Thursday, January 7, 2021 2:06 pm
Ruth Bircham who was born in Britain (though a Jamaican) is an erotic artist with a mission. Not only does she communicate with images of male and female anatomies, she is on a self-appointed mission to liberate people from the shame, social inhibitions and cultures of silence and secrecy associated with sexuality. However the intriguing thing about Bircham’s art is that she started painting at four when she had to draw images in order to communicate since she couldn’t speak until she was five. But why erotic art? She said she took to erotic art in order to fight taboos associated with the naked body. “I would say that I found the naked body fascinating to look at. But that’s not what drew me to create art of the naked body. I thought that if men and women see how beautiful the naked body is when painted realistically, it would not be deemed taboo,” she told TheNEWS. In this interview with NEHRU ODEH, she speaks about her art, what drew her into painting the naked body and the challenges she has faced as an erotic artist.
You are a self-taught artist. Could you tell me how your artistic journey began and what propelled it?
My artistic journey began at two, from seeing the colour contrast of the blue Jamaican skies brushing the tops of trees and land. I was sitting on top of a tree with my uncle one day, eating large slices of cucumber in salt water. He said, “Look Ruth. See how far the blue sky goes and the many green tree tops connect together for miles.” And I looked. I saw expanse of blue and green.
Then when I was four years old my mum bought me activity books, paper and crayons to draw with. So that I could stop scribbling on her nursing books. And as I wasn’t speaking I drew images in order to communicate until I started speaking at five. I started painting at six, copying framed prints of flowers my mum had on the walls. When I got bored with that, I painted vegetables, fruits and people. My oyinbo step nanny bought me art materials, which I asked her for every of my birthdays & Christmas. She once said to my mum, “”Ruth is going to be a great artist when she grows up.”
You’re a Jamaican-born British erotic artist? Why eroticism? Why did you decide to become an erotic artist? Why did you decide to tread where angels fear to tread, so to speak, considering the silence, the secrecy, the web of morality that surround it as well as social inhibition?
That is a good question. I would say that I found the naked body fascinating, to look at. But that’s not what drew me to create art of the naked body. I thought that if men and women saw how beautiful the naked body is when painted realistically, it would not be deemed taboo.
In 1988 when I entered the art room in Camberwell College of Art and saw a fat, naked man seated on a chair. I was shocked initially. Then I smiled and hurriedly took my seat, still gazing in wonder at the naked man on the chair. I began eagerly to paint him with the small bits of torn cards, not taking any notice of the other students or the tutor. I had a hunger to paint this naked fat man. Later on in few years I did more life drawings and paintings of naked models but I found these experiences extremely boring! As these models were taking the same gradient colours and texture. Also the colours I used were different and so unusual but they were correct. I found that I needed to use more of one colour than the others. And I saw colours in the light, on the skins of the naked body, of the naked breasts and nipples, vaginas and penises that photographs and the eyes most times miss. I then started to study the naked skin and realised that the skin was like water. It’s position, angle and poses all the time. The women never seated with her legs wide open, neither the men. Their legs were always closed. And I thought to myself, what would happen if I painted only their anatomies. So that was what I did. And I found out that their anatomies were different in tones, reflects. It becomes the light and colours that it touches. So I wondered if it was the same with every skin colour. But since brown people are extremely frigid one will never know. Since it’s mostly white people who send me their photographs and who pose nude and do what I ask them to do. To me, the naked body is very fascinating to paint. I also began to study the characteristics of the body and how it was viewed. I studied the viewers, to see how they each viewed the body. So I asked other artists to pose for me. I asked strangers on social media if I could paint them and I started painting pornography vids online. Also I wanted to try to capture the life of a photographed model. So I took photographs of the models myself. And I asked photographers if I could paint their photographs that had what I like to paint. I like painting the natural feature of the body. And it looks erotic to some people and intimidating to others. I can’t explain my methods or what I asked my models to do. Or else it will become everybody’s work of art.
There are two different types of erotic art. There’s sensual erotic art and extreme expressive type of erotic art. The erotic art that I created is extremely expressive as I paint what no others dare to paint. And I enjoy painting it.
How did you get your boldness and courage?
The boldness comes from our lived-in environment. What is deemed as taboo, raw and shocking is in fact the reality of life. It’s real, it’s extreme, it’s life. We all are naturally drawn to view the naked sections of the body and really enjoy what it offers. But many people choose to contradict and pretend that the vagina and penises don’t exist. It doesn’t mean that I’m sex mad because I paint erotic art and these sections of the body. I paint these sections of the body because there are many people who feel wretched whenever their bodies are discussed. Men are extremely upset about the size of their penises, whether they will be satisfying for the women in their life. They’re easily offended and influence by pornography because their sizes are not the same as the men in porn. So when they see my artworks they report it on social media. They don’t speak about how they feel they just attack my art. They attack me. Mostly Nigerian men. Asian and European men speak with me. Jamaican men sends me pictures of their wives’ and girlfriends’ vaginas. Some Nigerian men sends me their photographs. But other Nigeria men attack my art, my social media outlets, my email address and my business. All because I paint erotic art themes, which is a wonderful empowering subject.
