Everyone deserves to see art when they look at themselves in the mirror — for the past six years, Figure on Diversity has been dedicated to helping people do just that.
Angela DeCarlis, a 30-year-old art adjunct professor at UF, founded the figure drawing workshop, which features diverse models who are people of color, fat, disabled or members of the LGBTQ community.
“It's really important for the models who have been oppressed on the basis of their appearance to have the opportunity to be seen,” DeCarlis said. “Not just stared at, right? Really seen and valued.”
DeCarlis first saw a need for diverse figure-drawing models when they were an art student at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Lesley University. They wanted to learn how to draw different body types and give underrepresented communities the opportunity to feel welcome in the arts.
They hosted several events for people to learn how to model after they founded Figure on Diversity. Since then, they have learned more about the importance of helping people feel like their bodies are worth representation, they said.
One way they are achieving this is by hosting an event called Outshown from June 11 to June 13 that focuses on transgender youth. This free three-day workshop will teach 20 trans and nonbinary participants how to draw from a live model.
The event will also feature two days of figure drawing trans bodies, one day of self-portraits and special guests like artist Hayden Stern.
One Nation/One Project, a national arts and wellness initiative, provided a grant to host the event to promote trans youth wellness to Figure on Diversity.
LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and this suicidal ideation is largely due to their stigmatization in society, according to the Trevor Project.
“[Ages] 16 to 24 is a really vulnerable time — your body is going through a lot of changes,” DeCarlis said. “And for trans youth, those changes can be really traumatizing.”
They hope this workshop will give young transgender people the ability to see what it’s like to be an adult trans person and to be proud of their bodies, they said.
Brooke, a 24-year-old model for Figure on Diversity, has seen their confidence grow through modeling.
Brooke, who identifies as fat, trans and nonbinary, started modeling for Figure on Diversity in April.
“I just feel more proud of who I am and how my body looks because I recognize that it's artwork,” they said.
They had never viewed their body as art before they began modeling, Brooke said. After their first modeling event, they were in awe of the drawings artists created from the session.
“I was full smiles — near tears — at times because it was just so beautiful to see myself that way,” they said.
Brooke believes the event’s last day of self-portraits will be the most empowering, they said.
The self-portraits will be done on the last day of the Outshown workshop and will be exhibited July 28.
“I'm sure that's going to be a wonderful day for the trans youth who are able to attend because they'll be able to see themselves as I did,” Brooke said. “ As artwork, as something to be uplifted and celebrated.”
However, these workshops are not just about helping models or minority groups feel proud of their bodies.
Carolina, a 54-year-old transgender model for Figure on Diversity, believes the workshop is also a way to advocate for trans stories.
Art and artists have the power to shape culture and society, she said. Projecting LGBTQ bodies in a positive way can also help destigmatize the queer experience.
“We are not monsters,” Carolina said. “We are just human beings with human bodies.”
Since February, Carolina has modeled twice and plans to model at the Outshown event for trans youth.
Carolina's first time modeling was fantastic, she said.
“On one side, I was feeling vulnerable,” Carolina said. “But at the same time, it made me feel that I was coping with my own insecurities and my own self-acceptance.”
On top of that, she made new friends with other models and artists.
Modeling for Outshown will be just one more step toward self-acceptance, not just for herself but for trans participants as well, she said.
“We’re living at a time when we have so many forces telling transgender people ‘You don't belong. You don't exist. You're not what you are. We hate you,’” Carolina said.
But participating in Outshown and other events hosted by Figure on Diversity and seeing people make art inspired by trans bodies has meant alot to Carolina.
Now, transgender youth have the ability to see themselves creating and being art by participating in the Outshown workshop, even if they had no drawing experience.
Art is about telling stories in a visual way, and with Figure on Diversity workshops, everyone walks away with a better understanding of one another, DeCarlis said.
“Artists are the ones who get to generate our cultural notions of beauty,” DeCarlis said.
After Outshown, DeCarlis hopes to continue providing a platform for self-acceptance and open conversation through their other nude figure drawing workshop, Drawing Out Summer, which will meet every first and third Monday of each month starting June 8.
“Anybody who's excited about the idea of posing for artists and who holds at least one oppressed identity or marginalized identity is welcome to apply to pose,” DeCarlis said.
As Figure on Diversity continues to highlight LGBTQ stories and teach artists and viewers alike about diversity, they hope to inspire people to truly see others.
Editors note: The Alligator removed the last names of two sources used in this article out of safety concerns after the sources reported receiving online harassment.
Contact Aubrey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @aubreyyrosee.
Aubrey Bocalan is a third-year journalism major. She is also pursuing a double major in Art. When she isn't writing, she's probably watching TV with her dog, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore Bocalan.