When faced with adversity, what do you do? If Polly Pollet was with you, she’d probably tell you to pick up a ballpoint and draw. On paper, or a wall. Or the back of a skateboard. The Belgian artist has made ballpoint drawings her signature – and her weapon. In her latest project, Polly hopes to get us talking about the female body and the respect it deserves.
*Please note this article includes sexual imagery.
Guilty Pleasures is a series of drawings showcasing the female form unabashedly, naked or in underwear. “It is a very personal project,” Polly explains. “My models for Guilty Pleasures are all friends of mine. For me, art is something to participate in with others, especially my close friends. My girls are my muses!”
But Guilty Pleasures is more than a loving celebration of her friends; it’s a candid and powerful statement against sexism and the ongoing sexualisation of the female body. A statement that couldn’t have come at a better moment given the recent political developments in the US, where it seems like a rich, white, straight man can say and do whatever they want, especially to women.
Sadly sexism and humiliation is still very much a part of everyday life, so commonplace that most people don’t notice it or are too ashamed or too used to it to speak up.
From being catcalled on the street to being groped by a stranger, there are myriad ways in which sexism can manifest itself. These are real experiences of Polly’s friends, and she has similar stories to share: “When I was on holiday last year, our Couchsurfing-host came into the bathroom while I was taking a shower to ask if I wanted any wine. He could see me completely naked, and he did it twice, even though I asked him not to.”
It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened to Polly, and like many other victims she started doubting herself, wondering whether it was her own fault. Whether she was giving a wrong impression to men. Whether she ought to change.
But Polly has had enough. Her past work saw her drawing middle fingers and sending them all over the world as messages, and now she’s showing sexism and sexualisation the mighty finger. Like so many other women and girls, she’s fed up with being treated like an object and disrespected when she says no, and she’s done with feeling guilty and humiliated when she hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s not the victims who have to change. It’s society.
As a side project to Guilty Pleasures, she’s teamed up with other artists for the international collaboration PhotoBOOB, of which we will be hearing more later this year. While the French contribution Si On Se Touchait aims to heighten awareness about breast cancer, Polly contributes drawings of torsos to provoke a conversation about our society’s attitude towards women and the female body.
And Polly’s approach works; her Guilty Pleasures drawings often trigger the intended conversations when shown at art fairs and other events. “On a recent event, I had a drawing of a naked girl in a swimming pool on my table. A group of men and women saw it and started to discuss, ‘If you see boobies: do you link them to sex, yes or no?’ One of them said yes and didn’t change his opinion, and another one was really fighting against this,” she recounts.
“That’s the whole purpose of my subjects. I want to make these discussions open to everyone, men and women, to raise awareness and make them stand up against sexualisation of bodies and sexual intimidation – regardless of the victim’s gender.” Polly’s message is simple: Respect each other as human beings. If you encounter sexism and sexualisation, don’t play it down, and don’t look away. Talk, write or sing about it. Pick up a ballpoint yourself, if you want. Just don’t pretend that it’s okay.”