EXCLUSIVE: Artist Ona on Why Sultry Selfies Are Actually High Art

People love to dismiss selfies as vapid and vain — especially when they’re alluring and coming from women. But talk to artist and musician Ona, and you’ll realize there’s much more to them than that.

Ona has an MFA from Parsons. Translation: she’s got plenty of art street cred. But because she chooses to express herself through sultry self portraits,  she’s been slut-shamed for her work, whether in the form of angry Instagram comments or art critics claiming her work isn’t valuable and then trying to hit on her.

Aside from her banging body and seductive Instagram photos, Ona’s also an activist and a musician with her own NSFW site, OnaGram. We talked slut-shaming, sexual expression, and personal branding with Ona. We also got an exclusive premiere of her latest track, “Open My Hips,” for your ears only.

Ona doesn’t hold back in her music or her self-portraits. You might think that since female nudes are one of the most common art subjects seen in museums like the Met, an artist who expresses herself using her own body would be celebrated in 2016 — but Ona still gets hate. She says this is because people look at female nudes differently when the artist and model are separate. Women who take their own nude photos are seen as vain and attention-seeking, while those whose nude photos are shot by someone else are celebrated.

Translation: to some critics, women are not allowed to take credit for our own nudes unless a man is involved in the creative process.

“Seeing a nude woman in the art world as presented through ‘man hands’ (the eyes or authorial stamp of a man) is considered safe and appropriate,” Ona said. “But not allowing women to present themselves on their own terms is a vestigial valuation, and one that I think will hopefully fade with the advent of the internet and women coming to be able to be more public about themselves and their sexuality.”

In reality, a woman who uses her own body as an instrument for expression is actually empowered — she no longer has to “be subervient” to “get the ‘good’ photographers or the ‘art’ photographers to user her as model or muse,” Ona told Galore. But most people don’t see things this way.

Ona also fights the public’s tendency to only grant the privilege of sexual expression to a select few. She describes this as the “star-slut complex.”

For example, a pop star may be called a “fashion icon” for posing nude for Vogue. But an average woman will be called an “attention whore” for posting semi-nude photos on Instagram.

“The star-slut complex is more about noticing that a supermodel will gain clout and mass media attention for posing nude whereas your average girl who poses nude gains no clout (usually can’t even use her real name), no mainstream media attention, and is usually slut-shamed,” she said.

So how does a woman get to the status of supermodel or celebrity where they are applauded for baring their body? Ona argues that this again relates back to the influence of men on the industry.

“If a woman is institutionally sanctioned, has proven herself by working up through the man hands of a modeling agency or a music producer or Hollywood directors or fashion photographers, then she’s gone through the conditioning it takes to get there, and often it’s men who are partners and making a lot of money off her labors,” Ona said. “But a woman doing it on her own is literally not discussed in mainstream media. They’re often part of or grouped with cam girls or adult film stars or escorts and brushed under the rug. They’re demeaned and not allowed social respect, and thus held down financially as well.”

But by working against the social norms of slut-shaming and disregarding those who disapprove, Ona has distinguished herself as a unique artist. She hopes to break the barriers between musician and fan with her website, which allows fan of her music to also gain access to alluring photos.

sultry photos [are] also my way to be rock ’n’ roll,” she quips.

 

All photos courtesy of the artist

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