Text by REnata iberia
MEAT, an exploration on the concept of sexual exploitation by Naomi Kaja
A day full of sunshine at the park is the setting that Naomi Kaja has chosen for her photo series and video, visually converted by Anastasija Kocevska, MEAT, an exploration on the concept of sexual exploitation of young people and sexualization through the juxtaposed, overlapped flesh of the artist’s own body and that of animal origin.
With this project, the aspiring free arts creative echoes Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject and pushes the boundaries of corporeal meaning and signification. Here, the red, fleshy animal meat is placed around a context that destabilizes the human eye and gut which, in another scenario, would not usually hesitate at the sight of meat on a plate. With the collaboration of photographer Anastasija Kocevska and NSNS Editor SGBA, the project brings up all the contradictions and vulnerabilities that may arise from the encounter of meat, skin, blood, nature and animals.
In addition, MEAT raises important questions around the way we inhabit the world: is it possible for a body to be just that, a body in itself and for itself? What would life be like if we could strip the body down of all of these symbolic meanings that codify its existence in the world, often in violent terms? Naomi acknowledges that gender plays a key role in the way these questions might be approached since, as a woman, this problematic is part of our daily life and our adaptive strategies to keep ourselves alive and safe. Coming up with an answer might not be easy, but as Naomi shows, tracing the background of these violent situations helps in making steps towards a less ruthless world. Naomi conceives this project from a personal experience but explores it through a greater lens, convinced that it might resonate with different contexts and bodies. In her own words:
The project can be interpreted in many ways and is intended to call into question the gnawing structures within our society and economy. For me, art is a versatile tool to process events from the past and present, but since I do not want my personal story to be the focus of the interpretation of my works, I have chosen widespread sexualization and sexual exploitation (which is associated with sexual violence for me) and their consequences as a topic that unfortunately affects everyone somehow, directly or indirectly, of course, personal experiences also flow into it, but also many reports from friends and family members, or experiences that you had to collect together, things that you have seen or read on the Internet.
The elements at play in the photo series are just a few, but all of them have thought and reason behind them. A park, the body of the artist, black dogs and pieces of meat build up the striking images:
In this context, the dogs represent primitive perpetrators because they have no other power than gnawing, eating and using. Of course it’s important to point out I don’t otherwise perceive my dogs as primitive beings, but I was unable to find people for this role and I followed suit putting my dogs in the role of perpetrators for a lot of thought, also for understandable or unambiguous reasons, since it is obvious that they act as animals, primitively and instinctively (although humans are animals too, but that’s another topic). As a perpetrator, you do not want to attach any value to the situation or the incident, you are an active part and you leave the victim or object behind. Through that lens the victim is downgraded to a passive object, naked and vulnerable. For me, the meat symbolizes the surface shell that is sexualised in this case and only represents one use (satisfy hunger, needs) the naked, profound, versatile core is apparently left untouched, but being sexualised, exploited or even abused never leaves you unscathed.
Watch the video here.
The project is intended to disgust, disgust and convey a certain depressive, constricting madness, a formative traumatic experience. It seemed natural to me to consider which of my limits I could cross in order to illustrate the subject. As I live vegan, I quickly came up with the idea of the deer because a deer is hunted, chased, gutted and eaten. But I only used the hunting waste from this deer that would have gotten into the bin. I used beef for the meat so my dogs could eat it and it wouldn’t go to waste.
Naomi specifies on the specific areas or situations that spark her interest around the topic of sexualization and exploitation. To name some of them:
I’m also concerned with everyday things that at first glance don’t seem so serious but are definitely a problem. For example, the sexualization of breastfeeding or relationships between same-sex people (mainly relationships between women), body hair or nowadays not having any body hair, and Of course, wearing short or tight clothing is often considered provocative or provocative, where the word sexy is often used. This list should clearly show that women are more likely to be affected by the problem discussed here. Often you meet people who are only willing to enter into a relationship with someone if they agree to satisfy their sexual needs in good time. This need often takes precedence over the desire to be emotionally close to the person. It is not likely that everyone wants to have sex, provided that one seems interested or friendly and open. I also count sexual exploitation among the fact that it often happens that much older men or women are interested in younger people, often minors, wrap them around their fingers and play with their ignorance and the shame of saying no.
Of course, not only individuals act as perpetrators, but also the economy driven by capitalism. Very close to the motto “sex sells”, hair removal methods such as razor advertising are also used here. Shampoo, for example, is praised sensually and erotically, as are car advertising or cleaning products. This normalizes sexualization and is less questioned because one is confronted with it everywhere but this is rarely viewed critically.
