Words by Meg Shepherd in conversation with Roshi Cowen.
Art by Roshi Cowen.
Roshi is a recent graduate from the University of Exeter based in London. You can follow her on Instagram: @bodykindbirdy and @bodykinddesigns.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work? What did you study at University and has this influenced any of your work/outlook?
RC: I’m Roshi, I’m 23, a mental health and intersectional feminist advocate. I’d describe my art as radical, pastel, self acceptance. I studied English and Drama at university in Exeter and I think the brilliant and creative people I met have pushed me to believe in myself and speak my mind, even if it upsets some people. I also enjoy making my art a little bit theatrical which is what I have taken from my studies. If I draw/represent chubby, hairy, imperfect, naked bodies and call them beautiful, make them into art, does that repulse you? If it does, how dramatic is that? Those responses mean that a viewer has a lot to learn.
What inspires you? Do you have any influences?
RC: Nakedness. Which is a bit of a bonkers answer but I think that (especially AFAB) bodies are so often mystified and shrouded in layers of patriarchal sexual objectification that it’s nice to see different types of nakedness. Nakedness that isn’t always sexual, hairy nakedness, fat nakedness, stretch mark-y nakedness. We never see our bodies represented how they feel to live in and none of those things make anyone any less beautiful.
I’m influenced a lot by other online artists. At the moment @b.o_art_ and @arewenearlybareyet are really making me happy but truthfully the reason I started my online presence was pretty much down to @thevaggagle and @bodyposipanda because they both spoke out about feminist issues and body positivity, and then the art just sort of happened as a result of drawing myself.
What influenced you to start drawing?
RC: At the risk of sounding like Godmother from Fleabag, I started drawing because I wanted some power over my body. I’ve struggled with eating disordered behaviour and low self worth since I was 13, when I was experiencing life in a slightly larger body than I was expected to. I began drawing myself to heal my fractured self image and learn to see the beauty in it that I saw in other people. I realised that although my issues stemmed from societal fatphobia, I was still privileged within that circle. As a white, bisexual, barely plus size woman, I realised that this issue went a lot deeper than people who looked like me. People of marginalised genders who were bigger or darker skinned or disabled had to struggle much harder against the tide of white patriarchal capitalism than I did. So I started drawing.
Can you talk more about how your art is linked to your activism? How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
RC: In our current society, not dieting, not weighing yourself and being comfortable in your own skin have sadly become activism. A lot of my art lives in that space. In that, by existing, it challenges the way things are. I also have a loud mouth and say what I mean. In my captions I’m about as subtle as a hammer. I sort of just became enraged that people stopped caring about one another. When did that happen? When did having arguments about politics become explaining to people that kindness is good? I thought everyone knew that in primary school and suddenly I’m having to explain to adults why we should share things and be kind.
How do you want your work to affect your audience?
RC: I want people to question why they are ashamed of things about their own or other people’s bodies. It’s just a body, it does everything for you and it’s where you live, maybe we could consider that as good enough and stop trying to shrink or change it.
What’s next for you?
RC: I’m hoping to start selling some prints of my art on my Etsy! I have a new account just for my illustrations/drawings and I’m hoping to pick up steam that way!
Any advice you would like to share on the topic of art and or body positivity?
RC: Body positivity itself is a little bit of a pitfall. There’s all sorts of discourse online about whether it is healthy for people to always feel positive about their bodies, whether that might be a bit toxic, especially for disabled folks who have to live with chronic pain or their body consistently being an obstacle for them living ‘normal lives.’ So instead I prefer to talk about Body Kindness, hence the name. It’s being in a neutral space with your body and asking yourself how you can be a little kinder to it. Take a bit of time right now to put a hand on your tummy, feel it move and thank yourself for existing. You are miraculous.