Jen Kiaba is a Finalist for Critical Mass 2015. She shares an excerpt from her body of work "Burdens of a White Dress" which can also be found HERE
My work is about the loss of feminine agency that occurred in my youth growing up in the infamous Unification Church, a religious group referred to by popular media as a primary example of a cult, and its resulting internal landscape. This experience had a lasting effect on my psyche and sense of identity, and it is through writing and photography that I work through these effects.
Growing up in my insular community of religious fanaticism and charismatic, dangerous self-styled messiahs I was intimately familiar with precise, though backwards, logic. My journey into adulthood saw me plunging headfirst towards confronting those dangerous, faulty forms and proofs, unraveling the colorful spectacles of my childhood until only a tired and tattered man-behind-the-curtain remained.
My photographs are about those transitions and discoveries. They chronicle moments of fear, of awakening and oftentimes utilize characters to confront spectators, daring the viewer to follow them down the rabbit hole.
My most recent body of work, “Burdens of a White Dress,” is a set of surreal self portraits that reflect being born in a fringe religious movement. The project’s title refers to the emphasis placed on a woman’s role in my childhood. A woman’s value was intrinsically tied to her purity and virginity; after marriage that value shifted into the realm of motherhood. By using a square format and a stark palette, violently splashed with red, I explore the concepts of shame, of evil, of wantonness, and of the blood of womanhood, birth and death.
Because this was my own personal experience of leaving a repressive religious environment, I often use myself as a model. My body is then contorted or manipulated to demonstrate the internal effects of the struggle that it is to free one’s mind from a controlling belief system, and to demonstrate the repressed place that femininity had in my world.