Bold, bare, and beautiful
“Send nudes.” In many of today’s dating apps, that is the calling card. It is all about the body, it does the talking. Women pose in the best way to showcase their assets. Men hold their breath to flex every inch of muscle until they get that perfect mirror shot. Even for people currently in a relationship, sending nudes is still a thing. Regular couples even document their steamy love moments as if it is like a trust exercise. Well, it is just for the two of them to see—their little secret.
Unfortunately, in our digital world today, privacy has no borderline. Those for-your-eyes only videos and photos come to light without a person knowing. They are again naked, but this time, in the public. People in those content see and hear every sneer, comment, and laughter as people feast on their scandal. While there are several rules in the Philippines that could make leaking this kind of content a cybercrime, the victims are always the ones who suffer the most. And for women, the consequences are higher.
Nudity in our age has been tainted with such demeaning thoughts that we forget that all throughout history, women baring it all was a gateway to making a masterpiece. Goddesses were immortalized by sculptures depicting them in the nude. It continued in paintings such as Botticelli’s 1485 masterpiece “The Birth of Venus.” Later on, regular women became the bare muse with works like Goya’s “The Nude Maja” and Klimt’s “Danae.” It continues eve up to the modern times—”paint me like one of your French girls,” says Kate Winslet’s Rose to Leo DiCaprio’s Jack in “Titanic.”
Here to help reimagine that sense of artistry in nudity is Filipino illustrator Christa Vega. Through her #SecretNudes series, she highlights the beauty of nude selfies, aiming to bring back the power to the women who took them.
In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Christa talks about how her creative initiative started, how it affects women, and the misconceptions ladies get from taking their clothes off for a snapshot.
How did your life as an artist start? What inspired you to pursue a creative career?
When I was six or seven, my mom bought a gift for a family friend’s son. It was an instructional book on drawing. I wanted one, too, and she got me “The Big Book of Cartooning” by Bruce Blitz and I fell in love with the challenge of drawing since then. My parents were very supportive and enrolled me for summer art classes under Maestro Orobia in fifth grade. Throughout high school, I drew for the campus paper and yearbook. In college, I took up Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines – Diliman, majoring in Visual Communications. I was there from 2011 to 2016.
At 29, I choose to keep my artistry as a passion instead of a career. This is so it doesn’t turn into a chore or burden. I can keep my love for it pure and unpressured. My career outside of that is in advertising strategy.
Do you have artists that you look up to?
My profs in UP Fine Arts before anyone else, the late editorial cartoonist Neil Doloricon who was my thesis adviser for #Selfiewareness: an advocacy campaign on digital violence against women via leaking nudes. This turned out inspiring #SecretNudes years later, which was my way of positivizing or possibly elevating the “send me nudes” phenomenon.
My advanced figure drawing professor Jackie Lozano, a portrait and figurative artist. Most of her paintings are also bodies. She taught me a lot about the techniques and perspectives of capturing people in art.
Other artists who helped me develop my style through the years were Shel Silverstein (“The Giving Tree”), Brett Helquist (“A Series of Unfortunate Events”), and Egon Schiele.
When did you start illustrating women’s bodies? What is the story behind #SecretNudes?
Women’s bodies, whether clothed or not, have always been a common subject for me, but I took it further in the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020). I posted an Instagram story asking women for nudes that I can draw and in the first year, more than 150 women sent them to me consensually. I did it for free at first, but once it neared 100 I decided to charge as commissions to be fair to myself.
In the beginning, it was all about offering a sense of thrill to women that they get to be totally bare but at the same time, concealed by an artwork. That will be them naked in the image but, at the same time, not because the art will quite literally just be lines and colors. I found that to be magical.
But as the project grew, that thrill turned into [something] more: self-love, empowerment, liberation, healing from sexual abuse, overcoming body dysmorphia, postpartum body jourmeys, reclaiming bodies after being previously victimized by past partners who leaked their nudes. Women opened up, women cried, women celebrated. It became a safe space for them to love their bodies. “I never thought I’d find my body this beautiful,” “this made me feel so much more powerful,” and “I have always struggled with my body but this taught me to love it better” are some of the reactions.
Along the way, #SecretNudes became a collaboration with other female-led businesses. We started turning client illustrations into merchandise for them. Clasico MNL made shirts and RIOtaso clothing made repurposed totes. Amplifying the layer of women supporting women through this project.
What is your goal in making #SecretNudes?
When I researched for my college thesis, I realized that there are parallelisms between leaking nudes and rape—no consent, victim blaming, and slut shaming. #SecretNudes was my way of positivizing the conversation, wherein women would hold the power instead of being the typically assumed damsels in distress.
My goal here is to challenge the way our bodies are seen: We are not objects, but artworks. And for the women, to give them the magic of seeing themselves through a different perspective—without malice, and all through the lens of art.
It is also a way of stressing consent. In doing this, I never bypass a woman. I always ask for permission not only to draw them in the nude or almost nude, but also in posting their artworks on my channels. That made me see the beautiful artworks that can come about as long as a woman honors you with her consent.
How would you describe your art style/aesthetic?
I always see my way of drawing as “intimate with lines.” I don’t think I can define it in technical terms, but every time I draw, it’s really all about getting up-close and personal with an image. That sets the tone.
Do you think there’s power in vulgarity? What do you think is the biggest misconception people have when it comes to nude selfies?
Even if I draw nudes, I’m not an advocate of vulgarity. There is definitely shock value in some of my artworks but I’ve continuously tried to soften it to keep the images from being blatantly sexualized.
My project is not about encouraging women to keep sending nudes. I always remind them of the risks that are outside my scope. It is all about intention for me. There are erotic or hentai artists whose objectives are to stimulate you, but I’d like for my work to be more of capturing anatomy beautifully.
A misconception, at least for #SecretNudes, is that women want to be part of it dahil malandi sila. Some commenters have even slut-shamed them saying, “bastos”, “pokpok pala eh,” or “ano to bold???”. It’s sad that women are disgraced for celebrating their bodies, even as artworks. It is also disheartening that while nude art has been around way before us—Renaissance paintings, iconic nude sculptures—there is still an aversion to human anatomy as an art form.