What is your kind of art about?
My kind of art, that is erotic art, is about embracing what you have.
In other of my artworks depicting historical events I am being objective about certain events that had happened in the past, as written in books. So I paint them as abstract to educate people about the heinous crimes against humanity. I also paint “what ifs”, giving the viewer a question to answer in their own way in order to build confidence, to educate and to enable them gain self-motivation and self-actualization.
How has life been as an erotic artist?
Well, many who understood my artworks are now appreciating and showcasing them. I was given an award in 2014 for painting an erect penis and called it art. In 2012 my orgy art was shortlisted and hung up in the Cork Street gallery in UK for two months. My penises and vaginas artworks was chosen for exhibition in Barcelona Gallery 2020. An Italian gallery wrote me to bring my erotic artworks to Milan, in 2019. South Africa had written me to bring my erotic artworks for exhibition in 2016. And i am currently registered with an American gallery and due to a friend who is a UK journalist, my erotic artworks will be given global recognition via the media in 2021.
Have you ever been, criticized, vilified or attacked because of your art and why, how?
YES. By Nigerians. And English artists who tried to tell me what kind of art I should create. I really don’t understand why some Nigerians find nudity in art vile. I feel that if some of them actually paint nudes they would paint the correct skin colour of the brown skin people, that they would pay closer attention to the eyes in the faces that some artists paint on canvas, which are usually wet in the sockets. Also black skin is not the colour of raw Siena. And actually mix colours to imitate the people in the photographs that they paint from. Also use less water/linseed oil in their paint medium. Basically they look to their own art instead of mine. They should worry about their own themes instead of my erotic artworks. Oluwatoyin Vincent used my art to write a book about vagina mysticism, which was nice of him. But…. you can’t find it on Amazon anymore.
How has life been as a female artist?
Hectic. Painful. Interesting and now that I have healed from all the pain and hate directed at me to wreck what I was building via my art. I am now a solo artist and no longer aiding, helping or advising other artists in anyway about the art market and what it entails. So as from 2021 life will be gloriously sunny for me, since I will be creating art projects and collaborating with a great UK photographer who understands me and my erotic artworks and where I want to go with it. Extreme exciting times ahead for me.
0n 24 June 2017, something shocking happened to you when you were raped by a Facebook friend of five years. Could you speak about that rape and why you haven’t got justice in the United Kingdom till now?
YES. I was raped by a Nigerian friend who I had helped by introducing him to a Nigerian business friend to enable him get his visa and travel to the UK. He had stalked & hounded me via Facebook, sending me messages that he wanted to be in a relationship with me. And I told him overly and many times no, that I was already in a lovely relationship with my Ghanaian boyfriend. I had blocked him as Ali Femi and he sent me another request friend on FB with a different name, Aloral Femoral, and persistently sent me messages, asking me to marry him. I ignored his messages and blocked him a second time then I stopped accepting friend requests. He called me pretending to be my Nigerian business friend Adetunji and said he was in London and would like to meet me for a chat. I told him that I was unable to meet him for a chat as I’d had an accident on the streets, was hospitalised and released with 6 cracked ribs, bruised collar bone, sprained arms and legs, from hips to toes and was not able to walk. He said he would come to see me at home. I thought to myself, I have met him before with my other friend, so that should be okay. But on that day. I felt he shouldn’t visit and told him not to bother come round. Then he called to say he was at West Croydon Station. I went out with my crutches to collect my bin and saw a man standing there by my hedge. He was Ali Femi not Adetunji. I asked him why he lied to me on the phone. He made his way to my house and I said to him that I didn’t want to let him in. He asked me for a drink and I told him to wait there at the front door. But he followed me into my house. I got him a bottle of water. I told him to sit on a chair. (I sat on my makeshift mattress that my daughter had bought downstairs as I couldn’t climb upstairs with sprained legs yet.) He tried to sit on my makeshift mattress and I told him NO, that he should sit on the chair. He threw himself on me. I told him to stop and get out my house. He laughed. He moved my crutches to the kitchen and threw himself on me harder I screamed NO! STOP! Get the fuck off ME. And he raped me.
