Alumna creates portrait series to transform sensitivity into strength
An SF State alumna turned the camera toward herself, centered her face within the frame, smiled and snapped the photo. While most might see the picture as just another selfie, Spring 2014 graduate Jamie Oliveira used the photo as a response to the offensive verbal abuse she endured from an exboyfriend.
Oliveira posted the selfie on Facebook, accompanied by the ex’s hurtful words, as a way to overcome the frustration he had caused her. The resulting positive feedback from various women prompted Oliveira to turn her selfie into a book of portraits that give women a platform to confront misogyny with confidence.
The book titled “(more than) dust” creates a conversation about misogyny and minimization through a series of personal portraits and stylized typography.
“I think there’s this expectation to tolerate this kind of treatment,” Oliveira said. “But opening up and talking about it helps us to realize that we don’t have to tolerate it anymore.”
Oliveira has photographed 16 women, including multiethnic and transgendered individuals. She intends to broaden her scope of inclusion by including older women and will launch a Kickstarter at the end of February to fund publishing and production costs.
The women in the photographs appear topless, yet in a non-sexualized manner to portray the raw essence of their femininity, Oliveira said. Each portrait will appear next to several emotionally triggering phrases that each specific woman has heard.
The name “(more than) dust” serves to reclaim women’s expansiveness by expelling feelings of isolation and dehumanization caused by misogynistic or otherwise hurtful comments, said Oliveira.
Farah Amezcua, a creative writing graduate student at SF State, posed for a portrait featured in the upcoming book. She was intrigued by Oliveira’s vision to combine photography and poetry to convey an underlying message that she could relate to personally.
“Everyone has some deep pain caused by things people have said to them,” Amezcua said. “I know that in my life I’ve held onto things people have said to me and let those things become a part of who I am. Working on personal projects like this is a way to get rid of some of the stuff that holds you back from becoming more than what they said you were.”
Oliveira is a member of Wildflower, a Southern California-based art collective inspired by the struggle and growth that comes from facing personal and structural adversity. The collective was co-founded last July by Lora Mathis and Kasey Reinbold, both of whom have worked with Oliveira to provide feedback and make artistic contributions to “(more than) dust”.
According to Mathis, Oliveira’s photo series is representative of the collective’s ideals as it sheds light on issues that are often internalized. Mathis struggled with rereading old text messages while looking for phrases to contribute to the book. She was reassured by a sense of solidarity after realizing that the other women in the project were also going through a similar process.
“It’s interesting to discover that these experiences are not unique to us,” Mathis said. “This project is powerful because it confronts misogyny by exposing the way it operates within relationships, behind closed doors.”
“(more than) dust” will be available for purchase through Wildflower’s blog in the summer of 2015.