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Interview with artist and model, Anne van de Steeg!

Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Anne van de Steeg, a Dutch artist studying at the Academy of Fine Arts & Design in the city of Maastricht. During our discussion, we find out how and why Anne decided to create a series of body positivity artwork, the reasons why vulnerability is at the heart of everything she creates, the ways in which modelling helps Anne to experience art both from behind and in front of the canvas, and more!

Britain Uncovered: Hi Anne! Thank you for taking some time out to speak with us about your art and body positivity matters. To start us off, could we please ask when and why you first decided to create this wonderful series of body positivity artwork? Your work has such a powerful and consistent self-love message, but what was it that first inspired you to create this type of art?

Anne: Hi, and thank you for inviting me into this interview! Well, my first 'body positive' painting was not the 'everyday' body positive art that you see, but it was a statement about sexual objectification. For me, body positivity is about feeling good in your body in every way there is, and my struggles in the relationship towards my body came down to this subject. After this, I thought it was a wonderful idea to let people speak up about their own struggles. This way, many more people can relate to my work and the stories that I put out there.

Britain Uncovered: In addition to the art itself, we particularly appreciate the fact that your paintings are often accompanied by quotes and testimonials from the models depicted, who candidly share details of some of the body confidence challenges they have faced over the years. Has seeing all these testimonials made a big impact on you, as the artist, and how easy is it to relate to the stories being shared with you?

Anne: It has made an impact, yes – a positive one! With some stories I can relate, and with others less, but this is always the case, of course. For me, this doesn’t matter. It had an impact on me because it shows me how strong people actually are! No matter what they’ve been through, they are sitting here, in front of me, talking about their past, about things they struggled with and how they overcame them. I hope to inspire others with these works and stories; to show them that they are not alone and that they CAN overcome what they are going through.

A look at Anne's customised, hand-painted cards

Britain Uncovered: Would you say that your relationship with your own body has changed since you first started creating this empowering nude art, and if so, in what ways specifically? Has it helped you to feel more appreciative of your body and a greater sense of body confidence, for instance? A lot of artists we have spoken to in the past have discovered this as a pleasant but unexpected side-effect of their work!

Anne: Yes, it did change my relationship with my own body. This experience makes me more appreciative of who I am and what I have, both in terms of feeling good in my body and also as a person. I’d like to connect the body with personality, because everything we go through with our bodies has such an impact on who we are as a person.

Britain Uncovered: How important to you is it to promote bodies of all shapes and sizes, and is this one of the most important themes that you’re trying to convey via your work? What are some of the other themes that you’re hoping to relay through your art, and do you think you’re helping people to see themselves in a fresh, more positive light?

Anne: This theme is important to me, but I like to connect it with other themes, because like I said, I think everything is connected. For example, I also make some works where I try to inspire people to speak up about how they feel and what they go through. This means putting yourself in a very vulnerable (and scary) place. Being vulnerable takes a lot of courage! But it can bring you so much relief, understanding and healing. This is connected with my body positive project, because I try to encourage people to open up about themselves.

Next to this, I’m also putting myself in a vulnerable place with paintings about myself and my own struggles. I’m showing raw emotions, mental health issues and ‘problems’ that I see in society in these works. Through these, I hope people are able to relate to the subjects and see that they are not alone and that it may help them to heal.

Anne showcasing her 'No Object' creation

Britain Uncovered: Earlier in the year, one of your paintings was prominently featured at the Love My Body 2021 exhibition in Milan. Which piece was selected for the show, and how rewarding was it to see your work on display at such an important event? It must be really satisfying to be able to spread the self-love message to such a large audience.

Anne: This was piece I was talking about earlier! It’s called ‘No Object’ and it is a statement against sexual objectification. It was a truly amazing experience! I actually don’t have words for it… it’s really important for me to spread my message to others, to inspire them and to make them think about it.

Britain Uncovered: Could you share a little more with us about the inspiration behind this piece, and is desexualising the female form also an important element of your work?

Anne: The inspiration for this work came from a lot of different sources, but mostly from my own experiences and the experiences of others. As a teenager, and now as an adult, I struggled a lot with people (in my case especially, men) treating me as if my body was the only thing that was there. When this happens, it’s common that you start questioning your own worth.

