Embracing imperfections, finding compassion

Local artists to launch exhibit — and a movement — at Gallery Walk

BRATTLEBORO — A late-night conversation about liposuction inspired Liz LaVorgna and Shanta L.E. to launch a project called Perfect Imperfection.

To these local artists and friends, Perfect Imperfection is artistic activism challenging an impossible quest for perfection in a perfection-obsessed culture.

L.E. said it's hard to believe that people, in their quest for perfection, would undertake surgery that leaves holes in their bodies. Yet everyone strives to hide the imperfections that they believe are unacceptable.

“How odd is it,” said L.E.: “The illusion of being perfect."

“There's beauty in the imperfection,” said LaVorgna.

L.E. and LaVorgna ask people to embrace their imperfections through Perfect Imperfection, which opens Sept. 5 during Gallery Walk.

An artists' reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m. is followed by a spoken-word and music event with special guests Diana Whitney and Cyndi Fitzgerald.

The exhibit will feature photographs, spoken-word artists, music, and other written submissions.

While talking about the project recently, LaVorgna pulled from a large envelope photographs she had taken of L.E.

LaVorgna said she looked at the finished photos and saw a friend strutting an attitude of, “Yeah, I got this.”

L.E. said she looked at the photos and her first thought was, “Is my ass too big?"

“Isn't this highly ironic?” asked L.E., laughing.

In a press release, the two artists describe their project as “a window to emotion presenting what people feel is imperfect about themselves emotionally or physically. It's about discovery, a journey, and acceptance.”

According to LaVorgna and L.E., these “imperfections” include emotionally charged topics such as abandonment, domestic violence, and physical issues such as body shame.

“Our hope,” continued LaVorgna and L.E., “is to encourage dialogue about imperfection and how to embrace it.”

“Perfection does not exist; it's not real,” said L.E.

She pointed to popular advertisements and photographs in many magazines or on television that make extensive use of filters, Photoshop, and lighting so that later not even the models recognize themselves.

“These things and these people are not even real unto themselves,” said L.E. “Imperfect should be the new perfect."

L.E. and LaVorgna collected written submissions and story cards - each about the size of a postcard - for the exhibit from members of the public.

“I find beauty in a lot of imperfections,” said LaVorgna.

About 30 people submitted story cards, said LaVorgna. “People were honest on these cards."

L.E. said that she and LaVorgna will collect story cards from beyond the Sept. 5 Gallery Walk.

Becoming a movement?

L.E. explained that she and LaVorgna view Perfect Imperfection as more than a simple one-night art exhibit.

Instead, she said, they want Perfect Imperfection to become a movement, an intentional invitation to the community that says, Let's push back against impossible standards of perfection, said L.E.

“There are people who are actually over the whole perfection thing,” LaVorgna added.

A lot of people no longer feel the need to measure up to these extreme standards of beauty, she added.

LaVorgna added that encouraging Perfect Imperfection also stood as “an invitation to be kind to each other."

Referring to the suicide last month of legendary actor and comedian Robin Williams, L.E. said people can't always tell when others are suffering.

Yet, LaVorgna put in, everyone carries some kind of pain.

“Your act of kindness could really turn their day around,” she said.

LaVorgna hoped that viewers later would think twice about how they judge themselves and each other.

LaVorgna said she views embracing one's imperfections as an opportunity to be guided toward purposeful life work.

As an example, she pointed to a friend who, after embracing what she felt were flaws in her body, opened a clothing shop and now helps customers choose clothing that complements their bodies.

A lazy eye is an imperfection that L.E. reports wrestling with.

LaVorgna shook her head. The first time L.E. mentioned her eye, LaVorgna's reaction was, “What lazy eye?”

L.E. said she often looks down or away hoping people won't notice her eye. If she thinks they have noticed it, her first reaction is, “Oh no, they see it."

It's in those moments that unhappy memories of her school playground flare up and “all the jeers come back."

LaVorgna said, “We want people to feel, 'I really am good enough.'"

“- Just as you are,” added L.E.

Driving the quest

When asked what they thought drove people's quest for perfection, LaVorgna responded, “The media."

“But we are the media,” said L.E.

After some thought, the two women said that humans' quest for perfection ties into fears around being unlovable and the desire for acceptance.

L.E. related a conversation with a friend around a similar topic.

According to L.E., the friend said that people carry a primal fear of being ostracized from the tribe.

For early humans, that meant death, said L.E. “No one wants to be kicked out of the tribe.”

LaVorgna added that, in our quest for answers to the good-enough equation, “We weigh ourselves down with heavy armor."

Delicate shoots

To understand the volunteers' experience of having their imperfections photographed, the two artists first photographed their own imperfections.

LaVorgna and L.E. said that when conducting the photo shoots with the people who stepped forward for the Perfect Imperfection project, they wanted to create a space where volunteers felt safe.

“Some of the shoots were really delicate,” said LaVorgna.

LaVorgna printed the photographs at 16 inches by 24 inches because the scale felt more life-size.

“That makes it really personal,” she said.

L.E. and LaVorgna started the Perfect Imperfection project about nine months ago.

They plan to turn the photos into a book. L.E. added that they want to turn the exhibit into a traveling exhibit, connect with education institutions, and maybe undertake a lecture series.

The Vermont Center for Photography has accepted Perfect Imperfection for an April 2015 exhibit.

LaVorgna said that they consulted with the Women's Freedom Center while assembling Perfect Imperfection.

While the images steer away from violence, said LaVorgna, the issues in the photos and in written form can be tough. She advised the audience to be gentle with themselves.

L.E. said on one of their photo shoots she found a baby doll smashed face-down into the mud. Turning the doll over, she found misuse and exposure had mangled the doll's face and limbs.

“I can relate,” she said.

“Wounds don't necessarily heal,” said L.E.

Sometimes the wounds we carry scar heavily, sometimes they come unsutured, she said.

“As we encounter each other, we should have our first aid kits ready,” said L.E.

LaVorgna said people too often view themselves through a lens of emotion and not necessarily one of reality.

“Things aren't as we see them; it's how we see ourselves,” she said.

L.E. said that, for her, a Facebook meme sums up this concept. In the meme, a kitten gazes into a mirror. A lion gazes back.

Often, however, when people could see a lion reflected back to them, they see only scars.

LaVorgna said that she and L.E. hope Perfect Imperfection will help people “connect with people and be able to facilitate and empower them to feel better about themselves."

L.E. added, “It's easy for us to remain crustaceans,” by which she said she meant hard-shelled people with soft, vulnerable centers.

“I had a whole laundry list,” L.E. said about her imperfections, laughing. “We're all fragile, but we all cover it up."

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