Tara Sokolow-Benmeleh has a pretty conventional beauty regimen. When she goes to the salon, she likes the nail polish on her fingers and toes to match.
When she got her nails done at Porn Nails, Sokolow-Benmeleh chose a design that, for her, was a creative stretch.
She went for an orange-and-tan diagonal pattern with a rhinestone in the center of each nail. On her middle fingers, she exchanged the orange for gold tips.
Porn Nails is an interactive and relational art project by Rosemarie Romero, a 26-year-old third-year UF graduate student.
The project reclaims a liberated female sexuality in a way that uses humor and embodies empowerment, she said. At a typical event, she paints as many as 50 visitors’ nails.
About a year ago, Romero went through a difficult divorce, during which she dealt with misogyny and sexism.
“It’s the blame game,” she said, “and it’s always your fault.”
She saw other women struggling with similar issues, which had a profound impact on her.
She began working on Porn Nails in April. She does what she calls “mobile interventions,” by setting up a nail salon in unconventional spaces like lobbies, elevators and in her partitioned space at GRADhaus studios.
Her nail art isn’t for only women.
Men especially like getting their nails done in the elevator. They find humor in saying “Do me next,” Romero said.
“Every guy’s fantasy is kind of, like, to do it in public,” she said. “They like the joke of somebody doing it in the elevator.”
When she sets up her project, she decorates each space with colorful signs and props influenced by her Miami upbringing and Dominican roots.
Romero often dresses up in colorful wigs and rollerblades and does her best to channel a traditional salon environment so her guests feel comfortable.
“While I take care of them, they can express themselves and their lives and their history in a very open way,” Romero said.
Sokolow-Benmeleh called Romero’s project therapeutic and said she believes it builds relationships and strength.
Romero has a selection of colors that range from neutral to metallic, including plenty of neon colors, which are her favorite. She funds Porn Nails out-of-pocket.
Recently, she began buying mini nail polishes because they’re easier to travel with. She also always carries different stickers, googly eyes, dollar sign-shaped sequins, glitter and rhinestones to use on nails. Each set of nails she does is different.
“The porn in Porn Nails is not this chauvinistic, exploitative porn,” Romero said. “Your nails can be porn, too. It’s a statement to the world.”