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Photography, Pornography, Pussy Portrait Peepshow: The

2024 Senior Studio Art Capstone Exhibition 

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Photography Pornography Pussy Portrait Peepshow: The Experience
Metal, polyester cloth, archival print on matt board and wooden frame

Photography Pornography Pussy Portrait Peepshow: The Collage
Archival print, chipboard, cardboard, wood, spy camera
                                                                                                                                                                                                more photos here

Capstone Project Statement 

Overview: Photography, Pornography, Pussy Portrait Peepshow: The Exhibition 


Through faceless self-portraiture, I critique how the displays of Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB) bodies in photographic media have developed over time while reclaiming bodily agency through practiced vulnerability. My exhibit is a multimedia installation titled Photography, Pornography, Pussy Portrait Peepshow (PPPPP): The Exhibition. It consists of two main parts: PPPPP: The Experience and PPPPP:The Collage. The self-portrait composites emulate “upskirt” photos. These photos are taken from the angle a voyeur would use to secretly take a photograph from under a person’s skirt to expose them, an act that strips the subject of agency. In each piece, I obscure the vaginality of self-portraits in attempts to initiate conversations on consent and censorship. In PPPPPP: The Experience, my composite of vaginal self-portraits is concealed behind a booth with a curtain and a list of instructions that the viewer must take before viewing. In PPPPP: The collage, the vaginality is obscured with mosaic-like collage displayed at large scale that allows the forms to get lost. In both cases, the photos are concealed from nonconsenting viewers while allowing for a moment of surprise upon recognition. I challenge traditional processes of viewership by allowing the artwork to observe the viewer through a video stream captured by a camera embedded in the collage. The live video stream is accessible on my website during the duration of the exhibition. 


Recently, former American University (AU) student Kyle Blanco was convicted of possession of child pornography and voyeuristic acts. Because these events occurred in 2022, during my own time at AU, the topic of voyeurism  has a deeply personal meaning to me, particularly as a female presenting black adult whose body has been censored and appropriated without my consent. 

This project began as a study of media, specifically what can be categorized as “pornography.” Who is represented, what is emphasized, and how bodies are displayed, all shape a narrative in the American zeitgeist. Images hold immense power; what we see shapes our perception of reality. Self-expressive images crafted through self-expression promote free speech through bodily autonomy, and exploitative images created for exploitation perpetuate a narrow portrayal of humanity, stifling diversity.


I engage in this self-expression as an act of expanding representation, by creating more images of marginalized bodies for the mainstream. In this project, the marginalized characteristics I create space for are dark-skin AFAB bodies. By photographing myself, I assert and subvert the power of objectification empowerment. Because it would not be empowering for me to objectify others, the only person I objectify is myself. The only body I show power over is my own and this challenges the idea that objectified bodies are less human or any less valuable. 



During the research phase, I investigated 20th-century photographs and films featuring the AFAB body. This included pinup images from World War II, films from the pornographic film industry throughout the 20th century, as well as Hollywood films like the 1917 feature “CLEOPATRA,” starring Theda Bara that had a promotional poster with the actress’s breasts exposed  (Duske, 2023) . I read works from feminist artists associated with the post-modern “female agency” movement, like the essay “Tamara de Lempicka and Modern Woman Artist” by Paula Birnbaum, a scholar whose research focuses on modern and contemporary art in relationship to gender and sexuality (Birnbaum, 2014).


Much of my historical research on the 20th-century depiction of the female body centered on bodies as historical datasets that were overwhelmingly white. This discovery of mostly white bodies made me feel like black bodies were excluded from the discussion of desirability, and therefore I am excluded from being desirable and. Before the 1950s the dominant economic demographic (white male hetrosexual consumers) wanted to view pornography with the realism allowed by film, but it was illegal to produce and distribute pornography under the Comstock laws, so a lot of early pornographic films were illegal (Antonovich, 2013)  Some were made without the consent of all parties and were known as “stag films”.  I stress the legality of the media and the consent of those involved in my work, because throughout history so many of the depictions of AFAB bodies were made illegally and immorally, like the exploitative nude photographs of a young Black girl taken by famed white American artist Thomas Eakins in 1882 (Brooklyn museum, 2023).


I focus on the porn industry because that is the primary field where women’s naked bodies are displayed, especially their genitalia. Female genitalia is often demonized in popular media, so this project will challenge the shame we place on the vagina as well as society's urge to hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist. The way we hide and suppress the image of female genitalia, or vaginality, parallels how we suppress the concept of non-male sexuality.


I was influenced by notable feminist visual artists like Nan Goldin and Judy Chicago. I studied artists who work in other mediums like Michelle L'amour,  who is the self-proclaimed "most naked woman in burlesque,” and french filmmaker Virginie Despentes. I spoke with local artists in the DMV area like Kat Thompson who practices AFAB black portraiture,  and Alex D'agostino who uses images from queer archives to explore sexuality.


Project Development:

For photographic techniques, I practiced taking photos that objectify the bodies, not just AFAB bodies. I conducted photoshoots with various models of various sexes. I explored methods of self-portrait creation from impersonal angles using mirrors, self-timers, and remote controlled digital photography. In both photographing the models and myself from this angle, I’ve learned that it is difficult to expose a person's genitalia unless they are actively displaying it. To covertly put a camera under a person takes precision. This project asserts that the creation of porn is a human right. By exploring the vaginality of my own identity, I explore the roots of how and why I exercise my right to expression. In the process of self-exploration for this project, I dug down to find the depth of the tight little hole that is my self-expression to the point of vulnerability. By exploring how I view myself, I may better accept how others view me.  

Through the act of displaying a self-portrait of my genitalia in an academic setting, I also seek to challenge censorship conventions. Self-expression and exploitation are diametrically opposed, and any person profiting from their own body should be celebrated for performing a radical free market liberatory act. 



While exploring my deeper motivations behind making this work, I realized that making this art is a value-driven process. Facing my fears to eliminate that fear is one of my values. Shame is a tool of the oppressor; I fight oppression for all marginalized peoples by facing my fear of the shame that comes from acknowledging female sexuality. I reminded myself that I needn't only make vindictive work to express my frustration with the patriarchy. I want to change minds and to do that I’d like to both center joy and celebrate topics I feel are benign, repressed, and underrepresented. This work is a joyful celebration of female sexuality through the reclamation of bodily agency. I’ve been limiting my art by prioritizing what sells, what people like, and what people buy. That can’t be the goal of my art because that is not a value-driven motivation. I make art because I love to make and I want to create. I’d like to build the world I want to see. 

In this self-exploration, I questioned how I chose to decorate myself with tattoos, why I make choices to remove hair from my body, and how authentically I can communicate not only how I see myself, but feel I appear to others. By taking self-portraits while engaging in sexual acts, I removed a facade that would be present in other modeling. During sex I’m not able to fake reactions, therefore these documentary photos possess a level of stripped-downness that posed and simulated photos lack.

I am exploring a level of public vulnerability that, historically, I have avoided. While I’m not in front of my viewers displaying my body live, I am exhibiting a side of my body and being that I keep concealed from everyone but intimate partners. I would go topless in public because I believe that breasts are not inherently sexual, but I feel that my primary sexual organs are inherently sexual. I believe sexuality is a thing to be celebrated in adults yet traditionally I regard my own sex life as a private matter. To publicly acknowledge that I have sex is, for me, an extreme act of vulnerability. The level of publicness of this project is what makes it radically vulnerable; taking something that I normally conceal and exhibiting it on a large scale, in viewers’ faces, open to judgment, reflection, and questioning. 

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