Interview by Christina Massolino
Feature image by Sam Dubyna
Sam Dubyna is a 24-year-old artist studying her final year of a Bachelor of Contemporary Art at UniSA. Sam creates explosive and expressive paintings that engage with themes of female* sexuality, masturbation and self-exploration. Sam also incorporates themes of abjection and grotesqueness within her work to elevate these concepts into socially relevant contexts.
In Sam’s paintings, the biological clarity each figure physically presents is simultaneously riddled with ambiguity where waves of paint overlap and the female form becomes metaphysical. This leaves room for questions and open-minded interpretations, creating a kind space for those who don’t yet understand the power of female sexuality, and emboldening those who wish to celebrate it.
*When referring to female or female sexuality and genitalia, we acknowledge there are many different versions of female-ness and types of female bodies in the world including those belonging to intersex, non-binary, gender nonconforming, and transgender individuals. We understand not everyone is simply ‘female’ and invite everyone to connect with Sam’s artworks in whatever way they would like to.
Body 4”, 2019, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 110cms x 130cms.
When you paint is there some sort of energy that drives you?
Yes, absolutely—in so many ways. I feel that the physical act of painting is very cathartic and therapeutic, so when I start a piece or even just start setting up my space to paint, I get my headphones in straight away and blast something loud, angry, or heavy to get me focused and ready. It’s as if I am getting ready for battle. I’m personally not great at channelling emotions or crying or running or anything that you’re “supposed” to do to keep a level head, so I really feel that when I paint that that is where I get my big energy release from.
How do you manipulate the paint in your artworks and why?
Through the course of a lot of experimentation, I found that paintbrushes were neither making satisfying enough marks on the page, nor manipulating colours quite right either. It was then almost an unconscious decision to literally squeeze the paint from the tube directly onto my hand and smear it across the page, which allowed me to manipulate the paint exactly how I wanted to by changing the shapes of my hands or applying different pressures.
By literally having a ‘hands on’ approach to my work, I feel that my mark making is a lot more personal. By removing the ‘middle man’ (the brush), I feel that I am allowing for continuous connection to the marks I am making, and for the time between ‘thought’ and ‘action’ to be as minimal as possible. In order for there to be a perfect balance to each piece, I find that I have an unconscious awareness of what amount of colour needs to be within each quarter of the page in order for a piece to feel complete. The tactile quality of feeling the cool, gooey paint in my hands enhances my own personal connection to each piece, as the texture of the paint itself has an almost bodily quality to it.
“I hope that my work serves as an ignition point for people to realise, learn or understand that the female body is so powerful and sacred.”
Why do you choose to show a full female figure in some paintings with legs spread, showing a vulva, instead of depicting simply a close up of a vulva? (For those unsure of the difference between the vulva and the vagina, the vulva refers to the external female genitalia including the clitoris, labia, urethral opening and vaginal opening. The vagina refers to the tube located internally).
I choose to depict the full female figure within my paintings as the bodies I portray are often in some form of act—that being something like masturbating, or simply holding themselves, or exploring their body. The figures sometimes are fragmented with parts repeated or removed, but this only serves to capture a degree of movement or motion. The figures themselves are a whole body and a whole person experiencing a moment that I am capturing and bottling for only a second. I feel that if I were to remove the rest of the body from the vulva, then I would be losing so much of the meaning behind my work. The female body itself holds so much wonder and interest beyond just a few parts that almost serve as buzzword-like images, so I couldn’t see my work without the entire body attached to those parts to tell part of the story of the female sexual experience.
Is there still room for discourse on the female body and sexual exploration in 2020 or have we talked ourselves dry?
I think that it is important to still discuss the topic in 2020 because I still feel like the very act of having a body is so weird, strange, unique, and special and yet we all keep our bodies to ourselves still in such a big way, and then shame or dismiss those who want to share, discuss or explore. In regards to the female body and sexual exploration in particular, I feel that through the media we consume, there is a certain way that these themes can and can’t be portrayed, so my thought process then turns to ‘well why can’t I show a female masturbating?’ or ‘why can’t I pose the body in a certain way?’ Through my art, I hope to open the dialogue up by challenging outdated patriarchal systems of belief, by presenting my own interpretations of the female body in response to a total rejection of the uncritically accepted white, Western, male viewpoint. The female body does so many beautiful and gross things and both of those things are okay and normal. Why not celebrate, discuss, and recognise both?
Are people confronted by your art?
Yes and I love it! I have had people say that the figures look monstrous, that the pieces are ‘too messy’, that the distorted bodies aren’t ‘right.’ Because you can’t usually pick out the figure in each piece straight away, I really enjoy seeing people recoil or become unsure even before knowing what the figure is doing underneath all the paint. When I explain, some people delight in picking out an arm, or a leg, whilst others don’t get the whole concept at all, which is okay too—let’s talk about it and unpack unsureness.
How do you hope your art challenges people’s views of the female body and female masturbation?
