Jessica Somers – The Phoenix is reborn from its own ashes. It moves from one life stage to the next fearlessly and without much but a small ceremony of fire to carry it. It lives for generations through reinvention, a rising up from the past and moving forward.
She is not bound to one definition of herself carved out by time and place because there is always more to come. The Phoenix is a solitary traveler bound only to herself and her power to shift, change, grow and know herself more with each fire. She does not subscribe to cultural standards, she does not participate in expectations others have for her. She tries on these things, she wears them with her feathers, she learns, she burns, she goes on.
The self-portraits from the series Meditations on Being a Phoenix use visual metaphors to relay the emotions and experiences from my life within a culture that participates in narrowly constructed ideals of what it means to be female and considers how these constructs influence self-identity.
As an adolescent I was awkward, children made fun of the girl with the weird hair and chubby thighs. In the halls of school boys would grab at the most private parts of my body on a dare and then act repulsed as they showed off for their friends what it was like to touch me.
I grew into what I look like now, attractive by western standards. There have been moments when men took my appearance as an invitation to rub up against me and touch me inappropriately. I was young when I took my first college teaching job. There were false rumors of my provocative activity with students. Staff workers made sexual advances towards me. I wore my hair long, down to my waist, a female coworker told me that I would continue to be sexualized if I chose to keep my hair that way. Another woman associate likened me to a Barbie doll and refused to take me seriously.
It is scary how much agency people take in reaction to the way someone looks, like the rapist unable to see their crime because they feel their victim enticed them into committing the offense. I do not wish to be a victim to the perceptions of others, their assumptions do not define me. It takes time and conscious effort to know yourself outside of the ideals imprinted upon you. Like the mythological Phoenix that bursts into flames at the end of each life cycle to be reborn from its own ashes, I am burning off the notion that my worth might be measured in form and features rather than by my actions, kindness and intelligence.
Each work in this series combines photography, pigments and encaustic wax which create surface marks that parallel the scars and impressions cultural expectations can make on an individual [Official Website]