One Body is a series of explicit charcoal drawings depicting female sexuality, specifically her own vulva, created by Pam Shields in her garage home studio with the help of mirrors. As she writes, ‘Frank discussion or depiction of a woman as a sexual being, rather than as a sexual object, is still taboo. I attempt to break down this taboo by presenting a woman’s sexuality as a beautiful thing, a natural part of being a healthy, whole, independent woman. I create monumental, weighty bodies, with cellulite and folds of fat, bodies that sit in the middle of the road and demand attention. The personal is political, and it starts one body at a time.’
While One Body was a solo exhibition at the Ceres Gallery, Janice Taylor of Beliefnet interviewed Pam Shields. Here are some of the questions and answers from that interview, which can be found in its entirety here.
How long have you been drawing yourself naked?
I started to draw my own naked body about thirty years ago, simply out of necessity. I didn’t have access to an art school and I couldn’t afford to hire a life model, so I used myself. I found that it gave an edge to the drawings and brought an immediacy and urgency to the drawing process. This was especially true in the beginning, when I had my studio in my garage and started doing naked self-portraits using mirrors.
Are we ever really naked?
No. There are always layers to be exposed, layers we are totally unaware of. There are always mysteries, discoveries to be made, hidden treasures to be found.
What about your art is shocking? Or is it not shocking?
I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads ‘Fear No Art’. I truly believe this. I have found that the people who are shocked by my art are the people who do not accept that women have a right to enjoy their own sexuality. If you believe that it is okay for women to be sexual beings, not objects, then you will not be shocked. What people do find surprising is that I made the art. I am not flamboyant in appearance or nature. I am the lady you see at the check-out line in the grocery store. I live in a conservative suburban community. People would never suspect the erotic nature of the art I make, which is kind of a kick for me. I enjoy the anonymity of my secret existence.
How did you find the courage to get naked in your garage? Or was it no big deal?
As I said, it was out of necessity and I did make sure the doors were locked. My main focus was to cover new ground. For me this was a means to an end, while at the same time allowing me to push the envelope. What really took courage was showing the art to other people. Reactions were mixed. Some thought the whole idea of portraying female masturbation in a beautiful way was empowering and long overdue. Others thought it was disgusting.
What is it like to look at your naked self over a long period of time?
I’ve been all different shapes and sizes over the years, and I’ve always had weight issues. At age 63, I am at my leanest and strongest. Even though I can see the aging process at work when I look in the mirror, I feel good about myself as a person and as an artist. So, it doesn’t bother me to see sagging breasts and folds of skin. I feel strong. Instead of looking at my body and seeing a steady decline, I see maturation and strength.