The Art of Oversharing, Part II (NSFW)

The desire to find others with shared characteristics and experiences is only natural. We all crave connections that make us feel like we fit somewhere, that we’re not alone. Social media has made the world incredibly small, linking us together through follows and likes, allowing for us to share as much or as little as we see fit. While most of us tend only to highlight our better days, there are some who show it all, a process which, in Part I, I labeled “the art of oversharing.” Though others may disagree, I truly believe “oversharing” can be an art form. Whether it’s obvious or not, the process of art making always requires some level of vulnerability. The oversharing I am referring to is not posting Facebook statuses every 20 minutes informing all of your nearest and dearest “friends” what you’re eating for breakfast or what movie you just watched, or Tweeting your late night thoughts. Oversharing in its truest form is publicizing one’s humanity, the good days and the bad, and the effects of such a courageous act have the potential to make overwhelmingly positive social changes.

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There’s no telling how long this practice has been around, but through the rise of feminism in the media and particularly over the past couple of years, oversharing has become a trend, frequently used by up-and-coming, contemporary artists. Though there are several notable mentions, I discovered two young, female artists, close in age with a similar aesthetic quality, both of whose creative work stands out among the rest. Each is equally as open online as the other, and as it turns out, they already know one another and have collaborated in the past. Following my own natural curiosity, I decided I would ask each of them the same questions and then see how their answers matched up.

The second of the two is Santa Cruz-based feminist photographer and artist, Natalie Yang. In her early twenties, she fearlessly displays what it means to be young, earnest, and learning. Similarly to the first feature Madison Mclerie, Yang’s photographic work also features women of differing shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as an array of soft, sweet self-portraits, and of course, her eloquently and honestly-written stories. The photographs she takes are genuine and organic, thoughtfully framed but never fabricated. Her photos explore the nature of femininity and womanhood in great depth, questioning beauty standards and social expectations of those of us labeled “female.” However it is her anecdotes and public confessions that make her body of work so successful. She is a voice of truth in world of forgery and deception.

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Q&A

LF: Let’s start with something simple: who are you and what do you do?

NY: I am an artist / photographer currently based in Santa Cruz, CA. I go to school, I work and I make art with heavy influences from my surroundings and the beautiful people in my life.

LF: Much of your work consists of self-portraits paired with in-depth, personal stories, particularly on your Instagram. What was the motivation to begin sharing so much on such a public platform? What has the response been to this kind of work?

NY: The concept of privacy is something that really interests me. Much of my work is aimed to create a feeling of comfort, a sense of belonging within the relationship between both myself and my subject as well as the image and the audience. I want people who see my work to feel connected to it through relative emotions/experiences in their own lives. Though they may not have been present in the moment that I captured the image, or they may not know the people in my photographs, I want the audience to feel invited into these private moments.

I started sharing personal stories and self-portraits on large platforms like Instagram because I believe that vulnerability is empowering. I think that sharing/confronting vulnerabilities and opening discussions about personal struggles can be uniting. I have met so many other young women through the internet that have made me feel comfortable enough to share what may be considered private things about my life. These decidedly “private” experiences that I talk about are relative to the public. Everyone has felt heartbreak, sadness, confusion, self-loathing, etc. I share my stories to offer support to those who feel like they are alone, to show people that everybody hurts sometimes and that it’s ok. We grow and learn the most during times of hardship. Working through emotions is an intense process, using writing and photography to work through my own is very cathartic.

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The response to my openness has been overwhelmingly positive. I have found myself in this community of young people on the Internet that encourage/support each other through art and discussion. Of course there will always be people who don’t understand, people who want to take advantage of others’ decisions to share personal things. Many people mistake vulnerability for weakness but that’s exactly why I started to share my writing in the first place – to examine and further break down this stigma that society has placed against being “too” emotional.

LF: The phrase “the personal is political” became a slogan of second-wave feminism during the 1960’s and 1970’s. What is your response to this phrase? Do you agree with it or disagree, and do you believe it is still a relevant argument today?

NY: The personal IS political. I completely agree with this argument and yes it is still relevant. I am learning how to use my body as a weapon, to understand that my body is a battleground. What I do with my body should be nobody’s choice or business but my own – and yet here we are in 2016 still fighting for our rights to get an abortion and proper healthcare.

