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Empowering Photo Series Explores Inequality and Discrimination Through Body Art

I'm Tired Body Art Black and White Photography Portrait Series

Today, body art has taken on an empowering role in the realm of activist art. Detailing everything from hidden insecurities to invisible illnesses, this medium has the power to communicate individuals’ issues in a deeply personal yet straightforward way. For their series,  I’m Tired, socially conscious students Paula Akpan and Harriet Evans employ this approach to explore the ways in which average people face everyday inequality and discrimination.

Shot in black and white, this project features photographs of individuals who are “tired” of the comments, criticism, and unfair treatment that they receive in their daily lives. The dissatisfied subjects share their stories through text written on their backs, enabling them to retain their anonymity while still emphasizing their vulnerability through intimate portraits.

Most of the matters detailed deal with racial, sexual, and gender discrimination, though some revolve around mental and physical health, religion, and politics. Since Akpan and Evans created the I’m Tired project in 2015, it has brought ample attention to the problems plaguing modern society. Today, it continues to shed light on “the lasting impact of everyday micro-aggressions, assumptions, and stereotypes” with every bold and beautiful portrait.

Each portrait featured in I’m Tired, a black and white photography project, presents issues of real-life discrimination through body art.

“I’m tired of explaining consent. “It really is very simple. “Yes, you may have some of my fries.” “Yes, you may have my number.” “Yes, you may touch me.” But before all this, you must ask. Why are we not asking? When did consent become assumed? “Initially I was very quiet about it. Very patient and polite, but not anymore. It is not acceptable that my “no’ is diluted to a “strong maybe” after 6 tequila shots and half a bottle of gin. That at noon in upmarket Westlands it’s “No” but at 2am in Wangige, a lower, sketchier side of Nairobi, where I might literally have my neck chopped off, it’s “absolutely yes!” because I am too scared of what might happen to me if I say no. “And if I say no and experience abuse? the questions are “what were you doing there?” “why were you there at that time?” “what did you expect of a person who lives there?” It is, of course, my fault. “We seem to have all accepted that we are living among rapists, and we are okay with it because eventually someone will say yes, we do not care to know whether they were coerced. It doesn’t matter how this so-called ‘consent’ came about. “I’m tired of hearing another victim have to explain why they were there that late, or had those many drinks, or what they were wearing. It appears that “no” is only a “no” if it is under unique circumstances, all of which are constantly changing to protect the perpetrator. “Consent seems so complex, but it’s not. Really. Just ask.” Photo credit: Phyllis Githua-Mokaya Photo editing: Phyllis Githua-Mokaya and Harriet Evans _____________________________________________ This photograph was taken during our trip to Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with @creativesgarage – a space where creatives from all walks of life can come together to network, collaborate and push boundaries. We can’t thank the entire team at CG enough for their support. www.creativesgarage.org/ This trip was made possible through funding from Arts Council England.

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“I’m tired of hiding the effects of my anxiety. “For as long as I can remember, my anxiety has effected my life both physically and mentally. “Having anxiety means I constantly analyze everything I say and or do. At times, it’s to the point where I worry about things that haven’t even happened and may never happen. There are times I’m completely unaware of my anxiety. “Anxiety constantly affects my relationships with both my friends and family. My anxiety has even prevented or destroyed a good friendship. When I’m asked what happened, I tell them that my anxiety got the best of me. I’ve had people say to me that my anxiety is me being self-centered because I’m only thinking about me. “My anxiety hasn’t just affected me mentally, but physically too. I used to feed my anxiety with food that wasn’t beneficial to my body. When I stepped on the scale three months ago and saw that I had gained twenty pounds over two years, my anxiety took me down an entirely new path. Worrying about my weight gain, I lost my appetite. Three months later, I have lost fifteen pounds. In the first month, I would skip breakfast. For lunch, I’d probably have fruit, and then I’d pick away at my dinner, even after being physically active all day. “I lost eight pounds in that first month. “Over the past two months, I have slowly started re-introducing meals, such as having breakfast, into my life. Ironically, I still get anxiety about gaining back all the weight my anxiety has caused me to lose. My heart races as fast as a marathon runner and pounds so hard, I feel it through my body, making me light headed if I sit or stand too suddenly. I get mind-numbing headaches, which can affect my whole day. “As one might expect, society has had a huge impact on my anxiety since my early teenage years. Puberty starts, and all of a sudden how you look and act fully determines how accepted you really are as a person by your peers. Our society is full of so many unrealistic standards; how many friends do you have on Facebook? How many likes did you get on your selfie? This all determines your popularity…” (The link to the continued Facebook post is in our bio)

