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You wake up in the morning and how do you feel? Groggy, perhaps, from spending too much time scrolling through Twitter before drifting off to sleep. Sad and anxious because of what you read there, but cozily tucked into bed. It’s hard to know what to feel most or what to do first, so, for a while, you just kind of lie there.
Ambivalence is often equated with passivity and therefore aligned with weakness. Yet the anonymous artist known as Ambivalently Yours hopes to reveal, through her work, how ambivalence can be a mode of resistance, especially for women.
Misogynist stereotypes often cast women as being unable to make up their minds, showing them to be fickle in relationships or indecisive when it comes to dinner plans. However, as AY sees it, this constant ambiguity stems from a place of complexity and a rejection of societal standards.
“The world benefits from people being one thing or another,” AY told The Huffington Post. “Refusing to see things in a binary language is an act of resistance against the system.”
AY first began thinking critically about ambivalence about five years ago, when she was studying feminist art in graduate school while working in fashion. The two fields’ divergent languages, especially in terms of feminine expression, left AY feeling stuck in between. At work, she was the “feminist killjoy,” she explained, and at school, she was the “fashion girl getting duped by the patriarchy.”
Rather than choose between the fields, and adopt the identity that properly corresponded with the victor, AY opted to remain staunchly rooted somewhere in between. “I realized I was being defined in different ways depending on where I was,” she said. “I didn’t know how to situate myself. I decided to embrace both and neither, embrace my ambivalence as an active way of being.”
For centuries in art, literature, real life and the imagination, the range of roles women could safely occupy was severely limited. Madonna and whore, mother and lover, beauty and hag. Today, though the categories have eased up a bit, women are still urged to choose fixed identities that make them legible to the outside world. Many today, for example, feel compelled to choose between feminist and feminine, unable to balance some radical tenants with more traditional ones.
With her art practice, AY jams the circuit, imploring women to be complicated, unsure, messy and indeterminate. “In making our identities more complicated and not trying to fit into boxes,” she said, “that’s a powerful place to be.”
AY’s drawings always begin with a sheet of sweet pink paper, the artist’s favorite color. In ballpoint pen and watercolor she draws young women with Margaret Keane-esque eyes and cotton-candy-colored hair, their bodies often warped to resemble mythical monsters that had recently given up on fitting in with the human race.
“My work has been evolving from something a bit cuter to something more grotesque,” AY said. “I’m interested in that juxtaposition between softness and this other ― almost creepy ― gross aesthetic.” The women’s indeterminate bodies mirrors their ambivalence within, their jumbled insides translating into appropriately hybrid physical forms. There is something wonderfully monstrous about a woman who refuses to fit into fixed categories.
Mostly, AY prefers to draw when she’s feeling kind of off, a feeling she described as “a weird state of kind of sad for not any particular reason.” This, too, illuminates what is possible when emotions, even glum ones, are translated into creative expression or activist resistance. She often leaves her drawings in public spaces for others to stumble upon, as subtle gestures of rebellion for the unknowing passersby.
Along with the drawings, AY will also leave handwritten notes that confess contradictory feelings or opinions on subjects ranging from Tokyo to boobs. One reads: “Dear boobs, I love how you fill out a dress, I hate that you could be a ticking time bomb on my chest.” She documents her generous gestures on Tumblr, where she often waxes poetic about issues ranging from fashion to philosophy to colonialism.
It’s a very internet scenario, to see AY divulge so many personal details about her life online without ever revealing her identity. It’s her anonymity, the artist believes, that allows her to be so unabashed in her expression. “I was worried if I did this work as who I am I would censor myself too much,” she said.
It’s fun to imagine AY, without knowing her human form, as one of the lopsided ladies in her images, floating indeterminately from sketchbook to keyboard. It feels that her mystique puts her fans at ease, as well. They often share intimate details about their lives on Tumblr and avidly seek her advice. Yet because AY doesn’t feel qualified to give advice, she usually responds with a drawing.
AY’s mission has remained relatively constant since she started the project in 2011. It has always been political, she said, though not, perhaps, in an obvious way. “I tend to focus on the emotions and the small moments,” she explained. “My goal is to comfort people who are struggling, not to convince the people who are making us struggle.”
Next time you wake up feeling weak but passionate, nervous but comfy, there’s no need to rush out of the muddle. Lie there for a minute or two and, bundled under the covers, begin to plot the feminist revolution.
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