It is with her unapologetic reverence that Sophia Wallace creates transgressive work. The Brooklyn-based photographer, print-maker, and video artist renders her art with raw admiration for queerness, for women, and for good sex.
Sophia Wallace has focused her lens on topics of identity, gender, sexuality, race, class, and beauty. Her work ranges from personal explorations to cultural critiques. Since earning her Master of Arts in Photography 2005, Wallace has received global recognition, showing in many cities including Sydney, Vienna, London, and New York. As her work has proliferated, it has continued to grow in depth and efficacy.
From 2002 to 2007, Wallace shot a photo-documentary on female masculinity titled “Girls Will be Bois.” When the project began it sought to show the beauty of a a group of bois, while highlighting their experience of simultaneous sexism, homophobia, racism, and classism. The project gained increased importance for Wallace in 2003 after the murder of butch black lesbian Sakia Gunn. Only fifteen years old, Sakia was stabbed to death after being sexually harrassed on train in Newark, NJ. The hate crime went almost entirely unacknowledged. Wallace’s documentary reveals the fear, confidence, and love that shape the lives of many bois.
In 2009, Wallace placed herself bravely in front of the camera for two projects. Through a series titled “Losing and Finding Amma,” Wallace tackled her grief over the loss of her grandmother, and explored her personal identity. In “Truer,” she photographed the intimate life of her and her same-sex partner. The series seeks to portray a queer woman’s relationship unmediated by straightness or the male gaze. It includes the cute, mundane and rarely celebrated details of queer life. Wallace challenges heteronormativity by deftly putting kissing, sharing a milkshake, and wearing a binder on the same plane. The result is beautifully tender.
In addition to her documentary work, Sophia Wallace has effectively used more stylized techniques to create direct cultural commentary. In a critically acclaimed series title “On Beauty,” she had male models strike poses that are traditionally used to portray women in paintings and photos. By instructing men to look soft and vulnerable, she created the images that undermine gendered aesthetics, and raise questions about masculinity and misogyny alike. In similarly fashion-conscious projects, Wallace has explored non-binary understandings of race and gender in “Modern Dandy” and continued to celebrate masculine femininity in “Berlin Lookbook.”
In these projects, Wallace’s aesthetic–which sometimes includes bro-tank lettering and spreads that could pass in a J. Crew catalog–is as common as her subject matter is unconventional. This combination serves her work in two ways. Primarily, her aesthetic echoes and subverts a happy-go-lucky culture of privilege. By using aspects of mainstream culture, she creates access points for the margins. With a tank top that yells “SOLID GOLD CLIT,” Wallace offers female-bodied people the bravado usually reserved for frat-bros (Cliteracy 2013). With studio-lighting and styling, she creates a fashion spread of butch women with all the glamor that is usually reserved for femme waifs (Berlin Lookbook 2011). Secondly, Wallace’s stylistic choices challenge those who have desensitized themselves to mainstream (read: heteronormative, cissexist, white supremacist) culture by making visible that which privileged aesthetics casually erase.
Sophia Wallace’s most recent project has embraced new media and become her most forthright work yet. Utilizing the popular aesthetics of internet memes and the growing tumblr feminist/girl culture, Wallace has begun creating art with words and expounding on the importance of “Cliteracy.” Following in the tradition of feminist word artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, Sophia Wallace is blunt, honest, and inciting. Her work is decidedly sex positive, urging women to take control of their sexuality, demand good sex, and stop letting our culture erase female pleasure. Her memes are each titled “CLITERACY, Natural Law No….” and at the bottom runs the evermore obligatory hashtag and copyright line. The information is sometimes educational (“4 Minutes the Avergae Time It Takes Women to Orgasm Through Masturbation”), instigating (Viagra Won’t Make You Cliterate), and often political (“Democracy without Cliteracy? Phallusy”). In one image she spells out much of her motivation and feminist perspective:
After Wallace outlines the physical aspects of bodily subjugation and the implications of it, her definitions are explicit and her rallying cry is clear. The clitoris is awesome, it needs attention, and it needs cliteracy.
Cliteracy‘s broad reach and direct message speaks to a need for more thoughtful sex-positivity. Hopefully, with the spread of memes, shirts, and prints, her message will inspire more clit-confidence, and education. As Wallace’s work develops, it is amazing to see the thoughtful and powerful arsenal of techniques that she creates to tackle issues of identity and power.
By: Nicole Hasslinger, Editor in Chief
All Images found on SophiaWallace.Com