My journalist friend, Adjekpagbon Blessed Mudiaga, wrote about it, that the Sutton police officers were incompetent. I wrote to my local MP, Steve Reed, and told him what happened to me. I also wrote to the Councillor of Croydon, Maggie Mansell. I also wrote to the Mayor of London and the High Commissioner, Dick. My local MP & Councillor filled in the pro bono barristers form stating my case wasn’t investigated. The Mayor of London wrote the High Commissioner to investigate the rape. The investigator, Melissa Lissimore questioned the police. The police officers lied. I appealed against their lies and the appeal was upheld. The BPP would extradite Ali Femi. But due to the changes in the UK Law my appeal was put on hold, just like all cases involving black victims in the UK.
You seem to have stopped talking about the rape and the injustice you suffered. Why?
Trust me I have not stopped talking about the rape that happened to me in 2017. I am writing my autobiography. There are also sections about the several Nigerian men that raped me from the early age of 15 up till 2017. And if you read my posts on Facebook, you will have seen posts about rape. My latest post was about the movie I watched and me saying, “Next person who try to rape me will get a broken bottle in his eyes.”
You’ve achieved so much as an artist in spite of your health. What are those health issues and when did you start having them.
My health issues started from birth. I was born still birth with a hole in my stomach. I had and have hernia, umbilical cord hernia. I was also born with spinal stenosis which left me with left leg discrepancy, whereby an operation was performed on me as a child, aged 11. The GW Simmonds place the staples in my right knee wrongly. Then he forgot about me. At 15 I had pains and couldn’t walk. And my mum reminded the doctor they ought to be removed. He couldn’t extract the staples from my knee. Then he lied that he had extracted the staples from my knee in writing. I tried to take him to court because my legs became damaged, disabled, and I couldn’t work with children as a nursery nurse in schools. Instead of the solicitor, who was a bad one, to investigate the doctor’s claims that he had removed the staples from my knee, he took the money the doctor offered, dropped my case and used it to open a solicitor’s practice. Sharon Lam never gave me a fraction of the money she received from the doctor.
Because I had a bad leg from the accident I had on the streets on 10 June 2017, leading to the rape that took place on 24 June 2017. I was unable to defend myself against the rapist. Because of the injuries I had sustained in the accident on the streets, my legs gave away from beneath me whilst walking with the crutches and I fell forward flat on my knees and face on the pavement.
What have been your high and low moments as an erotic artist?
My high moment is when my art orgy was shortlisted and hung up in the Cork Street Gallery in the UK. And winning an art award for painting an erection and calling it art. Meeting my fans, who were Nigerian female artists and other artists on those occasions. My low moment was when I was raped on 24 June 2017 by a Nigerian man I had helped and thought was a friend. Also another of my low moments was realising that certain people show me hate because I create beautiful works of art.
Any regrets as a female, erotic artist? What are those regrets?
I have no regrets whatsoever about creating erotic art themes. And I will continue to create art no matter what the themes are, be it erotic, sensual erotic etc.
My current project is vaginas and penises and mutilation. Many models have volunteered their beautiful vaginas and penises to be painted as they are for a cause, which is to create a statement about Female Genital Mutilation. What many people fail to understand is that the vagina is an extremely powerful statement and in art it also empowers the female. There are many female artists who use their intimate vaginas, breasts, nipples in their art as it sends out powerful messages. Male artists are also beginning to use their naked bodies in their art. Naked and nudity has always been included in art from Titian, Renoir and many other master’s such as Eduard Manet Le Dèjeuner sur Iherbe – lunch on the grass, also a vagina from the 19th century Gustave Courbet I’Origine du Monde – The Origin of the World.
And now my artworks so far is tamed. My next works will be extremely powerful and I’m so excited to start it.
Which are your most controversial paintings. And why are they controversial?
My most controversial artwork was Two in One, followed by the Orgy, which the German curator loved for its audacity, boldness and courage. Actually, the Orgy artwork was inspired by a Nigerian journalists who dared me to paint it. I said to him that I wanted to paint sexuality on a huge canvas and he said, “Go on. I dare you to paint it.” And so I did. I started painting the Forbidden Fruits/Orgy on a 60×48 inch canvas 2010 and finished it by Dec 2011 in time for an exhibition in the Clerkenwell Green Fframeless Gallery in London which was reviewed by Daryl Champion, editor of a wonderful magazine in Bristol, who said if all the African artists had created erotic artworks, (as was the idea) it would have been the greatest show on earth. But they never did. Due to their cultural upbringing, Nigerian and Ghana artists wouldn’t create the erotic artworks.
This is why I decided to become a solo artist collaborating with people who understand what I want to achieve via the erotic artworks. These past artworks are just a tip of the iceberg. My next works will be extremely powerful.