There are two things that anonymous feminist artist Ambivalently Yours does really well: hand-written notes of self-expression to disperse in public places and breaking the binaries of what is expected of a female today. Since the inception of her blog ambivalently-yours.com in 2012, the creation of her illustrations, with their scattering of honest thoughts, life perils and questions, the anonymous artist creates an online space where conflicting feelings are confronted and reevaluated – she's dead serious but sprinkles them with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humour. "Dear skirt, you are very cute and I like you a lot, but I read this study that said it was better for my career if I chose you over pants, and that makes me resent you," she writes. Using her work to highlight the messiness and imperfections of being female, she creates an avenue for ‘boldly undecided girls’ to celebrate their contradictions. Below we talk to her about her most recent work.
What served as your inspiration to create such strong and powerful artwork?
Ambivalently Yours: I started Ambivalently Yours in 2012 when I was studying feminist art and working in the fashion industry, which seemed like a huge contradiction at the time. At work, I was the feminist killjoy every time I raised a concern about the sexist undertones in our campaigns, and in art school I was the fashion girl who many assumed was duped by the patriarchy just because I liked cute clothes and girly colours. I felt caught somewhere in-between two worlds that I both loved and hated at times, in other words I felt ambivalent. I eventually decided to embrace my contradictions and Ambivalently Yours became my way of unapologetically exploring my feminist questions from this in-between place.
You leave notes to highlight the potential for political resistance, what do you hope people feel when they find them?
Ambivalently Yours: There is something that happens when you write an emotion down, then leave the words somewhere for someone else to find. It becomes a sort of reverse shoplifting that is both liberating and a little scary. I started leaving anonymous ambivalent notes in public places to acknowledge my contradictions. I hoped that others would find them, empathise with how I was feeling and perhaps find comfort or questions in that process. I eventually expanded this idea on the Internet and began writing and posting drawings about my ambivalence on my Tumblr, which people eventually found, many reblogged, and others began responding to with questions and stories. In return, I began answering their messages with drawings inspired by their words.
You’re using rebellion to become more of a ‘badass’ feminist. How are you challenging the binaries of feminism today?
Ambivalently Yours: I would say that I’m actually using ambivalence to become more of a ‘badass’ feminist. Ambivalence means loving and hating simultaneously, which is often confused for an inability to make up one’s mind, or not having a strong opinion. Embracing ambivalence has given me the freedom to resist defining myself too narrowly. Part of being a feminist is about advocating for a woman’s right to choose. This right, however, does not imply there is only one choice. For example, my commitment to feminism could only occur once I gave myself permission to also embrace my love of fashion and the colour pink, two things often associated with the patriarchal domination of women. This refusal to choose between femininity and feminism allowed for another space to exist: not a space of indecision but rather a space of undeciding. My commitment to ambivalence is about learning to ask more questions rather than get stuck with incomplete answers
“There is something that happens when you write an emotion down, then leave the words somewhere for someone else to find” – Ambivalently Yours
What makes your approach different and more effective than other feminist bloggers and artists?
Ambivalently Yours: The word feminism has become quite present in mainstream media, but there are a lot of misconceptions about it. I think that changing gender norms that have been engrained in our public consciousness for such a long time is a complex thing, and it will take more than feminism being trendy for anything to really change. My goal is to keep questioning my own convictions and to find ways of facilitating conversations with others so that I can keep broadening my point of view. I don’t compete or compare myself with other feminists or artists because we are allies, different voices talking about a similar thing. Feminism needs many different voices and approaches to become a movement and to inspire change.
What are the pros and cons of being anonymous?
Ambivalently Yours: The internet can be a volatile place and my work is always inspired by personal experiences, so I found that the only way I could be honest without making myself too vulnerable was to be anonymous. In other words, my anonymity was a form of self-preservation, which in turn gave me courage to be more daring in my art. Later, I realised that my anonymity allowed for people to find themselves in the lack of specificity of my online persona. People often assume that I live in their country, or that I am their age or attribute me with any other form of similarity they are looking for. With this, Ambivalently Yours becomes less of a reflection of my personal self and more of a representation of the ideas behind the work; she is my more daring alter ego.
Follow Lisa Walden on Twitter here @lisagracewalden