In my work, especially my self-portraits, I am reclaiming my sexuality, I am taking agency over my own body in what feels like one of the only ways I can. My self-portraits are for myself, nobody else. My self-portraits make me feel powerful, strong and in control – things I often feel robbed of once I enter the male dominated space of the outside world.

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LF: How do you define feminism?

NY: To me, feminism is the advocacy, discussion and action for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and disabled person’s rights. It is my right, and everyone’s right- for equal opportunity, it is my voice being heard loud and clear and unapologetically.

LF: When and how did you realize you were a feminist, or has it been something you were always aware of?

NY: My work has always been labeled as feminist, or work from a feminist perspective, but at the time I started shooting portraits of women and our bodies, I wasn’t thinking of it specifically in that context. I started shooting nude portraits of women in nature because I think our bodies are beautiful, I love the similarities I find between our curves and the geography around me. People started to talk to me about my influences and inspirations and as my work evolved, I personally began to realize and understand more about my personal relationship with feminism and how that translates and is articulated into my work.

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LF: How does feminism affect your daily life? How does it affect the decisions you make?

NY: I have become so strong over the past year both because of the women around me. I have learned how to stop apologizing for my feelings and I have learned how to stand up for myself. Feminism affects my entire life. My life revolves around my art and my relationships. I have found myself inside a world full of incredible support, encouragement and love. It feels really amazing but it is also important to know that most of the world isn’t this way. I am constantly reminded every time I step outside the comfort of my home and my friends that a lot of the world around me wants me to feel small, wants me to feel weak- but this is the reason I create and this is the reason I write and make noise. I refuse to be subdued and controlled by the male gaze, by the made up rules of what is considered “socially acceptable.” It’s difficult because the patriarchy is something that has been engrained into all of us, I work hard every day to break down my own faults and biases that were formed because of the white dominated, male dominated society I was raised in.

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LF: What is one thing you wish more people understood about feminism?

NY: I wish more people understood that feminism, as talked about in the media and in popular culture, needs to focus more on intersectionality. There is a lack of diversity when a spotlight is put on feminism in the media, it’s getting better but when I hear about feminism on TV or on really large news platforms it is often white washed and caters to an upper middle class audience. Shine a light on WOC, shine a light on LGBTQ people, shine a light on trans people, shine a light on something other than a white woman with hairy armpits.

Self Portrait by Natalie Yang

Self Portrait by Natalie Yang

LF: What and/or who inspires you?

NY: I am inspired by my surroundings, by the people in my life and by other artists. I’ve spent most of my life on the California coast and I grew up on a mountain that is recognized for its resemblance to a sleeping lady, Mt. Tamalpais. Mt. Tam will always be the root and the soul of whatever work I create. My best friends inspire me; I am drawn to making work that is about us, about our lives. Our home acts as this safe space where we get to be together, where we get to be alone. I have developed this comfort with the girls I live with where being with them feels almost the same as being by myself- complete comfort and trust, and this is something I am infinitely grateful for.

I am heavily influenced by other young artists that I’ve met over the past couple years. I met many of them online and formed genuine bonds with girls all over the world through discussions about feminism, art, body image, relationships, etc. The Internet has provided us with a space for our voices to be heard, for us to connect and support and inspire and teach each other.

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LF: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

NY: If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, I would tell her to not be so impulsive. I would tell her not to make decisions when she is in volatile states and not to make decisions based off of other people. I would also tell her to remember that her wellbeing comes before anything else.

LF: What do you hope to accomplish with your work in the coming year?

NY: I feel like this time last year I had very clear goals of what I wanted to accomplish with my work, and I was able to really focus on them. But right now I’m in a place where everything is up in the air. This year is a year for change – I’m about to graduate from college and I have so many things to figure out in the next six months. This year I want my work to embrace change, to welcome it into my life and into my creative process.

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LF: How FAST do you live?

NY: Honestly, I live slowly and I prefer it this way. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout my youth is that I really need both emotional and physical balance to be happy and healthy. I have taught myself to think things through and to take calculated risks, though my first instinct is always to act on impulse. I learn more as I get older how to look before I leap, which for me is a good thing.

L’Agent Goodies…