I hope that my work serves as an ignition point for people to realise, learn or understand that the female body is so powerful and sacred, and that its desire and need for pleasure is beautiful, NORMAL, and is something to be celebrated. Whilst my pieces aren’t necessarily clear on the subject matter on first glance, I hope that viewers get sucked in to the swirls, the chaos, and the messiness of it all, and that they truly stop and feel the energy from the piece. Hopefully that energy or the images I create can leave an impression—looking at one of my pieces isn’t going to change someone’s mind on the subjects, but it could start a line of questioning that could domino into something much bigger.
Do you ever feel frustrated when someone doesn’t ‘get’ your art?
I do and I don’t. I am very open to discussing my intentions and motivations and explaining what I am making and why. I will always make the point to stop and listen to people’s objections or questions and will do my best to express myself in the most accessible and tangible way possible for someone who is completely thrown by what I create. The frustration only comes when someone won’t hear what I have to say, or will criticize or reject without being informed or at least willing to be informed. I completely respect everyone’s right to their own opinions, but opinions born out of naivety or fear or what you’ve heard your parents say or what the media has told you are hard to navigate around. I feel though that these adverse reactions are simply projections of people’s own self-questioning and inquiry, and it’s completely okay to not be quite ready for these discussions yet too. We’re all on our own journeys and that is something to be respected.
What has been your experience in sharing your work with peers and teachers at uni?
I have had mixed reactions, but I try not to focus on them too much to be completely honest. I think that I personally have a really clear grasp on what I want to experiment with and where I want to take my work, so when I do receive feedback or suggestions that don’t follow this line of thinking, I am most likely going to listen, examine, and then still do what I think is best anyway. I think a big thing with being in the arts is backing yourself, and trusting both yourself and the process along the way. If I know what I am doing and can see where I am going, why would I even deviate for a second if I can see something great in the direction I am headed? That could be very naive of me to say, but making for me is so personal and intuitive that I’m not perturbed by negative experiences when sharing my work because it’s mine, I made it for a reason, and nine times out of ten I am proud as punch about it, and really that’s all I truly care about.
“Body 2”, 2019, charcoal and pastel on paper, 110cms x 130cms.
Are there any females in your life or history that have inspired you to be bold in your art?
Yes and I am so, so grateful to the lineage of women that I have come from because they inspire me to keep the fire in my belly stoked and blazing at all times. After her husband was shot by the Bolsheviks in Russia, my great-great-grandmother on my maternal side took to the streets and lifted her skirt as the ultimate insult to the soldiers, yelling ‘You’ve murdered my husband and this is what you’ll get from me!” She was then killed in a hail of bullets. Then my grandmother, when fleeing China to get to Australia with her family, slept with her new born daughter (my mum) outside at a train station for three days as my mum was only recently born and was not on the official documentation that would allow her to leave the country. Then my grandmother on my paternal side was captured by German soldiers during WWI, was put into a work-camp, escaped whilst on her way to be executed, was re-captured, then put back into a work camp and stayed there until the war was over. This was where she met and married my grandfather, and birthed her first child (my aunty). The fact that the blood of these three women who endured so much and fought so hard flows through my body is powerful. Their stories don’t necessarily inform my work directly, but knowing that the female experience can often be boiled down to great strength, resilience, and power is such a beautiful thing, so I couldn’t imagine myself creating outside the topic of female-ness when it is such a huge part of how I identify and navigate my world and is something I am so grateful for because without it, I wouldn’t be here today.
“The feminist aspect to my work is my own questioning of why the art world has been so dominated by patriarchal modes of thinking.”
Do you consider your art feminist or something else?
Yes, it definitely lends itself to the feminist discussion. I draw and paint the naked female body and show breasts and vulvas, and use these as catalysts for discussion and putting these themes out in the world. I would say though, that I see the feminist part stemming more so from my role as a female artist, making art about the female experience, for people who identify with female-ness. Systemic and social constructs have positioned women as incapable of greatness in Western culture, disallowing them to access education and gain recognition within the arts for so long. I think that the feminist aspect to my work is my own questioning of why the art world has been so dominated by patriarchal modes of thinking, and to recognise the significance of what it means to be a working female artist today.
Can you give us an indication of where your art is heading this year, and what we might expect to see in the Contemporary Art Graduate Exhibition?
My objective for this year is to create a series of large wall hangings that present what I believe to be a more realistic and raw image of the female body that does not shy away from taboo topics and imagery. I will continue to use the themes of abjection and the grotesque to present unconventional female bodies that are large, disfigured, and distorted in order to achieve a representation of the female body, which challenges traditional iterations and imagery. I basically want my work to take up as much space as possible. I want my figures to envelope and tower over everyone and to force people out of their comfort zones. When I imagine and visualise my final pieces, I imagine the chaotic noise of an orchestra all tuning their instruments at once which only continues to crescendo and get louder and louder until there is so much noise that you can’t differentiate one instrument from the next. This chaos and noisiness is the same feeling that I seek to capture and ignite within my work. Let’s see what happens!
“She’s Writhing At The Thought Of You”, 2019, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 110cms x 130cms.
This piece was originally published in Edition 33 of Verse. View the original piece via ISSUU.
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