This is not erotica

Birthed from a Tumblr obsession and a nod to Dadaism, provocative photographer Kostis Fokas explores the naked body sans sex

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Kostis Fokas November 2014 Dazed
Photography by Kostis Fokas

Photographer Kostis Fokas is certainly not shy. Casting his gaze over the bodies of naked men, woman, pubic hair, genitals, breasts – you name it – for the past two years, all in the name of his latest series I’m Not Malfunctioning, You Are. Here, the images should be sexual, yet, are anything but. The difference lies in Fokas’ fascination to challenge the naked body’s limits as opposed to exploring its physical and carnal connection with sex – utilising the body as a vehicle to express the metaphorical undressing and vulnerability that we allow ourselves in front of others.

To him, the body as a “shell”; a vessel that harbours the pain and thought process of everyday life. “To be stripped of clothing is to surrender a part of yourself. This thought haunted me,” the photographer explains. Juxtaposing exposed flesh against found – completely out-of-place – props; model tigers edging against nipples, ready to attack; glittery tinselled-hair masks rendering identities obscure, Fokas provides “a landscape where the bizarre meets the ordinary – a testimony of human sculpture.” Ahead of the launch of his first solo exhibition this Friday in the UK, I’m Not Malfunctioning, You Are, in collaboration with The Queer Archive at London’s Dalston Superstore, we catch up with the photographer.

Your images are pretty confronting to say the least – what is it that inspires you?

Kostis Fokas: I started exploring Tumblr and found myself intrigued by the amount of creative work and the significant value that can potentially be unlocked. After hovering over numerous works and projects, a series of images unfolded in my imagination, marking the birth of the project.

Even though I would not say that there is any particular artistic style that inspired me, my work definitely involves a truckload of references – Dada and pop culture among them. But at some point, my project was almost like a game; the more I was sinking into this vast world of online images and artworks, the more I was getting triggered to move on with my own project. It was a journey without a destination.

“The images are not meant to be sexual, at least this was not my intention. They’re not meant to be erotic photographs either. On the contrary, the naked bodies serve as a metaphor for how we feel when we get undressed, the uncomfortable feeling of exposing ourselves to others” – Kostis Fokas

They’re obviously quite provocative but they’re not "sexy" – is this deliberate?

Kostis Fokas: The images are not meant to be sexual, at least this was not my intention. They’re not meant to be erotic photographs either. On the contrary, the naked bodies serve as a metaphor for how we feel when we get undressed, the uncomfortable feeling of exposing ourselves to others. Revealing our inhibitions and feelings that were well kept within us.

You’ve previously mentioned an interest in pushing the body – why do you feel it’s important to explore these capabilities?

Kostis Fokas: The content and thematic focus of the project explores our generation’s feelings driven by an uncertain future, the constant worry and anxiety over everyday things, the contemporary lifestyle. We feel uncomfortable in our own skin. We feel exposed. The human body then functions as a metaphor; an accumulation of a lifetime’s experiences and feelings and thoughts and agonies. A shell under which all of these pressures that distort the way we think and live are locked up. It’s almost as if you let the body explore itself, speak for itself on what it’s carrying in it.

What do the props bring to your images?

Kostis Fokas: Props are an important element in my work, they are symbolic and metaphorical. A mask that is used to hide a face is as important as the face that is hiding behind it.

Lastly, how did the collaboration come about with the The Queer Archive?

Kostis Fokas: I am honored to have been approached by The Queer Archive team for this collaboration. Both the organisers and the exhibiting space are addressed to the audience that I am referring to through my work, and particularly through this specific project. I think that this audience could be easily identified in an I Am Not Malfunctioning, You Are environment, and I hope that the exhibition stirs up their interest and provokes conversation.

I Am Not Malfunctioning, You Are is presented by The Queer Archive and will run at The Dalston Superstore in London from 15 November, 2014 – 8 February, 2015.

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