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PROUD 
FLESH

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"And see how the flesh grows back

across a wound, with a great vehemence,

more strong

than the simple, untested surface before.

There's a name for it on horses,

when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh"

- Jane Hirshfield

This thesis delves into history held within the skin and the lasting impact of violence on the female body. It asks: What is “selfhood”? What is the difference between having a sense of self and being a receptacle of experience? Is there an essential, immutable core that persists and endures or am I an amalgamation of the things that have happened to me? There can be no definitive answer to this, only a moment-to-moment inquiry, ever changing, in which my female body becomes both a repository of pain and a vessel of strength. This understanding is what informs the work in “Proud Flesh”. Using collagen as medium I unravel the narratives inscribed within the living canvas of skin and the physical archive of the human body. Collagen, the literal foundation of our skin, becomes a metaphorical thread weaving through the stories of resilience, vulnerability, and the profound impact violence has on female bodies, including my own. Meticulous layering and sculpting, allows me to emphasize intricate textures, uncovering palpable imprints of life experiences in these complex gendered narratives physically, while also capturing the emotional echoes that linger. In the cultivation of this body of work my practice has become ritual through recreating movements associated with my deeply embedded experiences of violence. Memories are evoked by working from the place of deep self-reflection, utilizing understanding and perspective attained over time. In performing the ritual that creates my “skins”, I attempt a symbolic “reskinning” of myself, claiming ownership of what was done to my body and transmuting the power of injury into strength. I wrap myself as a piece of meat to be hung and cured. The chill of cold wet collagen clings to my skin, bringing my awareness to the vulnerability of my body. I lay down plastic sheeting, my repetition of ritual to prepare now as I was prepared many times by another. In so doing, I re-create myself as both perpetrator and victim. I cut materials with the same instruments used to cut my skin. I hang my created “bodies” to cure from the ropes that bound my body. It is a domestic practice - I lay myself down on plastic in the middle of spaces of comfort, in replication and homage to secret places of suffering. Each act of this ritual is a reckoning and a reclamation of my sense of self. This constructed replication is representation of the quiet complicated minutiae that haunts, repeats, replays, re-lives. Beneath the skin, inside the soul, throughout the veins, injury ingested circulates and passes down one to another again and again. A predisposition; through the cells that generation after generation, never forget. This is the process in which I cast each skin from a piece of me. Assembled, these works create a replica of my body containing the cells, the layers, the stories of every age I have ever been. Molded to, dried and then peeled from my skin, each cast rips cells carrying memory and silence from my body. I layer elements into each piece utilizing drawing, pigment, text and objects. This multilayered approach references layers of human skin, memory and the many selves carried within. The text recalls words that have imprinted as deeply as any physical injury. They are either words thrown at me in cruelty in moments of degradation, or words that recur, my own unshakable thoughts and feelings used as weapons against myself by my own unresolved conflicts of self-blame and misdirected anger. There is transparency in the language, exposing thoughts I never speak and words received in moments too overwhelming to recount. The vulnerability in revealing the words that continue to haunt me is a peeling back of the skin, exposing what carries shame and sorrow and has retained the power to hurt. Airing them here contained in my surrogate bodies moves them out of the silence of shame while offering protection. They are too fragile to stand naked and alone. The child selves depicted in the work represent what remains most vulnerable. It is the drawing of these child selves that is most evocative and challenging; full of internal conflict and confrontation. They are the most difficult pieces of my “self” to reconcile with. They represent the fracturing of trust. The rawness of their undefended vulnerability and innocence causes a revulsion in me, for which I feel shame. Each act of rendering them is an act of care and attempt at reconciliation with myself. I fold them into the layers of my “skin” and “body”, stacked and repeating as they merge in and out of cohesion with each other, both attracted and repelled by the possibility of becoming an integrated whole. Presented in confused, sometimes violent depictions, not as further abuse, but as a true portrait of their long-hidden emotions, they are “safe” from further harm inside these constructed shelters of body and skin where they live in the long overdue visibility and empowerment that comes from existing in a place of truth. Carefully cultivated, each piece holds my story. And the story of the story. This skin carries the imprint of myself and all the selves that echo throughout me, back to the south, then the north, and across the seas to where those that I came from, began. These works are the children of story, of broken silence, of women’s tales that are not celebrated. I have not birthed children of my own, the works presented here are my celebration of creation and birth through the stories embedded in the cells of all the female bodies that have contributed to my own. Each work, through the literal presence of my cells holds the root of all of my ancestors and their intergenerational experience, epigenetically, that leads to me. This body of work is an identity that is collective, a multitude, held in one body. The work is about telling these stories that have been (and continue to be) silenced. Speaking through the work breaks that silence and gives voice to experience and memory, proudly in celebration and resistance. They are an offering to myself, a remedy for invisibility. They are an offering to the viewer, of the same. Standing visible in vulnerability, I invite the viewer to stand as witness. In return, I stand as witness to the viewer, to offer the same; To see, and to be seen.

Artist statement: My work pays homage to the complexity, strength and frailty of the human body. Utilizing skin as tactile language and body as archive, I aim to evoke a visceral response prompting contemplation of the profound impact of violence and the indomitable spirit that persists. I seek to amplify the often silenced narratives and visceral memories that remain an inescapable component of my experience of being female. My work references women's stories that are not celebrated, both the immediate physical evidence and the lasting unseen effects of the bodies retention of traumatization and invasion. Working across mediums, I create forms that are simultaneously resilient and vulnerable, mirroring the inherent complexity of the human condition. The expression dictating the medium, I frequently sculpt in collagen, incorporating drawing, painting and materials intended for use in the process of meat production; referencing the exploitation of females as "meat", while both examining and rejecting the objectification of myself and touching on my underlying fear of being consumed. Through my work I seek to untangle the seemingly irreconcilable dissonance of experiencing violence simultaneously with intimacy; and the incongruence of beauty found in devastation. My work fluctuates within the tensions created between them, searching for the reconciliation of states that presume mutual exclusivity. Revealing intimacies and aftermaths breaks long held silence, disrupting the paralyzation and isolation of violence. It is an act of reclamation and reconstruction, fostering a dialog around the need for empathy, understanding and the dismantling of the societal norms that perpetuate silence; giving voice to memory and experience proudly in celebration, authenticity and resistance.

Bio: Seraphin Hedges is an NYC based interdisciplinary artist. Born of African American and European descent in Louisville, Kentucky, Seraphin was raised by a single mother in an extended family with a strong matriarchal lineage. Her southern ancestry, the politics of a multiracial existence and the experiences of the women she has descended from heavily influence the direction and content of her work. Seraphin is an MFA Fine Arts candidate at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and holds a BFA in Theatre Studies from Emerson College in Boston, MA. She and her partner live between New York City and New Jersey.

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