by Mitch Clarke
Suf StJames creates artworks completely within the social media app, “Snapchat” to challenge how women are subjected to abuse online. “This is the work people seem most interested in,” Suf said.
Sophia (who goes by the artistic name, Suf StJames) says that the purpose of these Snapchat paintings, “The Eleventh Second”, was to address the “volatile social sphere for women on social media”.
“Everything we think of ourselves is through this filter of what someone else might think of us,” she said. “It is volatile. For women, it is violent and volatile, and unfair. The amount of abuse you cop online just for being a person with a female body is unreal.”
The images are controversial and aim to confront the social issues of sexuality and gender identity, leaving her artwork open to criticism. “I think a lot of people might not understand it, but the way that I created it, I don’t really care,” Suf said.
“The idea that ‘this is my life, and my body, not yours’, and taking the really explicit parts of sexuality that is exploited online and subverting it, making it real and raw,” she said.
“And people felt strongly about it.”
Suf’s Snapchat paintings were recently exhibited at the Brunswick Street Gallery as part of an exhibition titled “The Contemporary Survey” Gallery manager Kathleen Ashby said the exhibitions were a chance for emerging artists to have a show without the pressures of trying to do it alone. “We are constantly impressed at the high level of skill and creativity demonstrated by the artists,” she said.
For Suf, having her artwork exhibited was “a surreal feeling”. “It felt good, knowing that my work was on display,” she said, “I’d like to think my art had a positive impact on people who saw it.”
Suf, who grew up in Western Australia wanting to be a teacher, but said it was the advice from one of her Deakin lecturers to pursue multi-media art that led her to discover her talent. “Doing the double degree was the best decision I made because my world opened up after,” she said. “I’ve done so much learning about myself and what I am capable of since then, and I really love creating every day.”
Her studies also helped her to deal with life after her long-term relationship ended. “I found myself without a place to live, a job, or financial support,” Suf said.
“I developed alopecia [spot baldness], and that was really scary because of course I care about how I look.” Her psychologist suggested that she stop her studies. “I could either stay and stick this out, or I could quit,” she said. “And I didn’t want to quit. “Deakin’s been really great and the amount of support services available, I’ve used them all.”
Suf said her time at Deakin helped her to develop her individual style, in which she uses images of menstruation and ejaculation in her art. “Art is a selfish pursuit in a lot of ways, because you do it to express yourself… but if I can help people in any way that would be really cool.”
One of Suf’s Twitter followers, Hannah [who no longer uses her surname on social media to avoid abuse] explained that she found the artwork appealing. “I thought it was provocative without being snobby,” Hannah wrote. “I liked that she used a medium, that we all have, to both share and create her work.”
Ironically, Suf, who during her teaching placement at a Melbourne high school encouraged her students to be seen, has temporarily removed herself from the online world where she found such artistic success. But she said this was only a short hiatus and she planned on returning to social media to continue showing her art. “It felt good being able to connect with people.”
Mitch Clarke is a Communications student at Deakin University. Majoring in journalism, this area of study allows Mitch the chance to interact with people from all walks of life while learning about their personal stories – from their triumphs to their struggles. His real love of journalism came when he understood he was being granted the privilege to become a voice for those who don’t have a voice. With a specific focus on equality and justice, Mitch hopes to uncover some of the most prominent social and environmental issues in our world today – from poverty, racism and homophobia to animal cruelty, factory farming and environmental destruction.