More or less (in)complete

“A woman is like white cloth: once soiled, it can be washed but never made clean again.”

Khmer proverb

TRIGGER WARNING: Images and written content depicts/mentions sexual violence and harassment

This series of images was created as a direct response to current events, from personal experience and the ongoing observation of how society is evolving (or devolving) to respond to female autonomy of body, mind, desire and sexuality. It is a statement on how societal attitudes ‘stain’ women in ways that are not always visible but are always felt. Looking at patriarchal control, the impact of modern day misogyny and the abuse of power and privilege, this series is a visceral and personal exploration of what it is to be woman.

All images ©Arrayah Loynd

The following text was written by Eva Rose Addinsall and delivered as a powerful spoken word performance on the opening night of the exhibition. You can find Eva Rose here

Empower.
In power. 
These words appear,
mine for the taking,
in magazines and on screens and screamed at me in songs I am supposed to sing and dance along to. They are covered in honey when they fall out of the mouths of CEOs and politicians in board meetings and writing rooms and I hear it slurred in the line for the toilet at the club but then I go back outside and somebody grabs me with hands or eyes or something else and I wonder am I still
in power?
Empowered?

Shame forms in my belly and gets stuck in my throat. It wants to come out as integrity, as courage but instead lives inside me as fear, as rage.

Why?
Why?

Why is it that shame lands on the wrong bodies?
What have I done to deserve this shame that I am choking on?
What have I done, other than be born into this anatomical trojan horse that looks to be a gift from the gods but is instead a weapon.
Oh no, no
Not a weapon that I can wield, a weapon that is used against me.

Shame falls on my body, on this body, but not on the rapists in parliament house.
Or the minister who called that survivor, that truth teller, a lying cow
Or our prime minister, who needed his compassion explained to him by his wife. 
Imagine if it were our daughter, Scott
Imagine,
If she discovered it wasn’t only dark alleyways and sheer clothing and leaving a drink unattended that could soil her, but also those big, light, beautiful offices and the people standing next to you in the staff photos.

The first lie that I swallowed and became was that only one person can be right and the other must be wrong. That way if I break the rules, I had it coming..
 
The second is that he always deserves a second chance. But I am not allowed to make mistakes.

The third is that he is entitled to my everything. There is no power in giving him something he already thinks he can take.

How is it that I can be conceptualised by my culture as passive and submissive and yet completely responsible for my own soiling and destruction?

How is it that I am being soiled, rather than doing the soiling, and my ruining remains my fault?

I’ve spent so long trying to stay pure and perfect,
then shaking, scrubbing, getting clean or at least trying

Then crying out at the top of my lungs that it is okay to be greasy and filthy and soiled.

I’ve spent so long on the lifting of these stains,
Now I’m begging for you to tell me
Because I need to know
And I never thought to ask
How the fuck did they get here and
what the fuck are they.

See, I thought that my soils were my insatiable libido, my sexual innuendos, the shibari workshop I go to, my queerness, the porn that I view, the feminist books I consume, the clothes I wear that are see through, the photos I take, the erotica I write you.

The way that I own my wanting.
I waved my never-to-be-made-clean-again flag high in a cloudless sky, relishing that it wasn’t white anymore
because that would mean a surrender.

Was I in power? 
Empowered?
Not yet.

Arrayah’s works, her artist statement, our conversations, they make me feel that these things I thought were blemishes, that made me filthy, that could never be made clean again, are the white cloth itself. They are the pure, shining, blinding fabric of my being, they are my destiny, they are who I always have been and always will be. They are not something that I recklessly acquired after dragging myself through the mud. They are not something I have to learn to love. They are not something I have to fight to have recognised and seen. They are woven into me. They are me. And I cannot and will not
let shame land
on me.

The dark spots, the soils, are from doctors who question my birth control choices and the guys who make them right to worry when the condom disappears and they feign innocence. From the ones who think because they couldn’t make me come, I’m just ‘not that into sex’. From the gropes on dance floors and the venues that only book male performers. It’s being talked over in class and interrupted and shut down. It’s everything, out there, bred and manufactured in the halls of parliament house and transcribed into every news outlet and tv broadcast and conversation until it’s essentially poison in the water.

I’m emerging into discourse where I’m feeling so fluid and free with the masculine and the feminine parts of me, with exploring what it might mean to be a woman if the label expanded and grew.
I’m experimenting with identities, embodying new roles, desires, expressions,
Imagining how it would feel if my gender was not a statement but a question.

Then I think of my mother, my grandmother, my ancestors before them who fought to make me visible. I am reminded that this fight isn’t over. I am pulled back into what this body represents instead of what it has the power to become. Expansion becomes neither safe or welcome, and I feel I have to defend my womanhood, exist within her, until it is accepted and respected before I can imagine something new.

I didn’t think it was fair that I had stains and he had marks until I realised that mine were really just shadows.

The shame, the stains, they are not permanent. They aren’t in or on my body. They are shadows, a projection, a darkness, that stops things from growing and tries to convince us that we are rooted in the ground and we cannot move. They are cast by those who are unwilling to change. To think. To reflect. To challenge. To accept. To empathise. They are cast by those who are unwilling to let go. To let go of power, the illusion of perfection, of pride, of the past. They are cast by those who cannot imagine something different.

My white cloth is for imagining something different.

It is the canvas for these images, these conversations, for mess and mistakes and apologies and lessons and growth. It is a palimpsest of the expressions of womanhood lived before me and around me, and a place for me to write and rewrite my own.

Suffice to say, my white cloth is not going to stay white.
My white cloth is going to be drenched in colour.

I hope tonight, together, we can all create, using the sensational palette Arrayah has gifted us, a messy, magnificent, mosaic expressing our unique and collective femininity and the power it has to change and heal.

And may it never to be made clean again.

All images are inkjet prints on archival cotton rag and available to purchase in limited editions of 8 + 2AP

All exhibition opening images by Deborah Dorman