Baltimore-based mixed-media artist Ciarra K. Walters has embarked on a profound journey of self-discovery and healing through her art since 2013. Her series of self-portraits, aptly named The Self-Portrait Series, celebrates her body despite the negative stigma associated with the bodies of sexual violence survivors. The series, hence, serves as a poignant testament to her resilience and strength, while at the same time, giving countless other women and girls who have experienced sexual violence, confidence and a favourable view of their body image, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality. 

A photograph of Ciarra K. Walters. Image courtesy of Ciarra K. Walters’ website.

On her walks into the deserts and forests of Southern California, Walters found her solace. She then began to use it as a backdrop to confront her deepest fears and reclaim her sense of self. The outcome has been evocative photographs where she bravely grapples with feelings of shame, loneliness and the arduous process of reclaiming her own body after her trauma. Each image is a powerful declaration of empowerment, challenging perceptions surrounding sexual violence survivors. 

Survivors of sexual violence often face body image issues due to societal stigma around their traumatic experience, which deems their bodies as “damaged goods.” If left unaddressed, this stigmatization may even lead to self-injury, eating disorders and body dysphoria, making Walter’s project all the more crucial.

Photograph from The Self-Portrait Series by Ciarra K. Walters. Image courtesy of Vice.

By photographing herself in a vulnerable state and even embracing her naked body in certain photos, Walters boldly asserts ownership over her body and sexuality. In an interview with Vice, Walters shared how she is inspired by artists such as Carrie Mae Weems and Ana Mendieta, who boldly displayed their naked bodies in their work. Ana Mendieta is also especially known for her Silueta series, whose earlier works portrayed her naked body in nature to highlight how today’s patriarchal society exploits women’s bodies as they do nature. 

Walters sought to emulate their vulnerability and confidence, proclaiming a space that is rightfully hers, both in nature and in society. By appearing naked in certain self-portraits, Walters challenges societal norms and expectations, asserting her right to self-expression and autonomy.

Walters hopes her art will encourage other survivors to break their silence and reclaim their voices. “Healing is an ongoing process, and every survivor's story deserves to be heard and honoured,” she expressed in an interview with Vice. 

Photograph from The Self-Portrait Series by Ciarra K. Walters. Image courtesy of Vice.

Initially unaware of the profound impact of her photography, Walters found herself drawn to the process, finding both challenge and therapeutic release in the act of self-portraiture. As she went on her nature walks and took analogue photographs, it wasn't until she developed them that she began to understand the depth of her work and its healing potential.

One particular photo, depicting her silhouette in a cave filled with light and darkness, evoked a flood of emotions. This photograph allowed her to finally see herself—her real self, which was beautiful and glorious—and not the derogatory perceived image that societal stigma had her initially believe. The photographs gave Walters a newfound sense of self-awareness and acceptance. Hence, through The Self-Portrait Series, Walters found a path to healing, where she was able to confront her past and embrace her present with courage and resilience.

Photograph from The Self-Portrait Series by Ciarra K. Walters. Image courtesy of Vice.

Through her art, Walters offers a message of solidarity and support, reminding survivors of sexual violence that their stories matter and their voices deserve to be heard. As she continues on her journey of healing, Walters remains committed to using her art as a tool for advocacy and change, challenging societal norms and inspiring others to embrace their truth and reclaim their power.

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