When was the last time you felt like your body represented who you truly are inside? What triggered that feeling? Interacting with particular artworks, characters, and environments can change how we see ourselves. But just how cathartic can this become?
Shona McAndrew is an artist who creates paintings, sculptures, and digital collages based on particular characters that she has brought to life through papier-mâché. Each of these personalities, named Norah, Charlotte, or Alice, has her own particular traits and style. What they do have in common is that they are bold and confident, to the point where you might see one of them sneaking a peek of her vagina with a mirror or just hanging with her socks and underwear. We recently had the chance to speak with Shona about her inspiration, artwork, and her own process when it comes to creating these sculptures. However, the conversation also included asking about her experience of recreating a moment of Netflix and Chill with her boyfriend through art and the societal view of women’s bodies being public objects.
“I really wanted to make something that pulled people in, inviting them to interact with the artwork by experiencing it in the round. As my sculptures represent dimensional bodies, I force people to walk around my ladies experiencing their physicality in the space alongside them in a way two-dimensional work never could. Even if the viewer is made uncomfortable by my ladies, they’re experiencing a body. In some ways, I’m secretly causing them to look at ’someone' they would not typically look at so closely or spend as much time with."
“It takes a long time to build them and only takes a couple days to paint them. All of the sudden, when the paint is applied, I can see them and their individual beauty. For a long time they’re just objects that I made. But As soon as put paint on them, I see their faces, I see a real person who I’m able to find beautiful.”
“They’ve taught me how to look at bodies. I have a plus-sized body and I am not always very good at seeing the beauty in myself. So when I started making sculptures that looked like me, but weren’t me which allowed me to take one step back and acknowledge them for their entirety. They help me want to be confident. They appear so comfortable in their skin and confident, boobs out, belly out, legs spread open. And when I see them, I think to myself ‘They don’t seem to worry about what others will think. Maybe I too can have my belly out.”
“How people interact with them makes me want to have similar interactions.”
Something I was very curious of asking Shona was about a new development, where she is now also creating sculptures of herself and her boyfriend. I’d heard of one scene that featured the two of them in bed, having Netflix and Chill while she holds his penis.
“For us, Netflix and Chill is just lying in bed, not being particularly sexy, just being particularly comfortable. I thought that I could make a sculpture of us in bed and show what our particular intimacy looks like. I love hearing stories about what other people do with their partners behind closed doors. Not the naughty things but the funny, personal things that other people wouldn’t know if they hadn’t seen it or heard of it. Everyone has these weird little habits that you develop with yourself and with anyone you’re incredibly comfortable with. When I hold his penis in that setting, it’s not sexual; it’s comfort and trust. It’s our version of intimacy without having to be explicitly sexual.”
One of the reasons I find Shona’s art so refreshing is because it goes against the established image of what a female body should be in public. As women, we learn early on what we’re “allowed” and how we’re “supposed” to behave. We’re limited to particular ideals of what makes us women, and to fall outside of that norm is to become outsiders. In fact, we’re taught that our value comes from what others see and believe of us, which is why our bodies tend to be considered as some sort of public property.
“Women, throughout the ages, have typically been an extension of a man, a male counterpart. The value of a woman was mainly in terms of their physical appearance because in so many ways, that was their expected purpose. To look good. Women are taught that their value is attached to what they look like because that’s supposedly what men care and look for in a woman. The more you fit society’s strict beauty standards, the more you will be desired and the more value you have to others. That’s why I think the many many women who do not fit that standard, whether plus-sized, or women of color, or anyone who isn’t the idealized petite and fit white woman, need to teach themselves that their value goes far beyond their packaging. That women can be powerful, successful, hardworking, passionate, educated and so many other wonderful things that doesn’t involve their physical appearance.”
“From the moment I was a teenager, I unfortunately believed that because I was overweight, I was never going to be considered beautiful. But, because I put aside the belief that my value was my appearance, I got an opportunity to find out for myself where my value came from. And that’s when I started to make art, and when I found out that I really enjoyed making other’s laugh, and that I had the capacity to make others feel better, and that I was a good listener, and a loyal friend, and a great sister and daughter and cat-mom. Turns out, I am so much more than my dress size. Who knew?”
So how do we find our value beyond our physicality while also learning to love and respect our bodies? For Shona,
“It’s like believing in magic. You may not see it but you have to believe in it. And the more you believe, the more it is real. You have to look in the mirror and see past the flaws you have been taught oh-so easily to focus on and teach yourself to see the holistic being. You and your body has done so much and can do so much, no matter what you look like. You are limitless. You are worth it. You are beautiful. You are valuable. And most importantly I won’t let others define my happiness."
And it’s true. Sometimes we need to be deaf to what we’ve been told over and over again to believe. We need to focus on what our instincts say. We’ve been lied to when we’ve been told that there is only a small window of beauty. We’ve accepted this erroneous idea because particular mediums have chosen to create it. But, through works like Shona McAndrew’s we can see that we provide a space for people to observe and interact with an artwork, they become connected to these new perceptions. And through this confrontation, the audience realizes that there are more ways in which someone can be beautiful. They also see how women can be beautiful in different ways, but that’s not all there is to them. Their value is not conditional to whether someone else finds them beautiful or not. It’s an inherent part of them.