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Let’s talk about the pussy

BY FALLON FISCHER

“If you ain’t talking pussy I don’t wanna talk,” said Haley Haren, senior art therapy major, as she pointed to a painted quote on the wall in her studio space next to a painted pink vagina.

Haren’s art is nothing ordinary. To some, it may even be considered taboo. She paints vaginas, bare breasts, nude bodies; in addition to her self portraits and other mixed media paintings.

It was 8 p.m. on March 19 in Saunders Art Studio. Haren was standing beside a large square canvas covered in light pink and beige flesh-colored paint. “I’m just waiting for the paint to dry,” said Haren, in her slight southern accent from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Haren stands five feet 10 inches tall with a thick volume of blonde hair resembling a lion’s mane, which is ironic because her zodiac sign is a Leo. Her gold nose ring reflected off the fluorescent light in the studio. She began to paint the sides of her canvas in a sky-colored blue which was also smeared on the right thigh of her black leggings.

“My concentration right now is officially response to trauma,” Haren said. “Specifically women in trauma and sexual trauma, like sexual assault and rape, which are two heavy topics for me this semester.”

Haren recalls a traumatizing time in the fourth grade where she was the first girl in her class to wear a bra because she was developing ahead of other girls.

“I just remember this one boy who always sat behind me in class,” Haren said. “He would take his pencil and pick at my bra strap through my shirt and ask me what I was wearing under my shirt. He was doing things that definitely aren’t okay and I hope still aren’t being said in schools now.”

Her mother and grandmother helped her get through that experience and she is thankful for the support she received from them.

“My mom and grandmother told me to own it,” Haren said. “Since then, everytime I wear a white shirt my grandmother tells me to wear a black bra underneath it and that I just got to flaunt it now.”

On Haren’s studio wall of inspiration, there is a picture of Tracy Emmons’ art display titled My Bed. The piece consists of Emmons’ unmade bed, surrounded by trash and debris that accumulated while she spent days lying in bed getting over a relationship breakup.

Also on the studio wall there is a portrait of Frida Kahlo, who has painted in response to her trauma; and there are poems ripped out of the book Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. Kaur is known for her poetry about women’s bodies and the trauma she has endured.

Through her art, Haren paints vaginas not only express her trauma but also to bring awareness to violence against women. She paints these graphic images because the issues some women endure, such as sexual assault or rape, are graphic.

“I’m a straight white guy; this art isn’t for me nor should it be,” John Guarneri, a senior fine arts major and close friend of Haren, said.

Guarneri and Haren met their freshman year in a printmaking art class. The two have worked together in the studio exchanging ideas, and have remained friends ever since.

“Haley [Haren]’s art encapsulates feminism and the power of the feminine icon,”  Guarneri said. “Her art is super bold, and it is very in your face. The vaginas are obviously meant for you to look at which is a no-no in today’s society because it’s genitalia and it’s still a taboo.”

Haren acknowledges that her art may not sit well with everyone and they might not understand it because of its content.

“It’s not comfortable to talk about our bodies,” Haren said. “When I started painting these things I was so nervous, but I felt like I was doing something for my soul. It felt like catharsis and was so relieving because I was making something that was meaningful to me and I was hoping that other women could connect with it.”

This past summer Haren was selected to travel to Puerto Rico through Florida’s Art Therapy Association. While in Puerto Rico, Haren and Joe Scarce, Haren’s professor in art therapy and certified art therapist, got to connect with the homeless children living in a local shelter.

Haren made clay pinch pots with the children and made stars of hope. Stars of hope are stars made by children that will be sent to other children in tragedy sites.

“The work that Haley is working on right now shows the political strife that is going on in Puerto Rico,” Scarce said. “People are homeless there and nothing is being done about it.”

Haren currently has a series of three paintings that are in response to her experience in Puerto Rico.

“Haley is doing a red [canvas] for stop, green for go, and yellow for caution,” Scarce said. “She is including symbols in those works and she is putting words on the canvas like hope, strength, and power for those people. She is connected to that community in that way.”

The three paintings also have a deeper connection that are tied into Haren’s personal experience.

“There’s a green means go and a no thank you piece” said Haren. “There are slangy terms [on the canvas] about the way people interpret consent in relationships coming from stories from my friends and my personal life where there was consent or there wasn’t.”

Originally a graphic design major, Haren has transformed in many ways including through her art since she first began her journey as an artist.

“As a student Haley has a quirky sense of humor and she will probably always have that,”  Scarce said. “Haley has grown to now looking at this exhibition as this is her professional self showing her artwork. Others will be looking at her work too instead of her just seeing her art herself.”

Haren will be showing her latest pieces in a upcoming art exhibit on April 20 in the Meridian Gallery located in the R.K. Bailey Art Studio.

“I think I’m a feminist forever,” Haren said. “Until women get equal rights, I’ll keep making art and then some. Nothing is going to change unless you’re putting it in peoples faces and expressing these issues.”

Haren will study transpersonal art therapy and counseling at Naropa University in the fall. There she will continue with her art concentration in response to trauma and in feminism.

“You’re gonna see that pussy and know what I’m talking about,” Haren said.

Fallon Fischer can be reached at fallon.fischer@spartans.ut.edu.

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