“We’re at an interesting time for woman embracing their sexuality,” says artist Liberty Sadler. “But the capitalist structures in place mean that it’s a certain type of sexuality that is a commodity. There’s an aesthetic privilege and hierarchy of bodies that means that a normal sized woman in an advert is suddenly plus-sized. We’re in an era of fat shaming and also thin shaming – it’s the dichotomy of our times.”
This problematic inference that “one body is better than another” is at the heart of Liberty’s work, which uses film, performance and photographic documentation to show that food, fat and the female body are as much feminist issues as ever.
Even though she’s still in the midst of completing her MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art, Liberty already has a regular gig illustrating for the likes of Metro and Grazia magazine, and is now one of the Selected 6 artists, a group of young creatives nominated by previous winners of the prestigious experimental film prize The Jarman Awards.
The work she’s showing in the UK-wide Selected 6 screenings is the tampon-crowned short Private Theatre, a four minute film of three personae: The Feminazi, The Tampon Tiara Princess and The Little Girl Dom. It’s a playful yet visceral melange of modern-day nminisht concerns, fairytale narratives and biblical references.
“When I make characters I do feel like they move into an atmosphere of drag,” says Liberty. “When I think about the feminine character in the film, it’s an over-the-top caricature of a man-hating feminist. You move into the realm of fantasy, and take a negative stereotype and make it humorous.”
The film was very much a DIY affair, with Liberty hand-drawing all the animated elements and making all the costumes, working with a very small team to realise it.
Ideas around drag, and sexual and gender identity, loom large in Liberty’s work. In a video piece from 2015, This Is The Way We Like It, two of the artist’s friends are shown enacting their interest in BDSM, but in such a playful way as to almost render the sexuality innocuous. “It started as an experimental piece inspired by the change in the pornography laws in December 2014, where rules were set out out for certain things like face-sitting and spanking” Liberty explains. “I saw a lot of connections between submission and feminism, and I wanted to show [the couple] being silly and dancing around, as well as the BDSM stuff.”
Elsewhere, her pieces explore uncomfortable and personal topics, veering from binge eating disorder to self-hatred and body-shaming. Surely there’s a vulnerability in that? “When I’m making work on certain topics that are very personal I like to transfer that to another character rather than being autobiographic,” says Liberty. “It’s about taking those experiences and turning them into something much more far-reaching.”
A forthcoming project will see Liberty adopt a selection of male personae, though ideas around the body and the media’s problematisation of it still reign. “We don’t realist how much the images we’re presented with online infiltrate our feelings about ourselves until it’s highlighted on the street,” says Liberty. “Once people experience fat shaming or slut shaming on the street, we see how are private internet lives are really starting to have such a detrimental effect.”
Liberty’s film is being screened at the Whitechapel Gallery on 7 July for Selected 6.
Words by Emily Gosling.