Hintonburg gallery show of “fine nude-art” much more about emotional vulnerability and the “whole self,” creators say

Katia Pershin and Nakisa Fouladi have put together a visual art exhibition that raises questions of empowerment. Image supplied by Katia Pershin and Nakisa Fouladi.

By Maureen McEwan

Ottawa artists Katia Pershin and Nakisa Fouladi want their nude-art blend of photography and painting to be more than just one exhibit: they say they hope to start a discussion and maybe even a movement on Sunday at the General Assembly Gallery in Hintonburg.

Fouladi and Pershin are in the final, frantic days before opening their show called ‘405:33, its truest form’. They have managed to produce the art in the midst of hectic personal schedules. Pershin runs a photography studio while Fouladi works as a model and manages a Lansdowne Park restaurant. But these days they are busily arranging such things as a moving van, a cash bar and prepping the Fairmont Avenue gallery space. This is a one-day event, the artists say, adding they hope to show it again elsewhere in the city.

The two met four years ago on a photo shoot. They have since worked on several magazine projects and become good friends.

“Katia was my photographer that I became very quickly obsessed with because her pictures were the best in Ottawa,” Fouladi said. 

“And I equally got obsessed with her because …well, look at her!” Pershin said.

Planning for the show began more than a year ago spaked by Pershin’s fiancé, Bruce Spurr, who came up with the idea.

After “three months of wishing, dreaming and nine months of sweat” as Pershin puts it – their show has come together.

They describe their work as “fine nude-art” but the show is not about the nudity. Fouladi is the subject and collaborator in the 20 or so images that will be in the show, but she wasn’t made up nor did she have her hair styled.

Fouladi says the art isn’t about being “provocative, intentionally” or about “taking her shirt off,” — it is about the emotional vulnerability.

“It is a lot of sadness,” Fouladi added. “I mean, not one of those pictures is made from me being happy. The point of this show is me getting out those feelings that I have suppressed or hidden inside me.”

Both say they want viewers to explore their own vulnerability.

Pershin said she is asked frequently about nude-art and whether it is empowering or exploitative. She often works as a boudoir and nude photographer and it is something she considers – especially in a culture of body shaming and mixed messages. But Pershin says that her work is focused on how her clients see themselves – not just the “perfect, curated, or social media self,” but the whole self. 

“It’s the whole gestalt. It’s the whole me — that is truly me and what makes me perfect. So that’s what the show means to me,” she added.

They say they have been surprised by how many people have asked about the numbers 405:33. Pershin says that the numbers represent “philosophically” how the two got into the project. They hold an individual and shared significance — the numbers appeared in both of their lives in a way they have so far decided not to disclose. That may change Sunday, she says for the curious.

In the exhibit, they are also incorporating work from two other artists: Pakistani poet Noor Unnahar and Canadian poet Atticus.

Putting the collection together wasn’t easy, they say.

Fouladi and Pershin say they believe their art is about empowerment and equality and about embracing who you are. They say they want to start a movement in the art world, the modelling world, and beyond.

“It … should be happening. And if it has to start in Ottawa, let’s go!” Fouladi said.

Each image involved three steps: black and white photography, image layering and finally painting. The high resolution images taken by Pershin were layered onto large canvases with glue and then painted by Fouladi. It was hard work.

“You have tears on the canvases,” said Pershin. “There’s literally blood, sweat, and tears on there, and it’s beautiful,” added Fouladi.

“We tortured ourselves for this show,” Fouladi joked. “I hope everyone in the universe knows that.”

And they say they had to be self-reflective and vulnerable to finish their work.

Pershin, who was a mental health counsellor at the University of Ottawa and holds an MA in the field, said, “I know my way around emotions.”

During one shoot, Pershin said Fouladi opened up and “broke down” ultimately.

“It’s sounds a little sadistic, but to me that’s a beautiful win because you get to the truth of someone’s soul,” Pershin said. “And not just, you know, a pretty model who comes in for a photo shoots and pops back home to her own feelings. It was really honest. And very raw.”

Pershin said that from her photos to Fouladi’s brushstrokes, they’re examining those emotional layers. 

“We’re turning her (Fouladi) inside out basically.”

For Fouladi, it was a more dynamic experience as a model and even a “contradiction” in her career to date. Fouladi now describes herself as a “model-turned-artist.”

This story was produced in collaboration with Centretown News and Carleton University.

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