Chicago’s NSFW Artists Combat Nudity Stigma Through Sexual Assertion and Artistic Expression – The Columbia Chronicle

One of the artistic techniques that Kye Smith incorporates is the use of stippling as a method to increase the depth of his work. Irvin Ibarra

When Kye Smith, a freelance artist currently living in Lakeview East, started posting artwork of his comic-style character Strappy Wolf on Instagram, he was inspired by trans artists on the platform and his own experience.

“I remember giving him the best surgical scars and I really, really liked that,” Smith said. “I found that I felt better about myself when I gave [Strappy Wolf] features that kind of matched my own body and my trans experience… When I posted that, other people really connected with that too.

Artists like Smith challenge the stigma of nudity as an inherently sexualized concept through affirmation of their own sexual experience.

Artwork categorized as “Not Safe for Work” or NSFW, often Labels work of art like not suitable for showing in public or on work spaces. Smith feels the the label is limiting.

With a variety of different artistic mediums at his disposal, Smith takes pride in the development of his artistic style since his early days and his newfound passion for watercolor work. Irvin Ibarra

Isamar Medina, a The full-time McKinley Park artist who goes by Kawaii Suga, has been affected by people on Instagram reporting her work to the point that the platform has deleted images of her paintings.

“Through the ages you see nudity and sexual themes in art…so it’s really interesting how now that there’s a wide range of artists, especially women and queer artists… letting people know about their experiences has a label and should be hidden from internet algorithms,” Medina said.

Get the work of artists on social media is not limited to Medina.

Smith also had his work flagged, taken down and even his Instagram temporarily blocked from the platform days before Christmas Eve last year.

Strappy Wolf, Smith’s wolf character, is depicted as an extension of himself and printed on a variety of stickers he sells. Irvin Ibarra

“It caused panic,” Smith said. “I’ve put so much work into this account…it’s scary and even continuing to post ‘unsafe for work’ artwork, I’ve had some drawings taken down because they’ve been flagged and that’s just disappointing.”

This targeted flagging of artwork deemed NSFW can directly impact an artist’s ability to build social media engagement and sell their artwork; but above all, it censors their sexual expression.

Hina Mizuta, originally from Pilsen and owner of her clothing line Slut Bug Studios, saw many of his friends on Instagram face censorship problems also. His art style uses an anime aesthetic screen-printed on clothing to depict “slutty bugs”.

For Mizuta, his works are made as a rebellious response to his religious upbringing.

Upper surgical scars, a common symbol and reminder of an individual’s trans experience, are a common theme with Smith’s work developed in his work on canvas. Irvin Ibarra

“I really want to change the stigma of sexualizing things,” Mizuta said. “Instead of shaming people for being provocative or sexual, we should instead be empowering that freedom of expression. That takes a lot of trust.”

Based on the positive feedback received from their audiences and others, artists like Smith and Medina feel that their efforts to normalize nudity in art are succeeding.

“Chicago is doing great things right now,” Medina said. “Right now a lot of Chicago artists are being recognized for their talents and it gives us all a chance to be recognized on a larger scale…and I’m really proud of that. I’m proud to be from Chicago.

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