Hong Kong-based French artist Ophelia Jacarini discusses her obsession with the female body and wanting to break the stigma of nudity
As an international city, Hong Kong breeds different kinds of artists – including street artist Cath Love, surrealist photographer Tommy Fung and creative hand-crafter The Forest Mori. We recently chatted with Hong Kong-based French artist Ophelia Jacarini about her enthusiasm regarding the human body and the subconscious, and why she’s eager to help desexualise the female body and eradicate the stigma of nudity.
An interview with Ophelia Jacarini
Hi, Ophelia. Thanks for sitting down with us. What did you do before becoming a full-time artist?
I was a textile designer before and I worked for a fashion brand in Paris. I was doing everything that was print on the fabric. I studied fine art and fashion and I didn’t want to choose between the two, so I do both these days. I think being a fine art artist gives me the possibility to use different mediums that I want – textile, paintings, etc.
You were born and raised in France, what led you to Hong Kong?
I travelled around Asia years ago to study minority costume. I went to India, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia to study how to create sarees, how to do embroidery, how to dye, the difference between a costume in two cities, etc. After this big study, I realised that I really felt happy in Asia and I love it here.
Your seem to enjoy portraying the naked female form a lot, is it your way of showing appreciation for the human body?
Definitely! But not only female bodies and nudity, my inspiration comes from humans. I realised I’m getting a bit stuck on this nude thing and people think I just do nudity. I’m not completely obsessed, maybe just a little bit (laughs). Everything you can touch or not touch is the main part of my inspiration.
I also want to show people that a female body doesn’t have to be sexual. Even with dancing or yoga, people tend to associate them with sexual things. Women are stuck in this ideology because we were born with nipples and breasts. My art is basically saying: Come on, they’re just nipples!
Can you explain your fascination about the human body?
I started doing ballet dancing at three and stopped receiving professional training at seventeen. Now I do collaborations with dancers, sometimes they dance for me and I paint the movement they do. I will have a big canvas on the floor with dancers turning all around me, so I focus on someone’s hand or knee and I paint on the floor. I think my obsession with the body comes from this practice, and now I’m even more fascinated by movement.
What are your aesthetic choices, in terms of colours and lines?
I’ve never used black in my work. It’s not usual for today, I usually wear all black however. There are things that I can’t explain and these colours make sense for me. Human bodies are very much like the skin colour, so when I want to create a proper skin tone on the canvas but don’t have the exact colour – I’ll mix white, red and a bit of yellow.
What is your opinion of being a so-called nudist because I also think being naked is great?
When I was six years old, I was wearing a dress to school but I forgot to put on my underwear. My mum freaked out and asked me to go back home to put it back on. But I was like, “It’s okay!” I think back then I realised that nudity was perceived as a big deal, and it probably wasn’t supposed to be.
Nowadays, with the #MeToo movement and girls trying to free their bodies to express themselves more, I also have this frustration as a female artist, like it’s really hard to put yourself out there. Plus, using naked bodies isn’t making it any easier as people will refuse to showcase them in the public. I understand that when I was a kid, nudity is an issue because there could be perverts on the streets. But now as a grown-up, I hope people can be more open-minded.
So the blue paints are your interpretation of human subconscious, why do you find this topic intriguing?
It took me three years to create something out of the subject. I read a lot of books about the subconscious. Sigmund Freud thinks that if we don’t remember our dreams, it’s because this mechanism – erasing the subconscious – saves us as a person. The society that we live in puts us in a box, and if we remember what happened in our dreams, it would freak us out. The box doesn’t allow certain kinds of thinking, as if the way we live and the way we think are all bad. But maybe it’s not, who knows.
It looks so abstract! What exactly is the said “subconscious” in your paintings?
They represent the fetuses. I asked myself, “Do you actually remember something you live through your mum’s belly?” We don’t know, but everything we lived through in our mum’s belly made us how we are today. Maybe you mum had too much bananas when she was pregnant and now you hate bananas! This is probably a bad example but I think this is so interesting because you can never have a perfect answer.
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Liked what French artist Ophelia Jacarini does with her art? See how Zlism creates funky characters with a positive message, Isatisse explores introvertism in her drawings or check out the new pottery hotspot Deer Workshop.