Alexandra Marzella looks more comfortable in the nude than most people do with clothes on. At a photo shoot, she's naked from the waist down, cheesing like a catalogue model and unabashedly exposing her nether regions. Her gorgeous Instagram selfies frame unshaven armpits and legs. Marilyn Minter-esque, Marzella zooms in on acne and snot and posts photos of herself sitting on the toilet. For the record, she's got model-gorgeous looks, long legs and seductive, full breasts.
It's polarizing for sure, an art practice hinging on the psychological effects of erotica. Many of Marzella's followers praise her for empowering them to be proud of their own bodies. Others body shame her. To her own credit, Marzella doesn't "give a fuck"—although she does wish Instagram, who's deleted at least 16 of her accounts already, would get off her back.
"I'm not down with censorship; I don't like it. I don't think anything should be censored. I don't think kids should be censored from things, and I don't think censorship should affect children. I think you should be exposed to what is, you know. If somebody wants to stick a lamp up their ass and post a picture of it, you don't have to follow it or look at it, but they should be able to do that. Especially if it's beautiful," Marzella tells Creators.
Marzella is at the forefront of a wave of artists expanding the boundaries of creativity and sharing their art through social media. Her practice, a blend of feminist performance art, Instagram photography, modeling, and acting, challenges traditional notions of femininity, beauty, and self-representation. The mediums cross-pollinate, bleeding into one another.
"They're reflective of each other. I've always been performative, and I've always been interested in modeling and acting, and that kind of stuff. I've never been one to compartmentalize. I'm actually trying to learn how to do that better. I am just me, and it comes out in whatever I do," Marzella says.
The artist took her first erotic photos at a young age. "I took pictures of myself nude and sent them to a boy I liked online after he'd convinced me for many hours, and it kind of made the rounds online and eventually… someone printed a ton of copies and three years later threw them off my high school," she confides. "I feel like I've kind of been set up for handling criticism, and that's why I have such an 'I don't give a fuck' attitude. Shame and that kind of stuff, it's just not productive."
Embarrassment doesn't factor into the equation when Marzella talks about her past. It's refreshing. She tells me that growing up, she was always highly sexual. In college, while interning in New York City, she sought out sex work, searching Craigslist for viable gigs, and found a job stripping at a topless bar. "But [I was] not gonna do shady shit," she says. After graduation, she joined other young artists, like Petra Collins, Ryan McGinley, and Amalia Ulman, in addressing sexuality and feminism through her work. It helped her embrace body hair, acne, and exhibitionism even more.
Marzella's role as provocateur performer artist is unexpectedly quite selfless. In addition to normalizing bodily content, she's pushing boundaries to afford other people moral and sexual freedom; by allowing herself to be policed, she broadens the scope of what's permissible. "[Censorship] is the least of our worries, and yet a great example of how the system, the patriarchy, and corruption within our governments keeps us limited, small, and tamed, in a way," Marzella says. "Censorship, to me, is a representation of a complete and total lack of freedom we have as humans."
"Provocative art made by all people is important, because sex is the basis of all existence. That's how we come into the world—that's the only way—and sexuality, nudity, and all of those things going hand in hand and merging are natural, firstly, and shamed constantly," Marzella continues. "Ultimately, my practice is about self expression, and being open, and nonjudgmental, and all of that stuff. It's very hippy-dippy really, in the end."
Watch Alexandra Marzella's episode of Like Art on Creators.