What inspired you to start The Womanhood project?
Sara: I was kind of frustrated with the way how women’s bodies were portrayed and viewed by the society. I wanted to do something about that but I did not know what exactly. Then I met her (Cassandra) at an exhibition that I was organising for my magazine. At that time, she was taking pictures of nude and semi-nude photography of women. I thought she was amazing and I just knew it would work with her. She has this sincere perspective of how we perceive women. I asked her to join with me.
Cassandra: From there we started building the womanhood project.
Sara: Our work is not about what it is like being feminine. It is about the state of being a woman, a philosophical statement of being a woman.
As artists who are highly sensitive, how do you find balance in life in a society that sometimes claim sensitivity as a weakness?
Sara: Sensitivity is a gift! Being able to be vulnerable is a strength.
Cassandra: Taking the time to yourself. Self-care is important in managing a balanced life. Sometimes we have to take the time to put everything aside and do what we like and what makes us happy besides work. General work gets too much sometimes.
Sara: I think it’s only been a few years since I have been taking self-care seriously. Before that it was not that important. I used to tell myself “omg I didn’t do anything today I feel so bad”. But now, if I don’t do anything, I’m going to look at it mindfully. I think this is what self-care is about; stopping, slowing down, not doing anything mindfully and doing what makes you feel good in order to recharge. It gets really busy doing all the photo-shoots even during weekends. During our photo-shoots we talk about some deep issues with girls. We are talking to girls having cancer, being raped etc. etc. These are some intense sessions that can be so draining but interesting. So, it is very important that we put time into self-care. What was draining is that we are facing our own insecurities. We realise that by talking to these women we are facing our own self. So entering to their intimacy while giving and gaining trust is also emotional for both parties.
How does posing nude empower women more than posing with clothes on?
Cassandra: We all have our own limits. Certain portraits we took have underwear on. Some girls are not really shy at all. It is also important to us that if they want to pose nude, we let them go ahead. In saying that, we respect their boundaries.
Sara: What we do is a literal expression of the French quote ‘putting yourself naked’. Sometimes giving a safe space for the girls to be naked allows them to open up internally. I want them to share stories by physically opening up. Also, a lot of taboo regarding women is their bodies. It went without saying that we have to show it the way it is; body fat, body hair and all that we are being judged upon.
Cassandra: We posted on FB and social media asking if girls were interested in the project. So the girls were aware that they were going to be nude or semi-nude before they came in. We got a lot of submissions and we had to pick the ones who stood out.
Did you feel that the girls opened up a lot more after posing nude?
Cassandra: As soon as we met for the first time, they opened up really quickly and wanted to talk about their personal matters. So it went easier to taking their clothes off because they have already shared a lot about their intimate life.
Sara: Most of these women who came have started their process of self-acceptance. They are already going through that. So they came in with the mindset of, ‘I have this perception of my body, I went through that and I want to talk about it’.
What are your views on the topic of body shame?
Sara: If something is different we are afraid. We are ignorant because we don’t know. So, we would react to it. The natural reaction to this is body shame, I think. It could be subtle, it could really ugly or really mean. I probably body shame people and even myself without even knowing. We need to constantly challenge our mentality from doing that.
Cassandra: From the day that we were born, we are conditioned to feel shame. At the end of the day, that is what the media wants too; shame towards our bodies and emotions. Now, for few years women are trying to go pass that. We are learning to be proud of it and celebrate it.
What message do you have for those who consider themselves very conservative/feminist or those who are completely against posing nude?
Sara: I think it’s a very delicate question because it can lead to asking what the right kind of feminism should look like. For us, it is our desire to challenge the perspective of being feminine. It came naturally to us taking pictures of naked women. She (Cassandra) found it very interesting and beautiful. For us, it is not a part of a feminist project because women are naked. It wasn’t even in our perspective. If it brings up any questioning around feminism, then it’s awesome. We are open to talk about it.
Cassandra: We are well received by a lot of local women. We received so many comments like, ‘her body looks like mine’, ‘wow I see myself in this’. Montreal is still a small community and it’s really lacking this kind of concept. We want to create visual context that would challenge people. The project did it and we are hoping to do more. Here in Montreal, there’s this women’s magazine where they showed hairy arm pits in one of their articles. The comments of people were like, ‘I think it is gross’….you know the classic. You think it’s changing but you see this kind of mentality still around. So that is why projects like this are still important.
Do you get much support from men towards this project?
Sara: Men around us- yes! I’d say that guys are neutral about that.
Cassandra: We were once interviewed by a male journalist from a global magazine. By what he said we clearly understood that he did not get the essence and the goal of our project.
Sara: Some guys on Instagram choose to make those comments like, ‘those women are fake’. I hate this expression on what is a real woman. We are trying to show female bodies as they are and listen to these girls’ stories. People commenting that these bodies are fake is appalling. We don’t even want to put our own judgements into these portraits. There’s no text about us in here. We are not body shaming the girls that pose for Victoria Secret. We want to be body positive but we don’t want to do that by body shaming another woman. It is a complex subject and that is why we constantly question ourselves. We are not saying that one thing is better than the other. We are trying to diversify.
As a female artist what are some of the barriers and struggles that you’ve come across in Montreal and globally?
Sara: I think any woman will find certain problems in the workplace. People call this a feminist project because we are showing naked photos and period blood. But, no, no, we take photos of it because it is part of my body and I want to show it. I get emotional and get attached to my projects. I really don’t like when people say, ‘Because you are a woman, you are like that’. Being loud is a struggle I had when I was young. I’m tall, loud, I take a lot of space and stick with it loudly. They say that I should not be that loud, I should be sensitive and not so loud. I am sensitive but I’m also loud. This is a struggle I had when I was young but I’m trying to embrace that.
Cassandra: When I think of other photographers in Montreal, I feel I have to prove myself more than my male artists. We are having a list of top 10 female photographers and another list of top 10 male photographers. I don’t want that. It shouldn’t be labelled as female or male. It should be just top 10 photographers.