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Natalie Yang’s I Can Be My Own Muse
Isa Benn

Can there be deeper meaning behind our selfies?

An artist is crowdsourcing selfies in the belief that they allow women to use their vulnerabilities as a source of empowerment rather than weakness

Last summer, artist Natalie Yang found herself intrigued by the deeper meaning of selfies. The exponentially growing digital and internet culture have taken self-portraiture on a journey, and today the selfie has transformed from a craze to a recognised dictionary term, and now, an innovative expression of art and the self. Starting the conversation with fellow artists and friends Lula Hyers, Alix Vernet, Genevieve Nollinger, Yang says the trio began talking about the concept of “women taking up space”. “This got me thinking about the context around my images and how I am able to open up the seemingly private world of my life,” she says. From this, the idea for I Can Be My Own Muse zine was born.

In the two weeks since the project was launched last month, the Californian artist received more than 100 submissions of images and words from women about what it means to be your own muse. Among the collection are some of Yang’s own self-portraits, as well as those of her close friends and a plethora of creative young women. “Self-portraiture allows for so much vulnerability, which is a big part of my life that I have learned to use as a source of empowerment, rather than weakness,” says Yang. “I want this project to help people feel empowered physically and emotionally. I want people to be able to see that the love we have for ourselves can be uniting, when shared collectively.”

“I want this project to help people feel empowered physically and emotionally. I want people to be able to see that the love we have for ourselves can be uniting, when shared collectively” – Natalie Yang

Talking to Yang, it becomes clear how deeply connected she is to this project’s essence, not only as an artist but as a woman. “Photography has become such a vital medium among young women,” she explains. “Internet platforms are providing a space where I feel safe enough to share vulnerabilities, like a collective diary for us and by us. I wish I had this community when I was younger, it would have saved me so much heartache and destructive behaviour.”

Through the project, Yang transfers this sense of safety, intimacy and community from the online realm into the physical. The zine offers itself as a supportive friend, aiding the reader in their learning and growth, allowing them to find themselves within its pages. “Think about how many images you’ve seen of a girl in her bedroom – so many,” she says. “Still, every time I see a photo of a girl in her bedroom I feel connected to it, because I can relate to it. I have taken that photo, I am that girl in her bedroom, with or without a camera to document it.”

Undoubtedly, self-portraiture has found new weight, becoming, as Yang says, “an act of declaration”. However, the artist also acknowledges this type of art is not the only method of expression for women, but simply a starting point for tackling the underlying gender issues that surround the creative industry. “The art world needs to broaden its scope, it cannot only be showcasing one corner of feminist art, because feminist art, before anything else, is art.”