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This Artist Is “Helping Women Reclaim Their Bodies”: In Conversation With Bukola Thompson

by in Identity on 8th March, 2019

Source: Instagram @bukikekere

All over social media, we see Muslim women creating space for their own narratives, be it through their words, their photography or their art. In advertising and media, we are still bombarded with very specific beauty ideals and are constantly told that we should be striving to a specific body image. Women like Bukola Thompson, a software engineer and artist, are part of the wave of artists on Instagram who is here to show us all that our bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Bukola’s art is a distinct style which uses pens and makes her focus point the bodies of women. A celebration of women, Bukola draws out every intricate detail that is often airbrushed away on the covers of magazines. We wanted to find out more about Bukola and her art, here’s our in conversation, you can find her incredible art @bukikekere.

Amaliah: Can you tell us more about your art style? Why pens? Why bodies?

Using bodies as my main focal point has been the best way for me to spark conversations on issues relating to women. I like to explore what it is about the body that it’s so controversial. In terms of mediums used, the reason why I use pens is that it’s easily accessible, which means I able to create art wherever I am and also because I like to challenge of not being able to erase any mistakes I make. Any mistakes I do make, I have to find a way to cover up. This has really improved my drawing skills.

Amaliah: You’ve talked about how being a black Muslim woman made you feel like your body was policed, did this affect your body confidence? Do you see your art as a response to that policing, if so how?

My work is definitely a response to policing. Although I did have issues with my body confidence, it wasn’t really due to the ummah, it was more due to the cultural differences – being of African heritage it was the norm to be on the bigger side. I have always been very slim and therefore been very conscious that my body doesn’t adhere to the cultural standards.

My art is all about breaking free from the constraints that are being upheld by essentially just opinions.

Amaliah: The body types you draw are not what we tend to see in mainstream media, can you tell us more about that?

This goes back to helping women reclaim their bodies – I want to capture the norm and what we can relate to that is why I draw bodies in all shapes and sizes.

Why do you focus on intimate parts of the body? Do you ever feel uncomfortable in the process? Not all, if anything I like the reactions I get from it. I always find it interesting that people feel uncomfortable with what is normal and natural. We all came out of a woman so why is the vagina so taboo? We use our breast to feed our babies so why are we prohibited to doing that in public? My art should spark an emotion. I don’t care if its love or hate. If my work doesn’t make you feel anyway then I haven’t done my job well.

Amaliah: Can you tell me more about how your art is helping you and other women reclaim their bodies?

I think it’s mostly down to the fact that I don’t shy away from the obvious – I draw breast, I draw the bum, I take note of every line and fold of the body. My art should be an accurate representation of women – no matter what shape and size and it’s due to this that women are able to resonate with my work and therefore help them reclaim their bodies.

Amaliah: You’re a developer by day! Can you tell us more about that and your advice to anyone who has multiple interests and wants to pursue them.

I am a Software Engineer and Product Specialist. I wear quite a few hats at work so when I’m not coding, I am probably configuring our software or creating training materials for our products. Over the last few months, I have been fortunate to travel to America for a few weeks to work closely with a client who was interested in our software.

I am very passionate about tech and I try to show the parallels between tech and creativity by running events such as #codeXhiphop – where we taught students how to create music using code. I think it’s very important to have multiple interests. I have people telling me that I should just focus on one, but why should we? we are multifaceted beings. Why fight what’s natural to us – instead let these multiple things you’re passionate about feed your soul.

I won’t lie and say that being able to balance it all, is going to be easy, and there are times where I feel like I am giving in more on one thing than the other but I think with good time management and discipline you are able to spend time on all and most importantly enjoy it.

Amaliah: What are the expectations of society when it comes to your body?

My identity is in part made up from being a black Muslim woman. I completely understand the Hijab and personally, I believe that modesty is something between you and God. However it is tiring how it is used in a way to put women “in their place”.

You have white feminism making themselves believe that Muslim women are oppressed and that we don’t have a voice.

Being black you come across ignorant black men who believe that by wearing weave or by choosing to wear blonde hair we are denouncing our blackness. But when we choose to wear our natural or Locs, we have corporations and school threatening to let us go if we did not assimilate.

Then you have social media fetishizing on our full lips and bodies but only then to remind us that these features are only acceptable to white skin.

Amaliah: Did you find yourself having to unlearn how you viewed your own body? What was that process like?

I think a lot of the unlearning comes with maturity and being able to critically analyse information that’s been thrown at us every day. For example, when it comes to Islam, I make sure to make do my own readings and research to understand modesty rather than internalising toxic tweets from these twitter sheiks. It’s also been really important for me to take care of my body from going the gym, eating better or even small things like using better quality skincare products. It is things like this that makes me view my body and myself in general in a more positive light.

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The real "crowd-pleasers" ——————————————————— I dont usually comment on my art work, but I have been told that sharing makes people connect with my work more. So I thought if I am going to comment, I should answer probably my most asked question "why do you draw naked women?"/ "Are you gay"/ "You never draw men, why?" I have two reasons for this: I'm not gay and the reason why I dont draw men is simply because I just dont want to. My art is selfish. It is very much all about myself – How I feel and what relates to me. Thats how I'm inspired. I draw women because I am a woman. I relate to the issues of the female body hence why it only makes sense for me to translate it on paper. I am very passionate about the female body. Not in a sexual but rather in an aesthetic way.. theres someting the breast… Bum.. the stomach.. every line, every crease, every fold I draw.. when put on paper it becomes so hypnotic, so beautiful and so controversial. I love how it makes people feel. Good or bad. That brings me to my second point which Ill discuss on my next piece. Thanks for reading!! xoxo

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The real "crowd-pleasers"

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You can find more of Bukola’s work here on Instagram. 

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