Instagram's befuddling policies on nude upper bodies go something like this: "Yes" to male nipples, "Yes" to moobs, "Yes" to female post-mastectomy boobs (as long as they don't have a nipple tattoo), "Yes" to paintings and sculptures of female boobs, "Yes" to breastfeeding boobs, but "No" to nippled female boobs. Several artists have formed clever critiques around such body-shaming hypocrisy, but few are as delightfully blatant as Claudia Sahuquillo, who literally paints boobs onto boobs.
Simply by changing the color of the nipple, from flesh tones to bright pinks, yellows, and blues, the Barcelona-based artist says that photos from her project #skinisthenewcanvas have successfully avoided deletion. While not initially formed as a critique on censorship, like the #freethenipple movement, the project was transformed into one because of the platform's policies.
"It became critical because all of these things that happen when I paint on people," Sahuquillo tells Creators. "It's weird because I can't post a photo of a nipple but I can post a photo of a nipple if it's painted."
What started as the personal project of painting on her own body in the summer of 2016, quickly became much larger. Sahuquillo noticed her following grew exponentially once she began posting her breast-centered works which range from illustrative styles to bold, single-color designs.
"I think they feel attracted to nudes because it's not normalized," Sahuquillo posits. "We don't have a connection with our bodies."
This disconnect, the artist readily admits, is exacerbated by the dominance of young, white, and conventionally attractive models who populate her feed. While Sahuquillo paints everyone who responds to her casting calls, and has actively reached out to trans women, women of color, and women with diverse body types, she says the vast majority of her models fit a narrow mold as a result of internalized beauty standards.
Sahuquillo says that surprisingly, even the women who fit those beauty standards and actually volunteer to be painted are often not comfortable with their nudity, expressing insecurity about their bodies and preferring not to be tagged in photos of their own painted breasts. "When I started painting on female breasts, I realized that the models are scared because they think that it's obscene or bad," Sahuquillo tells Creators.
The crux of Sahuquillo's project comes in the process of boobs and bodies not only being painted but in being photographed and posted online. She says many of the models who initially decline to be tagged in photos overcome their fear after the photos are posted, later giving permission to be tagged.
"I see a progress… They lose their fear. And that's the most beautiful part of the project I think," Sahuquillo tells Creators." I like to see the reactions of people letting their bodies become an art piece and be part of the creative process."
In the early stages of the project, Sahuquillo says she painted pre-planned designs but has since embraced the individuality of the model, responding to what each person makes her feel. "It's not like I'm painting on paper or on canvas, I'm painting on people. So the results are something that depends on them," she says.
Above all, Sahuquillo contends that the most interesting and provocative aspect of her work is in the act itself.
"The photos and the actual performance of painting are completely different. In the moment it's like we create an atmosphere and that's the interesting part– to be in that moment. The photos just don't really show the full process," Sahuquillo explains.
Sahuquillo plans to continue and expand on her project with public performances and is preparing for a live body painting event in April at Espai Fundació Eina, in Barra de Ferro Street in Barcelona. Follow her on Instagram here, and check out Creators on Instagram to find your next favorite artist.