The word "warrior" is summoned regularly these days when referring to women in art, politics, activism...but it's possible that the most primal act of feminism is that of reminding the world that women are the irrefutable caretakers of their own bodies. And no matter how much regressive men (and their female apologists) attempt to usurp that control, we have come to know that it will only grow stronger, more intractable.
Photographer Reka Nyari celebrates that primalness in her work, which is provocative not so much for its nudity, as for the self-possession and power she draws to the surface of her subjects—who in turn radiate an indomitable spirit. Their bodies tell their stories, and she helps to communicate those stories to the world in the most visceral of possible ways.
"I like to portray women who are edgy, sexy, and strong," she explains of her artistic ideology. "I like to be truthful while instigating curiosity for the unknown. I see the world as dark and beautiful and full of interesting stories."
Land of Milk and Honey (left), Efflorescence (right)
Coming from a country, Finland, with annual periods of 24-hour darkness, surely inspired this point of view. Leaving for New York City as a teen, and subsequently traveling a great deal, populated her imagination with unique and vivid characters. Her aesthetic—gothic, somber, yet heroic, daring, seemingly fearless—subsequently won her a dedicated following, with her work appearing in the likes of Vogue, Esquire, Tatlerand Vanity Fair. She has also exhibited all over the world.
This January 16, she will bring her latest series, Ink Stories, to the BlackBook Presentsgallery in Brooklyn. For it, she photographed five women of exceedingly varied backgrounds, chosen also for the singularness of their body modifications, and each given a revealing nom d'encre: Geisha Ink, Valkyrie Ink, The Mother Ink, Reaper Ink, and Blooming Ink.
The women also have wildly divergent stories. Geisha Ink, for instance, is the product of a strict, conservative Japanese family—and so her tattoos are shot through with the spirit of rebellion. While Reaper Ink grew up as the grandchild of a horrifyingly abusive man - so tattooing became her therapy. And Blooming Ink used inking as a way to overcome a crippling social anxiety.
Levitate (left), Idea (right)
"I wanted to find women that were extensively inked," Nyari reveals, "and who wanted to tell their stories. We communicate quite a bit to find symbolism and a character that relates to their life stories and experiences, and then play pretty freely on the actual shoot. The goal is to have images that are authentic, but also beautiful and haunting."
And she is adamant that the images are not intended as eroticism. Rather, they are exquisite, thought-provoking statements of defiance, perfectly timed to the #MeToo zeitgeist, and the bizarre reality of living under an authoritarian American president who openly sanctions sexual assault against women.
She concurs, "I think showing women from a non-objective, non-sexualized point of view is very welcomed at the moment. And [tattooing] is such a rebellious way of taking control and altering what you were born with. While it may not seem like a big deal to us, most people around the world are shocked to see women with this many tattoos."
Freydis (left), The Red Maiden (right)
And what is next for her?
"I am hoping to finish this series in 2020," she reveals, "portraying ten women from around the world - and am also working on video pieces and performance art related to the series."
Not of This World (above)
Ink Stories will be on view January 16 through February 20 at BlackBook Presents gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn.