Four clown-inspired portraits from I’m Afraid of Men author Vivek Shraya
Last year, the Calgary-based artist and author Vivek Shraya shot to literary fame with her candid, bestselling memoir, I’m Afraid of Men. The book describes her experiences growing up in Canada’s conservative heartland as a queer trans woman of colour: she was mocked and mistreated for being “too feminine” and now, at 38, she’s constantly hearing she isn’t feminine enough. It’s a theme she’s incorporated not only into her writing, but her music, filmography and photography.
Shraya says her most vulnerable art has always been the best received. “I started thinking about myself as a trauma clown,” she says. “I felt like an entertainer whose main trick in the hat was talking about my pain, and nothing else.”
In her latest project—a collaboration with Edmonton photographer Zachary Ayotte—Shraya uses this idea of the “trauma clown” to create performative portraits that capture different facets of her life. The series begins with Shraya clad in a black robe, which she eventually discards in favour of more outrageous looks. Trauma Clown, part of this year’s Contact Photography Festival, is on display at Patel Projects until June 2. Here’s a sneak peek at the exhibit:
The Immigrant Clown
Shraya, who grew up with Hindu immigrant parents, says people expect artists from immigrant families to have a traumatic narrative about the pressures to assimilate or about being caught between two worlds, even though that isn’t always the case.
The Coming Out Clown
Shraya says that everyone also wants to hear dramatic coming-out tales. This portrait plays on that trope.
The Childhood Clown
Most of the portraits in Trauma Clown take on a serious tone, but Shraya says she was constantly laughing between takes.
The Trauma Clown
This is one of the most dramatic shots in the series: showered in roses, Shraya takes a bow for her audience. She wanted to pose a question she thinks about a lot: do her followers connect with her work, or are they just entertained by it?