Q+A with Ambivalently Yours, Anonymous Online Persona + Feminist Illustrator

When we initially discovered Ambivalently Yours on Tumblr back in 2012, what first caught our eye was her intentional use of the color pink. Although we have a thing for pink ourselves, what kept our attention was the powerful feminist messages in her drawings. This visual dichotomy of a strong message expressed through a color traditionally associated with feminine weakness ironically makes her work all the stronger. As she puts it, “Part of being a feminist is about advocating for a woman’s right to choose…This refusal to choose between traditional femininity and radical feminism allows for another space to exist: not a space of indecision but rather a space of undeciding.”

Ambivalently Yours, at its core, is also a public collaborative effort. A main tenant of her work relies on community participation, primarily through her impressive following on Tumblr. Many of her drawings are created in response to an “ambivalence” submitted by an online community member. These responses in the form of drawings dole out advice, comfort, and acknowledgement that these issues are real and these angsty feelings are shared. Furthermore, when confronted with these feelings herself, AY leaves anonymous ambivalent notes in public spaces as a way to shift her own perspective and work through these issues in a daring, creative way.

Ambivalently Yours represents the impassioned, considered, expressed ambivalence of all women who find themselves exploring and grappling with their revealing personal experiences. By creating a celebratory space for this undecidedness, we are giving ourselves permission to experiment, debate, and most importantly, to grow and evolve.

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The Basics

  • Field of Interest: Art, feminism, friendship, anything that comes in the colour pink
  • What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? My sarcastic energy
  • What Inspired You Today? The fact that I was able to get out of bed and get to work was a huge inspiration
  • What Are You Currently Listening To On Repeat? The albums Time to Go Home by Chastity Belt and No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney
  • What Are You Reading That You Can’t Put Down? Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoirby Carrie Brownstein
  • What Are You Currently Involved In That You’re Really Excited About? I’m currently working on some collaborative projects with people in different cities, and I’m working on a short film about making art on Tumblr. All these things are exciting and terrifying.

 

Questions + Answers

You really stand for a kind of strong, yet fluid, feminism that we find endlessly inspiring. You also seem to do an excellent job of connecting with young people who are coming to terms with what feminism and maturity mean to them. Do you see yourself as a role model in that realm?

Thank you. As you said, my work is all about connection and fluidity. I decided to explore things from an ambivalent perspective because I think that everyone can relate to feeling ambivalent. I also think that there is value in looking at things in a less binaric, black or white, kind of way. I don’t know that I’m necessarily a role model, but I think I’ve created a platform where people can talk about the things they can’t talk about anywhere else. There is something really comforting about having a stranger tell you that your emotions are valid.  In her book Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia) talks about how she used to write to celebrities when she was young and tell them about her personal problems, and the way she rationalises this behaviour reminds me a little of what my work does. She writes:

“A response, any response, implied that I existed, that I was not a weirdo, that I’d be okay. I could have gone to a school counsellor or even talked to my parents, but I needed someone on TV or in the movies to reach out to me, not because they were famous but because they were so far away, it was like being seen from outer space. Suddenly I didn’t feel small; I was bigger than the house I was living in, larger than my town. Thanks to them I somehow belonged to the world.”

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Your artwork is a gorgeous combination of political, personal and just plain beautiful. From what we’ve read, it seems like the journey to pursue this art-making was a tough, personal decision. Why did you decide to focus on your art, and how has your work evolved since then?

Growing up, I was often told that art could be a fun hobby but never a career. Because of that, it took me a long time before I started taking my work seriously. Also, being a woman who makes art that has a teenage girl aesthetic, made it difficult for other people to take me seriously as well. So I finished school and got a “real job” and tried to do art on the weekends, and the whole thing made me miserable. Eventually, I decided to invest more time and energy into my art, even if that meant that my life would be less financially stable. In other words, I finally decided to allow my art to be important, which was terrifying, exhausting but also really validating. This new importance completely transformed my work, I stopped making the art that I thought people would like, and started making the art that meant something to me. That shift made my work better, more honest, more relatable.

Success, whatever that means, is a mix of luck and hard work. I work extremely hard but I’ve also been pretty lucky.  I’ve had enough privilege and support to be able to pursue the things that matter to me. But between luck and hard work, the only thing you have control over is the work part, so at least if you’re working, and trying, you’re one step closer to being where you want to be.

When I was growing up, I was always told that my artwork should be a fun hobby, not something I should pursue to make a living. For a long time I listened to that advice, I got a “real” job, and I made art on the side, when I had time, mostly late at night after I was exhausted from working all day. And for a long time I was completely miserable. Then one day I started making these pink ambivalent drawings and posting them online and people started reblogging them and liking them and writing to me to encourage me to keep making them. Eventually it occurred to me that while my parent’s and teacher’s advice may have been well-intended, it was perhaps wrong. Maybe my art was the thing I needed to do full time…. This past weekend I had a table at the Expozine fair in Montreal, and I was overwhelmed with how supportive people were of my work. It has really encouraged me to keep making these pink drawings that have always meant so much to me but which I’ve always assumed would seem silly to everyone else. So thank you to everyone who have supported not only me but all of my independent creative friends. And a very special thank you to @littlestarchild and @lovestruckprints who gave me emotional support during the event and helped me get my shit together in time to participate in the show. You are all so great, thank you 💖

A post shared by Ambivalently Yours (@ambivalentlyyours) on

You’ve made the radical decision to be ambivalently anonymous online. You’ve shared yourself, your personal experiences, and your opinions, gained a massive following, but all without divulging your real name. Could you walk us through that decision?

