MAGDALENA SALIBA PHOTOGRAPHY
Healing: Body Landscapes
Still in Progress, version 1 as of December 9th, 2021.
In the summer after my junior year of high school, I became privy to the unfortunate knowledge that there are people in this world who will try to use my body to fulfill their own twisted desires. As a result, I convinced myself that my opinions regarding how to handle my flesh didn’t quite matter. I believed that I often would not have much say in how the foreign hands of unwelcome strangers would grasp and mold my limbs, grabbing at me as if I were clay. I lost a sense of agency that summer, feeling like a visitor within my own body. As the days ticked by, I became antsy and didn’t know what to do with my hands. When they were not pulling at the skin around my waist, they were picking at my fingers, ripping away at the nail until the painful, red fleshiness showed on my lanky digits. I was pulling myself to pieces because inside, I was falling apart. I believed that I had become the product of someone else’s contorted artistic vision. I was no longer my own work of art, I was bound to the actions of another craftsperson.
Instead of harming the only body I’ll ever have on this earth, I chose to turn to bookbinding, a medium I had never dabbled with before. There I sat on the floor of my bedroom, pasting blank, unlined pages to the spine of the cover I had painstakingly pieced together. I decided that this book was going to be my therapy. It became my guide in how I would navigate the force inside of me that so badly desired to self destruct. That summer, I filled the pages with poems, doodles, flowers collected from the garden out back, quotes from songs that made me think about him, and reminders to myself that those songs were probably written about someone much more deserving… The fall eventually rolled around and the journal had filled up halfway. I was feeling like I finally had a little more control over my body again. And then history repeated itself. I let myself fall back into the hands of another undeserving sculptor who crosshatched my flesh with the artist’s signature of someone who did not have the right to mark me as their masterpiece. And there my hands went again, picking away at much more than my nails this time, scratches forming around my belly where I wanted my flesh to stop existing. My book was filling up with even more doodles and notes to self, and I needed to do something to get myself to calm down. I began to take photos of myself, purposefully contorting my body into unattractive forms, just to feel like I had some power over my own movement and image. My body was the thing I hated the most at that moment. Everyday I felt like I was a visitor in a studio, watching these men mold me into a form of a woman that better satisfied their carnivorous needs. I believed I had no control over my frame. It didn’t belong to me anymore, but the images I was creating were slowly giving me back some power.
It's been almost four years since I thought I had lost control of my body and mind. In college, I have come to realize that the events that transpired in high school do not define how my body functions moving forward. It took me a long time to accept this, but the things that happened to me were not my fault. In those moments, my body was a painting stolen from the walls of the Louvre or a statue ripped out of the NoMa Garden. Some greedy hands wanted to claim my body as their own, and pin me to their wall as if they had some right to gaze at me. Where I was wrong for so many years was believing that those people were changing me, making something new out of me. The slow process of healing and self love has taken me years, and it still isn’t over. That being said, I now feel confident to affirm that my body and my mind are the only tools available on this earth that only I can use to create art. Nobody else will ever be able to use me to create something beautiful.
I take self portraits because they capture the sorrow, pain, anger, resentment, and hatred I felt for so long after being harmed. I take self portraits because they capture the power, love, confidence, healing, and peace I feel when I wake up and look in the mirror now. I take self portraits because I know that what has happened to me is only the tip of the iceberg for women, non-binary folks, trans people, queer people, people of color, people trapped in unhealthy relationships, people far away from home, and any other person who has ever felt the agony that sexual assault and rape torment you with. Art is the only way I have ever been able to successfully capture how it feels to struggle with my past, and it’s also the only way I have ever been able to truly grow from my experiences.
Photography is my chosen medium for this reason, as it is the only medium I have ever successfully used to display my body in the exact way I want it to be seen. I collage and paint and write and doodle on my images to occasionally invent new ways to tell stories when I feel like my photographs could use some help. I like to photograph other women as well, as I know my empathy and understanding of many of our shared experiences will allow me to capture them in a way that is respectful, impactful, and beautiful. I work with extreme lighting and vivid colors because these things capture the body in magical ways that I love exploring. I like to photograph nudity and vulnerability, but I always need a concrete reason for why I do this. I only want to take photographs that are intentional in the message they are sending, and I never want to misrepresent the subjects I am capturing. I want to create beautiful things with beautiful meanings. I want my work to speak to others and allow room for others to speak to it. I want to learn more techniques and grow as an artist and a thinker. I want to collaborate with talented people and learn from everyone I work near. I want to explore other methods of making beautiful images and try every technique that this world has to offer me. I have spent so much time growing in my own body that I crave this process of growth in the art I create. I know that even after my schooling ends, I will continually want to grow and learn from those around me.