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“I’m tired of the stigma of HIV. “For years, I have had to watch and listen while uninformed, and misinformed people, talk about HIV. They remark about how these “promiscuous” and “dirty” people deserve what they get. In the best of circumstances, I have had to listen to people say how,“sad they were,” for the men and women living with HIV. After years of scientific study, some people still think that the virus can be transmitted through the air or by drinking from the same glass as someone who has it. “I have lost many friends to this disease. I hate that ignorance and stigma still surround HIV in a way that Cancer does not. I’ve lost both my long-time partner and mother to cancer. When they were in the hospital for treatments, or due to illness, they received compassionate care and support. But when my friends with HIV were in the hospital, while they received care, it wasn’t very compassionate. People with HIV are kept at arm’s length. People “get” cancer. HIV is still seen as a “punishment.” “I am a survivor. More than that; I am thriving. I have been successfully living with HIV for 20+ years. And although my viral load has been undetectable most of this time, I still have to deal with discrimination. I am lucky to have a supportive family and group of friends. But even they still sometimes live in fear of the disease. If I get the flu or a cold, they panic thinking that my immune system has collapsed. Sometimes it feels like they are just waiting for me to die rather than living a life with me. “Dating has also presented problems. I like to let people get to know me a little before I share my status. I would never become intimate with someone without telling them. Honesty is the only way for me. But I have faced rejection from the most diligent suitors once I reveal my HIV status. “I wish that you had told me before I developed feelings for you.” “I think that you’re amazing, but there is no way I could ever watch you die.” “I can’t deal with something so serious, so early on.” There are all kinds of responses and rejections. Even dating someone else who is HIV+ can be a problem. (Check out our Facebook for more)

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“I’m tired of ‘black’ being a personality trait. “Growing up in London, I’ve been told from a young age in many variants that essentially how I speak and how I behave is not reflective of my skin colour. Whether it is ‘you’re quite posh, aren’t you?’ or ‘you don’t act black’, it is always implied that how I am is fundamentally incorrect and I should adhere to my respective stereotype. “Perhaps I should speak in slang and wear low riding tracksuit bottoms, innit? Ironically, it’s been mostly black people that have said these things to me. “While at university, I had already taught myself to not take these ‘observations’ personally and just laugh it off or even play up to it. However, being a little older now, I know I don’t have to facilitate anyone else’s preconceptions and be made to feel bad about myself. And it’s not as if it comes from a malicious or hateful place. It’s just society has a way of conditioning us, and this project is actively working against that. Not because we’re all rebels but because talking about all the issues people are ignorant about will hopefully change the way we see individuals. “Because we all are individuals.” Photo credit: Paula Akpan Editing credit: Ming Au

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“I’m tired of the expectation to bleach my skin. “It all started in high school where people would ask me how it felt to be the ‘darker one’ at home, since I schooled with my sister and people had seen my mom – both are lighter than me. Others even started insinuating that I was slowly bleaching myself cause I grew up to be a shade or two lighter, which is quite normal. It still didn’t make me feel any less/more of a woman because to me it’s just a skin color. “This has also extended to my work life. As an actress starting out, I get a number of audition descriptions specifically asking for ‘light skin girls’. Once, during a promotion job, we were told to separate ourselves into two groups – light skins and dark skins. All the dark skin women didn’t get the job. “In the Central Business District of downtown Nairobi, women sell skin bleaching oils and creams. They approached me a few times saying I could look like ‘them’, bearing in mind that some of them are originally light skin to trick you into believing that the bleaching oils really work. “It tires me everyday. I’m tired of people judging others based on the lightness of their skin color, causing insecurities to many. Many women end up feeling unsure whether they can get jobs or feel comfortable even showing their skin. “We are all different and diverse in many ways that should all be accepted. The black woman especially should be taken as she naturally is – dipped in chocolate, bronzed in elegance, enameled with grace and toasted in beauty. “No one should be forced to feel uncomfortable in their skin.” ———————— This photograph was taken during our trip to Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with @creativesgarage – a space where creatives from all walks of life can come together to network, collaborate and push boundaries. We can’t thank the entire team at CG enough for their support. www.creativesgarage.org/ This trip was made possible through funding from Arts Council England.