I think most people would agree with me that it is inappropriate to touch someone’s body without permission; and likewise, it is inappropriate to get angry with somebody who does not want to hook up with you even if you think ‘they are asking for it with that tight dress’. But this subject goes even deeper than that. It’s really ‘normal’ in this society for bodies to be treated like objects. It became so normal that people sometimes don’t even realise it when they do it. Think about that family member that asks you to put on ‘more covered’ clothing when you go outside. They don’t mean to sexualise your body, but this keeps the thought alive that showing your body is ‘dangerous’, because you will be seen as a prey.

I’m talking about women in this case, but I’ve also heard a lot of stories from men about women harassing them. This is the reason I showed the world this work. This message is for everyone.

'Paralysed', one of Anne's most important works to date

Britain Uncovered: What would you consider to be some of your most important works to date, and which pieces best represent what you’re trying to achieve through your art?

Anne: My work called ‘Paralysed’ is for sure one of the most important works to me, because it brings a message that society needs to talk about more. When dealing with a perpetrator, or being in any traumatic, threatening situation, your body can fight, flight or freeze. This work talks about the freezing response. If you’d like to read more about it, you can check out my work on my Instagram page.

Next to this, I think that the body positivity series is important to me, because so many people struggle with the way they see their bodies and I really hope I can show these beautiful people any body in a different light.

Britain Uncovered: In one of your recent posts, you mentioned that sometimes it can be a little disconcerting or worrying to share your art on social media – and I’m sure many other artists reading this can relate! How are you ultimately able to overcome this? Is it a matter of just letting it go and taking pride in your work, irrespective of what the response might be?

Anne: I don’t think I will ever be able to completely overcome this! For me, it’s more about learning to accept that scary feeling of opening up and sharing your creations. I think it’s okay to be scared sometimes, as long as the fear doesn’t take over the happiness you gain from it.

Britain Uncovered: In addition to creating your own unique pieces, you also model for various photography projects. How much do you enjoy getting creative in this way, and what are some of the reasons you like taking part? We can imagine it can be quite a powerful experience.

Anne: Yes, this is a beautiful experience for me! I model once a week for an artist called Jack Willems. Jack creates beautiful atmospheres with female models in the centre of his art. When modelling, I can really experience art from both behind and in front of the canvas. It brings me a lot of inspiration. Ideas start forming when Jack and I have conversations about technical subjects like composition, poses – and, for example, light contrast – but I also get tons of ideas and inspiration during the conversations we have in our coffee breaks. We talk about daily life, but also have good discussions about society or opinions that start existing after experiences we’ve had in life.

Britain Uncovered: Aside from your wonderfully inspiring range of art, what else inspires you to feel more body confident and comfortable in your own skin? Would you consider yourself to be a ‘body positive’ person in general, or is this an ongoing challenge that’s easier on some days than it is others?

Anne: Yes, I would consider myself a ‘body positive’ person! Of course, on days where my mental health is not too good, I feel less good about myself, but on these days I think it’s normal to have a more negative view on yourself. In these moments, I try to remember that it’s just a temporary feeling. Feelings are like boats on the water passing by. When you try to push them away, the water will give them more resistance to stay, but when you just look at them from a distance, they will drift away by themselves.

Britain Uncovered: Finally, we’d love to hear about some of your plans for the next 12 months! What can followers of your work expect from you, and are you also hoping to be involved in more exhibitions as time progresses?

Anne: Well, last year I stopped art school for a year because of personal reasons. I’m planning to start again this September, so I think that my work will start to contain more different themes. This is really exciting for me, because the school I’m in really makes you think differently about subjects. I would love to share these experiences on my page.

Next to this, I will still keep working on my own projects. I’m planning to create art where I can combine multiple subjects in one project. I want to go deeper into categories of mental health issues, but I also want to question the way we live life. I really would love to make my followers think about who they are, what they do and what they want to gain from life.

Lastly, yes – I would love to be involved in more exhibitions! I would love to spread my art around and reach more people, but I would also love to meet more incredible people through exhibitions! Both visitors and fellow artists. I’m excited to have lovely, inspirational and meaningful conversations with all of you!

Once again, thank you so much for inviting me to this interview. It was a pleasure!

- To see more of Anne's work and to keep tabs on her progress, feel free to follow her on Instagram at @getinsidemyhead_.

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