It’s not often a woman will volunteer to bare her breasts on Baker Street, but 20 Kootenay residents have done precisely that as part of a new art exhibit celebrating the female form.
“These are women among us in the community. It could be anyone. It could be our daughters, our mothers, our grandmothers,” said Jody Deverney, an employee at the lingerie store Esprit de la Femme, which is hosting the exhibit.
“The rest of the year we have posters up sent to us from lingerie companies, and they show whatever the ideal is. It isn’t always reality. And though that’s representational of some women, this exhibit is truly representational.”
The models for the project range in age from 17 to 71. Each shared their personal history while their torsos were being plaster cast for the project. Alongside each resulting sculpture is accompanying text that gives the age and background of the participant.
Local artist Safire Jones, who cast all the women’s torsos for the project, originally came up with the concept three years ago.
“It came about as part of my healing when my mother passed away,” she said. “For me, art and collaboration are my medicines.”
This is the second year of the exhibit, and she plans to do a third installment next year. She said the project has been building momentum.
“I started out working with people I knew, but it ended up that so many people offered up their stories to me and their torsos and their busts for this project. The Kootenays are full of artistic gems. They’re everywhere.”
Once she completed each plaster bust, Jones then collaborated with a local artist such as Avrell Fox who then interpreted the form and creatively adorned it utilizing a variety of mediums.
“I don’t really give them rules or stipulations. I let them go. Whatever inspires them. Sometimes I’ll tell them about the story of the woman, with the name anonymous. The ages are what I will offer. Then the artists create their magic and it’s always exciting to see what they’ve created.”
Jones said the process has been cathartic.
“Being able to hold the space for other women to share their stories has also helped with their healing,” she said. “We have women who have gone through mastectomies and lumpectomies and many different operations and surgeries. Even after breastfeeding a lot of women, their shape changes and they feel uncomfortable with themselves.”
These diversions from the celebrated ideal are exactly what Jones is interested in.
“I’ve found that doing this empowers them. When they seen themselves, they realize how beautiful they are,” she said.
“Rarely do women see other women’s bodies and breasts as they truly are (untainted from media) so we get a lot of feedback from our female customers telling us how much they appreciate the busts in our gallery space,” said Deverney.
“As women we’re always trying to compare ourselves to other women. Whether we admit it or not that’s just the society we live in. We’re always worried.”
She said seeing other women’s bodies gives the viewer a sense of solidarity.
“It’s nice for a woman to be able to say ‘wow, my breasts kind of look like that. Maybe I’m not so different, or maybe my breasts aren’t weird’. I think it’s comforting for women to be able to say ‘yeah, I’ve got it going on’.”
Store owner Cheryl Côté echoed the sentiment.
“We’ve been known to push the envelope from time to time. When we started we had people up in arms that we were selling panties so openly, and sparkles. That sort of stuff. Nelson has not always been this way. We’re bringing it to the forefront, saying your sensuality or your femininity or your sexuality is nothing to be mocked or brushed aside. It absolutely should be celebrated,” she said.
Côté said her favourite people to watch experience the exhibit are men.
“I saw a family. A man had three young daughters this morning, and he took the time to read all the stories, one by one, to his daughters. I thought as a Dad it was a really empowering thing for him to do.”
For more information visit safirejones.com.