My desire to remain anonymous online was initially motivated by fear. When I began this project, I was mainly being critical of the fashion industry, which also employed me and gave me the wage I needed to live. I decided to make my work anonymous to ensure that my artistic work would not affect my ability to make a living. The Internet can also be a volatile place and my work is always inspired by personal experiences, so I found that the only way I could be honest without making myself too vulnerable was to be anonymous. In other words, my anonymity was a form of self-preservation, which in turn gave me courage to be more daring in my art. Later, I realized that my anonymity allowed for people to find themselves in the lack of specificity of my online persona. People often assume that I live in their country, or that I am their age or attribute me with any other form of similarity they are looking for. With this, Ambivalently Yours becomes less of a reflection of my personal self and more of a representation of the ideas behind the work. With anonymity I am exploring ideas of connection through ambiguity and ambivalence.

There is a limit to how far anonymity can go. Last spring, I was given the opportunity to do an artist residency in Glasgow, and part of me really wanted to interact with the people of that city during my trip, which meant that I couldn’t be completely anonymous. I’ve decided to be as anonymous as I can online, but to allow myself to take the mask off once in awhile when I meet people in real life.

While you regularly present important social issues and political perspectives, your overarching message is that it’s okay, even commendable, to remain ambivalent or undecided on these issues. We find that so relatable, refreshing, and empowering! But we must admit that sometimes we feel pressure to have a clear opinion, particularly when it comes to taking a stand politically. Do you feel that pressure and if so, how do you deal with it?

I started this project because of the pressure I felt to have a clear opinion. I felt like people kept wanting me to choose, so that they could judge or label me accordingly. There is something very liberating about refusing to give people clean answers. I don’t think there is such a thing as being perfectly ambivalent, you are always going to sway to one side or the other, and there are things that you are going to stand up for no matter what. These variables are important but they don’t have to be static, because by refusing to come to a final decision, you leave yourself space to change your mind. This space is crucial because the more we learn about events and issues, the more we realise that nothing is black and white, there are always nuances, and it is dangerous to ignore these nuances just because they conflict with your rigid belief system.

I sometimes think that people want to make up their mind to make things easier for themselves, but it’s not supposed to be easy. The expression political movement, implies something that isn’t static, it’s a movement, in movement. Some people will tell you that by being ambivalent you are being passive, but I disagree. I’ve been much more active politically now that I’ve given myself permission to change my mind. It is rigidity that makes you passive, because it leaves no room for error or growth.

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Like another wise woman we hold dear, Sugar, you offer incredible advice, love and respect for your readers. When they write to you and “share their ambivalence,” you really take their concerns to heart and respond with sympathetic, wise words and empowering images. What’s your favorite part of that exchange? Do these interactions ever make you reconsider your choice to remain anonymous?

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I’m pretty sure that these exchanges help me more than they help the people who write to me. They make me feel less alone and they inspire me to keep making art. Everyone who writes to me is in a sense giving me an assignment, a deadline, which is so inspiring to have as an artist. And as I’ve mentioned before, there are times when the anonymity gets in the way, especially when my relationships online blossom into real friendships. In those instances I share who I am. I’m the one who made up all the rules around my work, so I give myself permission to break them whenever I want.

In your work, you’ve really embraced the color pink. While it has a lot of frilly, dainty, overtly feminine overtones, it also has been reclaimed by contemporary feminists. How do you interpret pink, and what role does it play in the larger presentation and delivery of your work? Have you had experiences where it’s made your work more approachable, or even the opposite?

I love the colour pink, I always have. Whether I love it because I was taught to love it by society or just because it’s a nice colour, is unclear. It’s probably a little bit of both.

I’ve often been criticised for making pink art. People interpret it as weak, or see it as me trying to make art that is more appealing to the mainstream, or they think I’m being duped by the patriarchy, or the pink makes men feel alienated from my work. It is all these reasons that make pink the perfect colour for my work. My use of the colour pink is very deliberate, I’m taking a colour that people use as an insult, and making it powerful and strong and emotional and fragile all at once. The fact that some men feel embarrassed to tell me they like my work because it is pink, implies that my work would only be good enough for all genders if it was masculine. People rarely ask male artists to make work that looks more feminine and the idea of “gender neutral” is often interpreted as masculine. I don’t think I should have to make “masculine” work in order to be taken seriously.

The ideals of femininity may have been invented as a form of control, but I think that it is possible to subvert the colour pink and use the emotional attachment or repulsion that it inspires in people to create work that both questions and celebrates femininity, feminism and everything else in-between.

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Lastly, your notes are an incredibly honest and even joyful act that seem to serve a cathartic purpose. We have loved reading them. How do they fit into your overall approach to life, relationships, introspection, and art-making? Is there any tangible way for people to respond to them?

The notes are cathartic because they don’t need a response. They are a way of letting things go. I think the Internet works that way too. Once you put something online, you lose control of it, which is both terrifying and liberating. It is no longer yours, it is suddenly public. Every time someone reblogs it, likes it or writes about it, it changes it, makes it less definable, makes it evolve.

+ BE BOLDLY UNDECIDED. SUBMIT YOUR AMBIVALENCE + STAY TUNED FOR MORE “FEMINIST RANTS + QUESTIONABLE ADVICE” VIA TUMBLR, TWITTER, FBINSTA + THE AY ONLINE SHOP!

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