art. What do you think the storytelling of nudity is? What is nudity for you?

R — I think that when we are naked, whether being photographed or otherwise, we’re in a more vulnerable position, a truthful one. How we carry ourselves and how we even look around ourselves, our gestures, our gaze, even the way we walk speaks so much about us and our experiences. Both sometimes in negative and positive contexts. Once you remove the fashion, the outfits, the make-up, the photos become more lasting and timeless, they become us. 

Levitate, Reka Nyari.
Blooming Ink by Reka Nyari.

T — I’m very fascinated by your series of nudes entitled “INK”. “Geisha Ink”, “Valkyrie Ink”, “Mother Ink”, “Reaper Ink” and “Blooming Ink”. They tell stories of different types of women, stories of abuse and survival, of death and resurgence. Why did you choose ink as a pictorial element on their bodies, is that like a brush that writes and marks on their skins both the struggles and the romance of their existence? 

R — When I first started shooting women, I was fascinated and amazed by the resilience and the narrative that they had and I wanted to tell their stories to the world. For example, the first woman that I shot, Ginzilla, when I got to know her I’ve found out that she had grown up in a very traditional Japanese family of an uncompromisingly strict conservative-values, where her mother was very controlling and she wasn’t allowed to do any of the things a teenage girl normally does. So… She rebelled and started dating a tattoo artist. And after her first tattoo, she covered her entire body with tattoos designed by her but done by her lovers. It’s her love story, written on her body and at the time of the shoot her family still had no idea that she had any tattoos. It was this quiet rebellion, marked on her skin.

Reka Nyari
Reaper Ink by Reka Nyari.

D — You once said: “Female sexuality is the most powerful thing in the world.” Why do you think that so many people are ashamed or scared of it? And what difference do you see, if you see a difference, between the concepts of beauty, sexuality and vulnerability?

R — I think it’s all about control. I think we can see it from all different societies and religions that are focused on controlling female sexuality and sexuality in general. You can be beautiful, sexual and vulnerable and all of those things separately. I think it’s also important for women to claim back their own sexuality and nudity. The more we normalize it, the more power it has. We should not shame our bodies and we should not let anybody shame them. 

Reka Nyari.
Reka Nyari.

D — You recently published on your Instagram account a series of pictures you took for the #MyBodyBelongsToMe campaign that is still super relevant today! You shot over 60 women from all backgrounds, ages, and sizes to protest against the control over the female bodies. Also, you made headlines all over the world because this campaign was censored on Facebook. What can you tell us about it?

R — I was inspired by a young Tunisian woman called Amina Tyler. She did some self-portraits that she put on social media with her nipples out. Then, she received death threats and had to escape her family. Women from all over the world started posting pictures of themselves to support her. stating things like: “if you’re going to kill her, you might as well kill all of us.” I figured we could have done something about it in New York and a lot of women came forward. For me, nudity is not a big issue, but so many women in New York were posing for the first time naked or topless and it was this empowering moment of saying “I’m not ashamed of my breasts, even if my kid’s teacher sees this.”

#mybodybelongstome
#MyBodyBelongsToMe Campaign

D — Let’s tell a little bit of your story. You were born in Helsinki and you grew up between Finland and Hungary, then you moved to New York in your late teenage years to study at the SVA – School of Visual Art. If you can think of two photographs, what’s the portrait of your hometown and your roots that you carry within yourself and what’s your snapshot in time of New York City?

R — When I was growing up I was actually really shy and withdrawn. I was always an artist, but I felt like I was a little bit lost, I was a tomboy. I don’t know what photographs would really describe me… Maybe something that has a feeling of isolation like in the Nude York series of mine. Being alone in the city and finding yourself and your way.

Reka Nyari
Valkyrie Ink by Reka Nyari

D — How did these two different environments inspire the artist that you are today? And what’s the inspiration behind your Nude York series?

R — I think that everybody has different sides of their personality. I have a side that is very introverted and quiet and I like to work on all these concepts by myself and I also have a dark quality that I think that it comes from growing up in Finland, which can be a country with a very melancholic atmosphere. I’m really attracted to darkness, but then I’m also super social. That’s also what I like about photography, I get to meet and work with amazing people and build something together, it’s not just me in my room by myself creating. I think photography is something that binds these two aspects: introverted and social. 

T — Your artistic expression is also inspired by the cinematography and the eccentric narratives of directors like Roman Polanski, David Lynch, as well as by the art of Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Miles Aldridge, and, Cindy Sherman, to name a few. How did these artists influence your own narrative?

R — One thing they all have in common is that they’re storytellers. I always felt that I was a storyteller even when I went to art school and I was studying painting, I felt like I was more of an illustrator. I didn’t want to do just the finished piece, I wanted to tell the story behind it and tell the process and the essence of the person. Also, I love that darkness, that weirdness, and the edginess that all of the artists and the directors you’ve mentioned have.

Reka Nyari
Mother Ink by Reka Nyari

D — Among your many accomplishments, it is remarkable the work that you have been doing with the Human Rights Foundation for years, shooting portraits of some of the most courageous activists in the World. What can you tell us about this significant project?

R — I’ve been working with the Human Rights Foundation for years and just loved meeting women’s’ activists that are fighting throughout the world for child rights, females empowerment and all kind of different issues. It has been an amazing process to give back to this community with my photography, shooting people who maybe never had a photograph taken before but it was a great way for them to have their voices heard. 

D — You are also a mom. How did motherhood affect your work and perspective in life?

R — I was so worried when I got pregnant because I have always worked for myself and I’m an artist. I think a lot of women are worried that a child could still their identity. But it has actually made me a better person. I feel more grounded, having my daughter made me focus on my work even more. I started looking at my reel and I was like, “who do I want to be as a role model for my daughter? What kind of things do I want to do, do I want to embody and portray?”

T — What are your upcoming projects?

R — The show at the Blackbook Gallery is going to be up until March 15th, they extended it. Then, I have a big solo exhibition at the Framing Gallery in Chelsea in September and October and then a book coming out of the whole series. 

T — If you can leave us with an image of the woman of the future, a photograph, what that would be? 

R — The image that I really would love to see is of more women in power, united with men of course. More images of equality and acceptance.


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