Interview by Chante Dyson. Photography by Deun Ivory.
As described so eloquently by our digital strategist Valerie Titus-Glover, our community here at Black Girl In Om is truly a life changing opportunity for women who look like me to see themselves reflected back wholeheartedly while on this journey of empowerment and wellness. There is a deeper breath that occurs, knowing that with your sisters, in this space, you are more than enough. You are seen. You are heard. Every single part of you is accepted: mind, body, and spirit. Too often, we have to compartmentalize in an effort to survive a society that categorizes women to reduce themselves and over-identify or self-categorize themselves to death. Here at Black Girl In Om, my sisters can get free. And hand in hand, we uplift each other on our individual journeys towards self-actualization and wellbeing.
Our trailblazing Art Director Deun Ivory has spent years presenting, in my opinion, one of the strongest series of consistent digital content that captures and highlights Black women in all of our true glory and power. We are whole behind her lens — confident, sexy, powerful, strong, bold, soft, empowered. We are every woman. And we know we’re all that and then some.
Having had the pleasure of being directly behind Deun Ivory’s lens, I know first hand that as a photographer and creative director, she is passionate about pulling that queen energy out of her muses. Deun’s encouragement is heard with each “yes girl!” and “you better werk!” Knowing Deun on a more personal level, I recognize such a light in her, and see someone who has a bonus purpose of using her contagious laugh and infectious energy to warm souls and make others feel supported, welcomed, and overall happier. I am proud to know Deun Ivory as a friend and colleague. I am honored to recognize her continuous work on highlighting, protecting, and healing the Black Body through her latest project, The Black Body: A Home For Love.
After becoming a recipient of the 2018 VSCOvoices grant, Deun traveled the world, exploring the narratives of black women of who've been raped, molested, and sexualized at a young age. The experience led to the creation of The Black Body: A Home For Love, a visual storytelling series that explores the healing journey of black women, like herself, who have dealt with sexual trauma. Starting in April, during sexual assault awareness month, Deun will be curating a traveling, multi-city, restorative pop-up art exhibition and storytelling series for marginalized communities. She’ll be traveling around the states for 6 months pouring into survivors, and using the visuals and letters that were documented during her grant program to create a safe space for black women to explore healing through the vulnerability of those who share their pain.
The work that Deun is doing is truly profound. This is what community is about. This is turning lemons into lemonade. I had the pleasure of talking to Deun more intimately about further details into the project and how our community here at Black Girl In Om can support and uplift our queen Art Director as she embarks on a huge journey of healing and curating safe space for Black women’s bodies in a time that otherwise would leave us forsaken.
Congratulations on launching your movement: The Body: A Home For Love. Describe your creative process upon receiving the 2018 VSCO Voices grant. What type of understandings and revelations around sexual trauma presented themselves as you traveled the world speaking to black women about their personal experiences?
The creative process of executing my project for the VSCO Voices grant was a continuous emotional outpour from both me and the 13 women who shared their story. The process required vulnerability and a high level of intimacy rooted in trust. It was a 6-month commitment of emotional labor that caused a huge paradigm shift in my life. Some of the revelations that I had during this journey were that:
Sexualization of young black girls is normalized in the black community
Little black girls are labeled as hoes or “fast tailed” as a way to justify them being sexually assaulted by grown men
Young black girls are rarely ever seen as innocent and are unjustly treated
I once normalized the idea that love + abuse could co-exist.
You are a survivor of sexual trauma which makes your project that much more deep and touching, especially for the women who have been and will be impacted. Are there ever times where you feel a need to separate this work from your own experiences, or have you been able to use your story fully in creating healing environments and experiences for these women?
Deun Ivory: I am fully immersed in this project. i believe that being an effective servant leader in this particular context requires my presence, in its entirety. Compartmentalization has always been my go-to in life, but God is showing me the necessity of bringing my full self and sharing my story because my pain has purpose. My story empowers others. My faith in God is how I even made it here in the first place. I have a responsibility to share my narrative and share myself with those whom i’ve been called to.
What does it mean to view and experience the body as a home for love? What are practical ways that black women can move through their experiences of sexual trauma and get to the other side of wholeness and self love?
Deun Ivory: To experience the body as a home for love means identifying your body as a dwelling place for God’s spirit. A dwelling place for joy and peace. A safe space where you’re able to express your true authentic self. It’s where you feel the most liberated, because you identify your body as yours.
Practical ways for sexual assault survivors to journey to self-love and wholeness, is to first, accept that it happened to you, feel all the feels about it however long it takes, and then release it via writing, a confidant, a scream, an outpour of some sort. As long as you get it out of you.
I think it’s necessary to understand that keeping it bottled is toxic.
Self-love, in my opinion, requires that we ask ourselves uncomfortable questions and address any situations that cause uneasiness. Wholeness is about harmony, love, and light, and on the journey of reclaiming harmony, love, and light, we have to give ourselves permission to open up about it. In whatever way feels right to you.
4. In what ways can women who don’t identify as sexual trauma survivors benefit from coming to and supporting your exhibition and tour? Inevitably, we all are impacted by the patriarchy and anti-trust narrative that surrounds women in society.
Deun Ivory: My exhibition tour will essentially be a safe space for the community to dive into the narratives of other sexual assault survivors. I have found that the sharing of our stories is a necessary part of the healing journey. It will also be a safe space for black women to engage in dialogue around the ways in which we’ve been taught to blame ourselves for our abuse. It will shed light on problematic norms in the black community - like the hyper-sexualization of young black girls and not holding men accountable, and it will allow survivors to feel seen, heard and understood.
5. Your work particularly highlights the magnitude, beauty, softness, and radiance of Black women worldwide. What has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned about us as a community from being behind the lens?
Deun Ivory: We are inherently magnetic and our resilience is unrivaled.
6. How can women expect to heal during your restorative pop up art exhibition and storytelling series?
Deun Ivory: A part of the healing journey will come through experiencing the vulnerability of those who share their pain. There is something powerful about representation and seeing the beautiful aftermath of someone who can identify with your pain.
Please let the Black Girl In Om community know of a few ways in which we can support you before, during, and after the tour.
Following @thebodyahomeforlove on Instagram + signing up for the newsletter
Continuously sharing about the Kickstarter via social, personal emails, newsletter blasts + blogs
Donating to the Kickstarter and motivating others to do so, as well.
Sharing any resources or contacts related to museums, professionals in the anti-sexual violence field, healers and so on.
Sharing about the first pop up tour in LA when the promo drops
Coming to the exhibit
Donating to the cause
Inviting your community
Sending resources and contacts
Helping us with funding
As we conclude our monthly theme around The Black Body, I want to commend Deun Ivory again for doing the tremendous work of uplifting our women, particularly our sisters who have experienced sexual trauma and their past. As a community, we will continue to come together and heal ourselves and each other, hand in hand. Protect Black women and our bodies, all year round.