Reka Nyari on Geisha Ink & Girl Power
Known for her erotically charged photographs and mastery of visual storytelling, Reka Nyari shows us the strength in vulnerability of the nude female form.
Reka Nyari’s GEISHA INK 芸者インク series features Ginzella, a modern heroine adorned with tattoos that tell the story of her life—juxtaposing the symbolism of the Japanese Geisha with that of Yakuski (Japanese gangster) tattoos. Reka’s latest exhibit opens at Hong Kong’s Art Basel this Thursday—and will be traveling to the Venice Biennale in May.
Right before her exhibit launched in New York, we sat down to talk to Reka about women, empowerment and influences in her work.
Where did you find Ginzilla, the subject of your Geisha Ink series?
I had been wanting to do a tattoo series for a while. Whether I’m on the subway or on the street or at parties, I’m always casting. The subject for a tattoo story was more difficult—usually people wear clothing on the street, so you can’t tell how many they have. Then Ginzilla popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. She had an amazing story and the perfect look for this series.
“I observe a lot, rather than directing.”
How did you decide you wanted to include Geisha symbolism in the photographs?
I had seen these beautiful silver gelatin prints of the yakuza from the early 20th century—and they were incredibly striking. I wanted the images to have that feeling of strength, rebellion and total control that these images possessed. I am also fascinated by the Geisha. They were the most powerful women in a highly patriarchal society. They ran the geisha business, which was a powerful force in ancient Japan, and were in charge of their finances and their destinies.
Do you find it difficult to get Ginzilla (and other subjects similar to her) to pose in more traditionally vulnerable states?
Not at all. In fact, women who have never posed nude approach me constantly. They feel very comfortable with me, and I have a good understanding of what they’re doing since I was a model myself. I like to have as little pretend and posing as possible on my shoots—so that people are only doing what they feel like. I observe a lot, rather than directing.
Your work expresses the power of female sexuality. Tell me a bit about what makes this so powerful to you.
Female sexuality is the most powerful thing in the world. Empires have started over it. Wars have been fought over it. Conservative and religious governments spend incredible resources suppressing it. Even in the US, a nipple equals a scandal. I think that female sexuality comes out in my work, well, partly because I am a sexual female—but also because it’s such an interesting aspect to explore. I believe in raw emotion and expression. It’s not a part we should be ashamed of or cover or suppress.
“Beauty is about intelligence, power and surprise.”
Much of your work explores the harder side of feminine beauty. What does beauty mean to you?
For me, beauty is so much more than what the eye sees. It is a lot about the unexpected and what you have on the inside. Sometimes, you can be the world’s most physically beautiful person—but you can talk to them, and they don’t have a spark. Beauty is about intelligence and power and surprise. It’s often raw and unexpected.
Reka, what do you find most beautiful in the world today?
Children. I never really liked kids before I had one of my own. Becoming a mom and seeing these beautiful little creatures who have yet to be tarnished by our society—there’s something really stunning about their innocence and the ways they take in the world.
What’s the most important thing you want people to take away from your work?
I want people to feel something when they see my work—whether it’s positive or negative. I’d rather you don’t like it than just say “Oh, that’s a nice photo.” I want women to feel positive about their bodies after seeing my work. To feel empowered and inspired.
“We don’t need to be quiet or play by the rules.”
How has becoming a mother changed you?
It’s made me a lot more productive. I’m a lot more focused and determined. I was afraid of losing my identity as a first time mother. But now 15 months in, I feel more connected to me than ever. It helps to have a supportive and amazing partner.
And I think a lot about what kind of world we’ll leave to our daughters. Motherhood has made me determined to have a bigger social impact with my work and make the world a better place.
You’ve been banned from FB a few times for showing female nipples. Can you tell me a bit about that? Has becoming a mother affected it at all?
Oh, I get banned all the time. Last time, someone reported me for a butt crack on a beautiful black and white photograph. There’s such a double standard for men and women. It’s just ridiculous. Nipples have a purpose—and it’s not sexual. Breastfeeding is natural and beautiful.
“Educating girls around the world is the answer to so many problems.”
In today’s political climate, what does your work have to say?
My work always says “fuck you” to the establishment and to people who are telling us what to do—whether that’s what to do with our bodies, choosing abortion, or showing our nipples. We don’t need to be quiet or play by the rules. In the current political climate, I hope that all the protests and uniting to get our voices heard will make the country a better place. In a way, maybe it has been a wake up call. Something good may come of it.
What do you think about the future of women?
I’m feeling positive. Overall, there are setbacks. But women in the world are getting more educated. Educating girls and women around the world is the answer to so many problems. Giving girls options, helping them become successful. I’m hoping that there is going to be a better future for women all around the world.
What does self-expression mean to you in today’s world?
Doing exactly what you feel is the right thing to do. Having a choice.
What is love?
Love is the source, the universal force.
What is one thing you would you change about
the world if you could?
The results of the last election.
Reka Nyari is a Finnish/Hungarian born artist currently living and working in New York City. She has received numerous awards for her groundbreaking work including first place Winner of International Photography Awards (IPA) 2010, Beauty Pro Category. Her 225 page Monograph titled “Femme Fatale: Female Erotic Photography” is published in 6 languages and has already gained a collector’s status.
Reka Nyari’s exhibit GEISHA INK 芸者インク opens in Hong-Hong on March 9 (see poster above) at Awethentic Gallery.