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Lilia Li-mi-yan’s Someone Wants to Devour Me
Artwork Lilia Li-mi-yan

Using the body as a tool against censorship

This Moscow-based artist is using bodily functions to start a conversation about the rules and regulations surrounding nudity

“Since the law about the protection of children from deleterious information came to force (in Russia), strict censorship has been occurring. Galleries and publishing houses are now extremely cautious about the material they present – most of them don’t want to show something too revealing or too much nudity. Some people equate such images to pornography. That’s why I couldn't publish my book Nausea in Moscow,” says Moscow-based artist Lilia Li-Mi-Yan, who’s lived and worked in Russia since 1991. In defiance of this climate, she speaks up about sexuality and its relevance at the centre of human existence, creating candid images that tackle identity, body-image issues, age, and the complex relationship between us, our bodies and the world around us. Her focus on the body is both outward and inward, intimate and socially relevant.

“Physicality is present everywhere. The body extends its functionality and physicality beyond the subject,” explains Li-mi-yan, who considers it as the source of all senses and feelings, the instrument through which we create and inspire the world around us. In her eyes, the line between subject and object is faded and they are instead united to form the living organism’s experience. In her recent project Nausea, published by Dienacht in 2015 and currently censored in Russia, she reflects on this connection between body, feeling and reality by visually describing, and at the same time provoking, a bodily condition – nausea. Considering it as a physical reaction to food that has been ingested and split up, but cannot be digested, Li-mi-yan translates this feeling through fragments of bodies, food, plants and objects – parts of the world that are registered by the eye but cannot be unified in a complete concept. The result is a mix of shots of details of the human body juxtaposed with still life shots of various objects in a constant dialogue of different but intersected physicalities, similar to a visual stream of consciousness.

But Li-mi-yan is also concerned with the effect that society and conventions exert over our bodies, and as a consequence, over our understanding of ourselves and reality. Her collaboration with illustrator Katherina Sadovski, Someone Wants to Devour Me, is a reflection on the body as the product of social construction, shaped by religious education, status and social taboos. Trapped by these constraints and constantly under the influence of authoritative interferences, the body receives a prearranged functionality determined by society and, instead of assuming an original identity, it becomes nothing more than a disguise for the individual. In an attempt to reveal this empty, fake and at times ridiculous mask, the artists visualise it through a series of black-and-white, sterile pictures of nudes and anatomical details covered with colourful and violent drawings, reproducing biblical mythology, beauty and sexual stereotypes, and patriarchal phobias. The subject’s body appears completely surrounded, almost invisible under the social constraints, which are revealed in all of their absurdity. At the same time dramatic and ironic, the project doesn’t exclude the possibility of emancipation, but once again closely links it to physicality – the subject is free only when rejecting the established corporeal functionality.

Check out more of Lilia Li-Mi-Yan's work here