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“I’m tired of believing I need male validation. “Self-love is one of the hardest journeys to find yourself on; I know because I’m still on it. It takes a huge amount of strength to address the voices in your head that are telling you anything but to love yourself, to separate the negative and all the hate you’ve manifested over the years, and give your body the chance to heal. It’s not the simplest road to travel down; there’s no quick fix in relearning how to speak to yourself and suppress the urge to recoil back into the default dialogue between self, criticising every inch of you, vandalising the face of the person behind the mirror with deep, wounding words. It took years to learn this language and it will take years to bury it. “Growing up was difficult, the untimely jerked changeover from childhood into teenage years was something I hoped I was better prepared for; there’s nothing like being young and hating yourself. The relationship I had with the person I saw in the mirror was unhealthy; her and I didn’t get along (sometimes we still fight – she cries, I cry). It was surreal, finding myself in an endless blame game with the voice in my head, taking time out from the perpetuating teenage angst I was so used to accommodating to ask how we got here, and by “we” I meant me, and by “here” I meant unhappy. “I could make an endless list of all my flaws and show you hundreds of images of what I wanted to be. Everything about me was undesirable: my skin was too dark, my nose too wide, my chest too flat, my hair too kinky, my body too skinny. I wanted to be beautiful and blonde with a chest that made boys drool, breasts that commanded an entire room and a face that said, “Look at me”. It’s not easy hating yourself, wishing for so long to be someone else and watching the rest of the world not tell you any different; I was hurting. “I spent years trying to fit the mould, imitate the kind of beauty I heard boys liked: I permed my hair, I started to wear makeup, I shimmied into skirts “too short for school”, tried to sashay my way into confidence, but it’s even harder to pretend than to hate.” (Follow the link in our bio to the continued Facebook post)

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“I’m tired of being told women can’t be funny. “When I was cast in my first comedy show, someone asked if I’d slept with the director to get in. I laughed, and then realised they weren’t joking. “When I finished my very first show, coming off stage, flushed with success, I was greeted by a friend who told me that I was really funny “for a girl”. “When a show I was working on got reviewed, the reviewer talked about how hilarious and well-acted the play was, singling out each actor and saying how “charming” or “impressive” they were. For me, they added in how pretty I was. Again, I laughed outwardly, but felt demeaned by it. Why did they feel the need to bring my looks into it? Was I not entertaining enough in my own right? Why not mention how attractive any of the boys were? “When I was lucky enough to get into an international arts festival, several people inferred that the only reason I had been selected was because I was female. “Comedy is oversaturated with funny men”, they said, and the occasional token female has to be thrown in to maintain a kind of balance. At the time, a big part of me believed them. Rather than growing in confidence with more practice, I felt more and more that I didn’t deserve to be there. “When I was eighteen, a guy I was doing a scene with kept pushing things further and further for laughs. In the end I was put into a sexual situation where I felt so uncomfortable that someone else had to step in and stop him. I didn’t feel I could call him out on it, because surely he was only trying to be funny, but I was terrified doing comedy for months afterwards. I still remember how sick to the stomach I felt. Knowing no matter how smart or funny I tried to be there would always be someone who would just see me as an opportunity for a laugh by trying to cop a feel made me feel worthless. Was it only funny if I ended up in a compromising position? Am I only funny if my humour is directly related to my sex appeal? “My experience is not unusual. In fact, speaking to some of the women I’ve worked with, my experiences are pretty tame in comparison. (See our Facebook page for the continued post)

