Having a Nosey With: Rora Blue, Feminist Visual Artist
Rora Blue is a visual artist, widely known for her current ongoing project, with over 26.2k followers on Instagram, ‘The Unsent Project’. Self proclaimed feminist and activist Rora Blue creates projects and pieces that affect her and the people around her in everyday life, tackling everything from toxic masculinity to chronic illness.
In our print issue, we shared an exclusive interview with Rora about her latest piece ‘The Walk’. You can get a copy of the issue here. Today, we’re taking Rora back to two of her first, and arguably most famous, projects.
In this interview, I sat down with Rora to talk about these past pieces, everyday sexism, and her viral project ‘Handle With Care’. We discuss the #MeToo movement, artistic expression, and how we can battle sexism together as women.
Rora, you’re a photographer and visual artist creating work that has a huge emotional impact. Did you know that your work would end up taking that route when you first started?
Definitely not! My artistic career began after as a simple post on Tumblr in 2015. The post asked people to anonymously submit a message they never sent to their first love. I didn't expect this prompt to turn anything, I actually didn't even consider it art at the time. 3 years later I have received over 32,000 submissions and the Unsent Project has become my largest body of work.
What inspired you to get into social issues, such as feminism, which eventually came through in your work?
I have always been interested in social issues but I got much more involved after taking a Women’s Studies class. This led to a Global Women’s Studies class and my series Handle With Care and (Don’t).
Your series ‘Handle With Care’ was a massive success upon being released in 2016 and is still widely known because of its relevance now. Why do you think this is?
I think that some of it was timing. By some standards sexism started to enter mainstream conversation in 2016. I think this was fuelled by the USA election and other events at the time. The #Metoo and Times Up movements followed shortly after. I think all of these things came together and we started to have well overdue conversations about sexism.
The Me Too and Times Up Movements have been so prevalent on social media. Did these contribute to your ‘lightbulb moment’ when you realised you had to create something about this topic or did the idea originate from somewhere else?
I actually created the first two images for Handle With Care as part of an assignment in my Women’s Studies class. My professor wanted us to write a personal essay but also gave a creative option. I opted for the creative option because I felt I could best communicate my experiences visually. I thought about sexist comments I had heard at various points in my life. I selected two that stuck out to me and turned them into art. After releasing these two photos I received an enormous response. I knew that I had to share some of the other comments women have heard. This is when I created the last four photos in the series.
Sexism, particularly everyday sexism like the comments in the series, often gets swept under the rug. Why did you decide to create art from a subject that so many people avoid?
Sexist comments can be subtle. Taking Women’s Studies caused me to reevaluate previous experiences. There were some comments that I heard growing up that made me uncomfortable but I didn’t know why. Gaining the vocabulary to talk about sexism allowed me to realize how sexist some of the comments I had heard were. I wanted to start a conversation about this and see if other women have had similar experiences.
Out of the phrases you came across throughout making the series, are there any that really stuck out to you?
I received thousands of submissions to this series. Every single comment opened my eyes and caused me to reflect on the ways that women experience sexism every day.
The submissions I chose for the series were the ones that I saw submitted the most. A few are my own submissions. Some submissions stuck out to me because they caused me to re-examine situations in which I had heard the same comment.
You’ve used red as a prominent colour throughout the series. What is the meaning behind this to you?
Color is central to everything that I do. It is a great medium to communicate a feeling to a viewer. I often work with a limited color palette to maximize this effect. Red felt like a very strong color and my message was equally as strong. It felt like a great fit.
We at Having a Nosey love this series, but because of the controversial topic it brings to light, we can only assume that it’s not always met with an applause. Have you dealt with negative reactions to the series?
Oh, absolutely! There was a great deal of backlash to this series. Most of the comments said that we should stop whining and that none of these comments were even said anymore. I found that ironic because the comments were submitted directly from real life experiences. Other comments were more aggressive such as telling me that I should be slapped for creating this series. However, overall the response was overwhelmingly positive.
How did you go about focusing on the positives and seeing past the negative comments, especially with a project that’s so personal to you?
With all of my art, my goal is to generate conversation. Even with the hate I was still achieving my goal. I created something that had such a strong impact on people that they took time out of their day to respond to my series. In my opinion, that is still a success. Even if it is hate I am causing them to think and engage in conversation about sexism.
Having had many of these comments directed at myself in the past, the collection really evoked a lot of emotion for me and I’m sure has done for many other women. Has it ever surprised you how many people relate to this?
I wish I could say yes. My education and personal experiences have made me well aware that sexism is still experienced widely and for many women daily.
The Handle With Care series went viral and was even picked up by publications such as The Metro and The Huffington Post. How do you feel when you receive such overwhelming responses from the public and the media?
It was very overwhelming. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to be a part of the conversation about sexism on such a large scale. I was also so happy that I was able to give other women a platform to share their experiences.
What’s the best response to have come from this series?
So many women coming together and sharing their stories! I find the chance to connect and interconnect so beautiful.
You’ve also created a series entitled ‘Don’t’ which focuses on male gender roles and toxic masculinity. Did you find that the creation, launch and reaction to this was similar to that of Handle With Care?
I created (Don’t) as a direct response to the hate I received on Handle With Care. I found that most of the hate comments on Handle With Care came from men. I wondered what would happen if rather that letting this harden me, I embraced the male community and acknowledged their struggle with gender roles. I was unsure if this series would receive pushback from women or men. Upon releasing (Don’t) I saw that again, most of the hate was coming from men. I found this very interesting. I think it says a lot about societal ideas of masculinity and the way that we raise boys differently than girls.
You’re consistently using art to discuss really important topics we face in today’s society. Will you be continuing this in the years to come?
It’s in my nature to dig into difficult topics. I hope to create art until the day that I die.
What’s next for you and your art?
I have finished working on a series called The Walk. The Walk is an interactive and submission based series that pair’s text with visuals. The series explores the objects women carry for protection while walking alone. Pink sticky notes are being submitted from women all over the world, and detail the objects that they carry. Selected sticky note submissions are paired with a photograph that is created as a visual representation of the submission.
The Walk explores a topic that is familiar to most women but is often censored in conversation. Here, text and visuals are used as a vehicle through which the viewer can both identify with the anonymous woman and/or experience the vantage point of a perpetrator. Pink is used almost exclusively throughout the series in attempt to reclaim a color that is traditionally associated with women.