Empowering Women Through Art

Sarah Pitts

Julie Deesomjit, a studio art senior, studied abroad in Italy the summer before her senior year and experienced what it meant to only be viewed sexually.

She recalled being yelled at for sexual favors while walking home and feeling like she had to cower in the streets in a country that celebrates one of the most prominent sculptures, The David. Since then, she has been painting, drawing and printmaking a series of vaginas to empower the female body for her senior capstone project.

“David is amazing, but then he stands there and his thing is showing, and I’ve always wondered why females aren’t standing in the same way as David, kind of like owning it,” Deesomjit said. “I feel like it deserves to have a nice painting of it. I don’t really see what’s wrong with it, you know?”

It all started when a friend gave Deesomjit a coloring book depicting vaginas. Deesomjit said in her capstone essay that it was reminiscent of adult’s ignorance on the reproductive organs. She said it made her wonder about herself and why women were so discouraged to know about their own bodies.

Deesomjit started this project as an expression of self-exploration, as opposed to simply trying to make a radical, or controversial statement. She said that the exaggerated responses she has received so far have only inspired her to continue her work, explaining that some people still only see a vagina in a sexual way and it’s important for her to depict the organ in a way that is not pornographic.

Regardless, she has been dubbed only as “The Vagina Painter.”

“I mean, I’m a painter, I don’t only paint vaginas,” Deesomjit said. “I mean as of right now I paint a lot of them, but I paint other things too, but just because they make it a point that ‘she’s a vagina painter’ I was kind of questioning why. Like, how is it any different than painting someone’s face with a mouth?”

As a whole, Deesomjit said she feels like she has grown as an artist from her capstone series.

“She’s really kind of found something that inspires her and she has a connection to and so therefore she’s kind of done this body of work that’s growing larger,” Jason Cytacki said.

He is an assistant professor and has worked with Deesomjit for 3 years. Cytacki said the biggest progression he has seen in Deesomjit’s work has been her increasing focus on artistic goals.

“The sheer size, the selection of color, the presentation, all of these things, you know, the composition itself, so it shows like maturity in painting,” Sohail Shehada said. He is an assistant professor and has worked with Deesomjit for two and a half years.

In the gallery space, Deesomjit plans on showcasing some of her eight feet tall oil paintings next to Katelynn Knick’s installation. Knick is also a studio arts senior and is working on a multi-story abstract sculpture for her capstone.

She is making the sculpture out of melted milk jugs and dyed coffee filters and said the two projects compliment each other because of their similar colors and curvatures.

“They have natural and organic forms, Knick said. “I feel like they both are depictions of women and are taking up space and making a statement. I think scale is a big part of it, too, with how large they are and they’re both really loud and about making a presence.”

After graduation, Deesomjit hopes to go to graduate school. She said she loves the school environment and has learned so much. She hasn’t looked into many options, but wants to stay connected to her family in Oklahoma.

“I would be happy going somewhere else, but I would be more happy being around my family,” she said. “I would like to hold onto that as long as possible.”

The Senior Capstone Exhibition will be in the Lightwell Gallery from April 26 to May 9 and is open to the public during weekdays.