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“I’m tired of being identified by my tribe. “”Hi, and what is your name?” Usually how you start a conversation right? Well in my country of Kenya, your name is also used to determine which part of the country you are from which comes with certain stereotypes. Especially during an election year, my people seem to forget we are all from the same land and are quick to judge each other based on their ethnic group. “With 42 tribes in Kenya it’s easy to highlight our differences especially for people with ill intentions. Our politicians use tribe to divide and rule our country. They stand on podiums and incite hatred towards various tribe and we, as a gullible people, somehow never seem to understand that the politician is trying to divide us for his or her selfish gain. As a result, every election year, hundreds of people are slaughtered, usually from ethnic minority groups. “Our parents from a young age always lecture us on who our friends should be based on their tribe even though as a kid, you see no reason to judge your friends. “In business, it’s common practice for people to identify themselves with Anglicised names like “Joe or John” simply because they’re far more likely to lose a contract if they were to identify themselves by their real name – their African name. Mention your surname and one immediately identifies which part of the country you’re from and lo and behold if you’re not from the same ethnic background as your employer, it can often cost you your opportunity for progression. “I’m tired of the stereotypes. I’m tired of the hate mongering. I’m tired of the divisions and classes we put each other based on our tribe. “I hope one day we would wake up as a people and realise, we are one. One people from one land, one country, our country Kenya.” Photo credit: Phyllis Githua-Mokaya Photo editing: Phyllis Githua-Mokaya and Harriet Evans _____________________________________________ This photograph was taken during our recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with @CreativesGarage – a space where creatives from all walks of life can come together to network, collaborate and push boundaries. Funded by Arts Council England.

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“I’m tired of rape being permissible for the right celebrity. “Socializing primarily in feminist and social justice-y circles, I always hear the old mantra that, in cases of alleged abuse or rape, “you always believe the victim.” This holds true when the perpetrator, like Bill Cosby or Daniel Holtzclaw, is already disliked. But when we learn that someone we once admired (like Julian Assange or David Bowie or Mike Tyson or Sean Penn) committed unspeakable abuses, then it becomes so easy to ignore the victim and excuse the crime. “Again and again I see well-liked, charming, talented men receive “get out of jail free” cards from their adoring public after being accused of sexual assault. And, as a young woman living in a deeply unsafe world, it frightens me to know that if I am attacked by a man who is good-looking or influential or famous, his future will be deemed more valuable than my life. “I am tired of living in a rape culture that is so insidious, so deeply internalized in our society, that crimes are judged not by the facts, but by our own desire to conform experience to our biases. I am tired of being a buzzkill for bringing up the past abuses of beloved celebrities. I am tired of being asked to shut up so that you and your friends can listen to Ziggy Stardust in peace.” Photo credit: Robert Olsson Editing credit: Robert Olsson

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“I’m tired of having to justify my Jewish identity. “I have had to defend my Jewish identity every time I miss school for High Holiday services. Every time I eat unleavened bread for Pesach. I constantly have to remind people that the Holocaust is still very much in the present of Jews worldwide. I am always seen as the “Jewish mother” in my circle of friends because I am a caretaker. “In Western culture, my Jewish identity means miserly penny pinchers (like Shylock), delicatessens, greed, and selfishness for a State that should be shared. “I do not see it as any of those things. “Jewish identity means celebrating Shabbat when I feel like it. It means speaking Hebrew with loved ones. It means a lineage of singing, praying and chanting. My Jewish identity is at its strongest when I am singing in my community. It is Avinu Malkeinu, it is welcoming the Sabbath bride, it is seeing the similarities between Shalom and Salaam and it is saying the Mourner’s Kaddish and feeling the arms of community surround me. “I see Jewish stereotypes as laying somewhat dormant, or unnoticed, in our society. I think that when friends refer to me or other friends as “Jewish Mothers” they don’t realize that that expression, despite well intentioned, can carry a weight that can be somewhat prickly for those on the receiving end. “I believe that the stereotypes about Jews having lots of money continue to permeate our society on a somewhat silent level (but that presence is still there). “I grew up having friends tell me they failed certain classes because they had to miss a certain number of days for Jewish Holidays. This tells me that our society is still slanted against Judaism (and other non-Christian religions) in a certain sense. “This isn’t to say that I believe that anti-semitism is rampant, but it definitely exists in pockets of our society. “After living in France, the Charlie Hebdo attacks really hit home for me, as a Jew and as a lover of French culture. There are lots of people who have certain fixed notions of what a Jew is, or what a Jew looks like (see FB for full post) #theimtiredproject #photography #stereotypes #assumptions #discrimination #race #ethnicity #jewish

