Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.  This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Ava, a fourth year student majoring in Photography.

In this issue, Morgan and Ava talk about using the body as a tool for performance within photography, trauma and family relationships and the process of thesis.

Who or what are your main artistic inspirations?

Most of my inspirations are from film directors, Wes Anderson, Emmanuel Lubezki and Christopher Nolan.  A few photographers are Francesca Woodman, Elinor Carucci, Yoko Ono and Lisa Steele. Other non lens based artists such as Eugene Schiele, Andy Warhole, Henry Moore as well as The Arnolfini portrait by Jan Van Eyck has always stuck with me. So many artists have influenced me but what keeps me motivated to make art is seeing other people in my life make work. I am so inspired by the community surrounding me and that me excited to continue my practice.


What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

I have always been focused on making feminist artwork and I am currently focused on self-portraiture. This year I have focused on my series A Chair for My Mother, which discusses trauma within a familial context.


A Chair For My Mother, 2017


What drives you to work with that subject matter?

As I’m sure most people in photo know, I have several learning disabilities. I am dyslexic, I have CAP-D (an auditory processing disability) and ADD. My work aids me in communicating emotions that I have difficulties expressing verbally. I am mainly interested in advocating for equality and my topics are often revolved around taking a small part of society that I perceive could be better and voicing my opinion on it through my photographs. This year I focused on exploring how to reclaim myself from trauma.


Often I find your images similar to a film still with a specific narrative, character and mood. How do you use narrative strategies within image making to portray your intention?

Including clues into my personal life such as objects from my family as well as using images from a certain period of time in my life. I shoot in my own domestic space, using spaces that I’m comfortable to allow myself to perform private emotions. I use negative spaces to create a focus on my subject and the narrative that I want my viewer to pay attention to.


How does the use of natural lighting in your images connect to your conceptual basis for your series?

The most important thing for me to portray in A Chair for My Mother is the honesty that I want to portray. It is a very personal project and I expose a lot of my personal life in it. By using natural lighting I feel as if I’m giving my images the honesty that my narrative depicts.


A Chair For My Mother, 2017
What body of work are you currently working on?

I am currently working on my series A Chair for My Mother which is about finding a way to give myself a voice in a situation where I am not being heard within familial relationships. I explore how to reclaim my body from trauma, addiction, domestic abuse as well as sexual assault.


As your thesis explores familial relationships, how do you navigate working with a topic that is so personal? How has your relationship with your work evolved over the course of the year?

I really had to push myself, at the beginning of my thesis year I didn’t really understand what my work was about. It was driven by anger, hurt and sadness, so I continued to put myself in situations that made me uncomfortable and paid attention to the trigger signals that my brain was sending to my body. I put myself in spaces where I had endured abuse year after year and just simply let my body direct my work.

A big thing that has come from my work is pushing myself to trust my decisions. Confidence is something that due to my upbringing hasn’t come naturally to my project and me has forced me to rely solely on myself. It is a very heavy subject and unfortunately might change my relationship with my family for me in the future but I know that it is important for me to do nonetheless.

I didn’t fully understand how much my work would impact me. In my final critique I felt so many emotions, I was overwhelmed and hurt by the emotions I had channelled but after my presentation and looking around to see how many people I had impacted with my story and struggle I was astounded. My work has made me stronger and confident, I am proud of the work I have done and proud of how far I’ve come.


A Chair For My Mother, 2017


Self-portraiture is a common theme among most of your work, what do you think is the value in inserting yourself into your images? 

It is especially important in my current series [A Chair for My Mother] to work with my body because it is about me and the best way to represent myself is by performing for the camera. I like to think of my body the way a painter would think of a paintbrush, I use it to compose my image. I know myself best and can use that to my advantage to frame my image. After spending so many years behind a camera it’s interesting to put myself as my subject because I know what I am looking for. What I mean by this is I know what feeling I want to express and how to obscure my body to relate to my theme. There have been a few times this year that I have taken an image and known immediately that I already love that image, however there is a ton of trial and error. Inserting myself in my images gives me the same excitement that shooting with film does, in the sense that I have less control and I have to rely on myself as the subject. Something that has really become apparent to me is my body’s natural reaction to feelings and thoughts I have. I started paying attention to my body a bit more during a shoot that I had in the fall. I was at my cottage where my dad now lives and I was in his room and I just started taking pictures of me in his space. I was sitting on a dresser with my feet on the bed and my body just collapsed, I didn’t cry, my body just gave up. It was then that I became interested in what my body language had to say versus my facial expressions.


There is a long history within feminist image making and using the body as a tool to express a concept. How do you use your body and performance to express your concept?

In my series I explore the male gaze, growing up with a narcissistic father, I saw how he treated women. In A Chair for My Mother I decided to try to turn myself into an object by placing myself in obscure positions within the domestic space that I grew up in. By doing this I wanted to challenge the gaze and how women are perceived. By doing this I wonder if I turn myself into an object, a literal object, will the male gaze still objectify me?


A Chair For My Mother, 2017


Are their any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?

Lee Henderson has mentored me since my third year at OCAD and has always pushed me to think more conceptually. He has always pushed me to try strange projects and helped me work through a lot of my own insecurities about my work.

Course wise I think I have taken every single class that allows me access to everything in the photo centre and it’s amazing there are so many different ways to go about photography. Also trying things outside of the photography program, I have taken printmaking classes which are really cool, as well as I took an animation course and I kind of wish I took more animation courses but drawing is, unfortunately, not my forte.


Do you have any advice for students beginning to study at OCAD?

Persevere through that first year of general arts is the main thing wanted to quit so many times and I’m very glad I didn’t. In regards to profs take everything with a grain a salt. One thing that really changed the way I worked was looking at things from my professors perspective, what were they looking for, what interested them. Not because I necessarily cared about what they wanted but it allowed me to think about different subject matters and ways of working.


You can see more of Ava’s work on her website and instagram

See Ava’s work at the

102nd Graduate Exhibition at OCAD University, May 3rd-7th.

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a fourth year photography student and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative spaces. She is the Art Director for The RUDE Collective, a student representative on the Photography Curriculum Committee and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.