In the specific case of women’s bodies, it is known that social requirements of beauty are higher and rigid. From head to toe, women’s bodies are meant to add or remove certain elements, to become a pleasant sight to the foreign eye. This is where capitalism thrives with the endless selling of products to “enhance” our body. When asked by SGBA about how the artist thinks about sexual exploitation, Naomi replies:
If this question means where, in my opinion, sexual violence or exploitation occurs / occurs, it is not so easy to answer. Sexual exploitation also exists above all in an economic context. e.g. that from around 1960 in addition to the conventional men’s razor, women’s razors were launched. At first that sounds a lot like the beginning of equality, but it quickly turned into a very uncomfortable and widespread extreme. The natural body hair of women was quickly perceived as something masculine and not feminine, which promised a golden nose to the corporations that launched the women’s shave. Having soft, smooth, hair-free skin is sold as sexy, feminine and beautiful, although it is almost childlike. In my opinion, this is exploitation because money is made with a concept that indirectly turns you into a buyer’s attraction, but only if you prevent a natural physical process. If you don’t get rid of body hair (whether it’s a razor, wax, laser, etc.), in my experience it is often viewed critically because it is simply so anchored in society. Even my mother, who should have encouraged me as a woman, was always very convinced that I should remove my arm hair to look more beautiful, or remove my upper lip hair because she was trapped in this picture. It is very suspicious and strange to me that this was hardly questioned until recently. Fortunately, this is now being criticized and discussed in many communities. Sexual exploitation is also when other people benefit from the existential fear of others in a sexual context, for example when someone feels compelled to prostitution. These are just a few examples out of an endless number. Sexual exploitation does not only exist in an economic context, but of course also in a social context, when insecurities are used, borders or “gray areas” are crossed, and not asked, especially among inexperienced or young people.
As SGBA points out, Naomi’s choice of words is specific and visceral, words like “gnaw”, “eat” and “use” appear often. Could this relate to animal’s behavior? And how does this relate to a common idea, which is that perpetrators act on their “instincts”? Naomi says:
Humans have developed a much deeper consciousness than other animal species; we are no longer guided by our instincts. We are by large sane beings who have a moral understanding, we know where general and personal boundaries begin, where manipulation begins or how it works, just as we know when we start harming a person or act against a person’s will. In the project I presented it as something animal because it resembles animal behavior. But just because an act is animal and thus instinct-guided and takes place without regard to losses, it is not the whole person and his consciousness. Say the person is always able to decide against it. After all, a person can also do something childlike without being a child. For me it implies that these actions are not based on my general idea of humane, considerate, moral behavior. That it is something reckless, something tearing, something thoughtful and selfish, like a wolf tearing up a lamb. However, with the defining difference that the wolf can never really be aware of it, human beings grow up in a society in which they are taught that other people do not live to meet our needs and much less so that we abuse them or cause them damage. In this respect, the dogs in the video are only a stylistic device for instinctively driven, primitive, ruthless action, but not to justify the lack of morality and empathy that a person possesses.
How is it possible to confront this constant, brutal violence, to put up a face and stand up against it? Naomi shares an interesting perspective, which is founded on a conscious practice of boundaries. As women, we have to re-learn the way we have been taught kindness before our own very safety. In a way, this practice relates to a heightened intuition and demands of us that we learn how to listen to it:
I have attended several courses in the women’s shelter where I learned to say no. I can really recommend this, I would probably never have learned it otherwise, because hardly anyone teaches you. The courses are offered once or several times a year in many cities and are free of charge. You work together in an all-women group, but I’m also sure that there are such groups for other genders, but I didn’t deal with that because I’m directly at the women’s shelter.
On the one hand, I literally say no when I feel that I feel constricted. I’ve learned that I don’t owe anyone to show affection or live up to expectations. If I am spoken to and I don’t want to talk, then I say that I don’t want to talk, if I don’t trust myself or feel threatened, I try to get close to others in public places. When I get to know people, I often find out from the beginning where my limits are, and that I don’t want to be pushed to anything, if that happens, that means I won’t be accepted and there is no place in my life for this person.
Often I am also anxious when I am traveling alone, in such situations I have an alarm button with me in case a no is not accepted or I get into a threatening situation. Unfortunately, that has already happened to too many and is a reality. These buttons cost about 15 euros and make a constant noise that is as loud as a plane taking off, you can only deactivate the button by inserting the pin again which you have to pull out to operate. This button is primarily used to create a period of time to be able to escape a potentially dangerous situation. I think such safeguards are justified. I’ve never had to resort to anything like this, but if it makes me feel more secure, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Anyway, the word no is very important to me, I first had to learn to be able to say no to a man or a woman when I felt cornered and I think it shouldn’t get that far, you asking to not be pushed. At this point I would just like to mention that a woman has never pushed or used me in this way.