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“I’m tired of being blamed for my sexual assault. “I was sexually assaulted by my ex-boyfriend at a house party when I was 18. “We’d drunkenly kissed the night before at the party and talked about getting back together. When I stayed in bed later than everyone else the morning after he took that to mean I wanted something to happen. I didn’t. “We were still at someone else’s house and I felt hungover and dirty. I told him I didn’t. I kept saying ‘no, stop.’ I remember him saying ‘but do you really want to stop? I don’t think you do.’ Like me crying and saying no and trying to push him off me wasn’t enough of a fucking clue. “After a while I just went with it because it was easier than trying to fight it. “I didn’t know what to do and none of my close friends were still at the party, so when we joined everyone else I was just normal. I didn’t want to cause a scene around people I didn’t know and I was still processing what had happened. I even let him hug me goodbye. I hated myself for years for how I acted after. “Over time I told some friends, and some were so supportive. They reassured me that it wasn’t my fault and made me feel better about it all. However, some friends weren’t so supportive. They described it as ‘not that bad’ and some said I must have made him think it was okay because he was a ‘nice guy.’ It made me question my own innocence… had I somehow made him think that it was okay? If my friends didn’t believe it was wrong, why would anyone who didn’t know me? “I didn’t see a point in reporting it. I know that sexual assault cases are really hard to prove, and if he wasn’t convicted then I’d be branded a liar. Also, what if he were to be convicted? I had loved him once, and I didn’t want to be the reason he was tarred for life as a sex attacker. “I got my revenge, though. A few months later, I saw him and I punched him in the face. I wouldn’t normally recommend violence, but I wanted him to know what it felt like to have someone touch his body in a way he wasn’t comfortable with…” (See FB post for more) #theimtiredproject #photography #discrimination #stereotypes #assumptions #rape #sexualassault #sexualviolence #rapeculture

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“I’m tired of people not seeing trans people. “Gender identity is something that is hidden until someone tells you how they identify, or until they offer the pronoun they prefer. “Most people are not used to asking this detail and let their assumptions define the genders of people they encounter. “Sometimes I come out as a trans man to people I don’t know well because I like this part of myself to be visible. Often when I do so, people don’t know how to respond. They go quiet and maybe smile uncertainly as the conversation trickles away. “I’m not on a crusade to make people feel uncomfortable, but when I walk into a shoe store and can’t find any nice footwear in a mens six, I feel a strong desire to be seen.” Photo credit: Robert Olsson and Hudson Valley Centre for Contemporary Art Editing credit: Robert Olsson #theimtiredproject #photography #assumptions #stereotypes #representation #transgender #trans #lgbtqia #gender #visibility

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“I’m tired of pretending his emotional abuse hasn’t left scars. “He was my first boyfriend, and had always been slightly commanding before we had even got together, but I thought he must simply be strong willed or driven. However, just three weeks into our relationship that I realised something was not quite right. I had attended my best friend’s birthday party and the next day he just shut off. I asked him why multiple times before he revealed that he had found my outfit ‘repulsive’, and that he thought I was ‘better than that.’ I had been wearing a skirt with tights, a crop top and leather jacket, not that it matters. I had never been made to feel so disgusting or small as I had in that moment. “From then on I let him control my life without even realising it. If my nails grew too long for his liking he would watch whilst I cut them; if I was stressed due to work he told me that my struggles were nothing compared to his. He isolated me from my friends who he deemed ‘too loud,’ ‘too confident’ and ‘too excitable.’ He claimed that my parents fed me unhealthy foods and they drank too much, and that if I wanted to stay with him then I better stop partying. He even made me give up my passion for theatre, as he did not want me to fraternise with any guys. Eventually I believed only he could give me happiness. Towards the end of our relationship I entered the darkest point of my life. I was afraid to be tagged in photos or even go out for coffee with a mate for fear of what he would say to me. “It only took me 9 months to slip into that rut. When I told him I was finally done with him he would threaten to kill himself or threaten to kill me. He would ring me telling me he was one razor cut away from killing himself. I would instantly panic and I would ring his mother who would inform me that he was in fact sat next to her eating pizza without a care in the world. He eventually blocked my number on his mothers phone so that I could only talk to him. “One morning I woke up and blocked him on every platform possible, after I finally spoke to my mum about everything the night before.” (Check our Facebook for the continued post)

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h/t: [Design You Trust]

All images via I’m Tired.

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.

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