Together with VSCO, we’re excited to feature our VSCO Voices grant recipients. The program supports five creators with mentorship and funding to help them give voice to marginalized communities in the United States through art. This year’s theme, Home, drew many wonderful applications, and over the next couple of weeks, we will interview each creator that was selected for this year’s cohort to learn more about them and their projects.

The first VSCO Voices creator we are featuring is Deun Ivory. Deun is a photographer and illustrator based in Chicago, Illinois. A former English and Art teacher, her life’s work is to serve, empower, and celebrate women of color through a series of creative practices. With her photography project, the body: a home for love., Deun will surface stories from women of color who have experienced sexual abuse as a child. The project will explore how each woman relates to her body as a dwelling place post-abuse.

We recently talked with Deun about her background, her ongoing VSCO Voices project, and what kind of impact she is hoping to make through her work.

Can you describe your path to becoming a photographer?

My photography journey was encouraged and influenced by my husband, Eric Michael Ward. When we were dating, I was awe-struck by his work because he documented the world so beautifully, which challenged the way I saw and appreciated aesthetics. I followed in his footsteps and started using my iPhone to document the world around me and fell in love with using photography as a visual language.

I started out with an open mind. I wasn’t a portrait photographer nor a lifestyle photographer, I was open to exploring any genre within photography. It was a beautiful space to be in and also a space that helped me discover what style of imagery challenged me to operate at the highest level of creativity.

Over time, after being exposed to artists like Carrie Mae Weems and Gordon Parks, I felt convicted and inspired to create with intention and found myself here: visually documenting and celebrating the beauty and the nuances of black women.

What’s the project you are working on for VSCO Voices?

I am producing an exhibition and conversation series called the body: a home for love. This project is a visual series that explores the narrative of 15 black women who have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Through visual documentation and a series of interviews, I am creating a safe space for these women to engage in an intimate conversation about their traumatic experiences and the process of their healing journey.

Why is working on this project important to you?

This project is important to me because I was a victim of sexual abuse and during that traumatic experience I felt alone because it was never made known to me that there were others like me. I was molested for years on end by multiple men in my family and I suffered greatly from the abuse. For so long, I did not feel safe in my own body. I felt like it didn’t belong to me. It didn’t feel like home. I did not identify my body as a dwelling place for love and joy. It was a reminder of my trauma and I wanted so badly to abandon my body and navigate the world as someone else. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that sexual abuse within the black community was somewhat of a norm, and that’s when the start of healing began. Had I known about this when I was going through it, I feel like I would have handled things differently. The idea that I wasn’t alone could have possibly given me the courage to tell my mother or to tell someone of authority. It could have given me the courage to speak up for myself.

I have learned that in the unveiling of our narratives, we liberate other people. We give them the courage to start their healing journeys and to learn from our experiences. This photo exhibition would be transformative for women who have gone through sexual abuse or are currently going through it.

What have you learned so far working on this project?

This project has been transformative in ways I never imagined. I knew that God was up to something, but I had know clue what I was getting myself into. I feel like my entire perspective on everything has shifted. Through the many conversations that I’ve had with the women involved, it became apparent to me just how emotionally detached and dissociated I am from own experiences. During the interviews, I found myself fascinated by how these women managed to survive the abuse, as if it wasn’t a part of my own narrative. It was very eerie but also very indicative of how I’ve processed my trauma.

I also became aware of the unfortunate fact that I’ve been sexually abused by multiple men in my life. So, I feel like I’m in this very ugly but necessary space and that it’s a part of God’s plan to carry me further along in my healing journey.

What kind of impact are you hoping this project will have on you personally and for the community you’re serving?

I hope that the women who come across these stories are empowered by the storytellers. I hope that my community is empowered to no longer fear what life could look like when we ‘out’ their abusers. I hope that we all come to understand that taking the blame for being sexually abused is a narrative perpetuated by sexual perverts and men who are trash.

I hope we come to understand that we don’t have to internalize our trauma anymore. We aren’t to blame. It’s not our fault. And that society has made it okay for men to feel like they can do whatever the hell they want, with no consequences. I want us to heal. To no longer be silenced. To experience life the way God intended for us.

I want us to be free from the guilt of not protecting our abusers. They made the decision, therefore they should be held accountable.

I hope that the women who come across these stories are empowered by the storytellers. I hope that my community is empowered…

How might creators be a force of change?

Creators are thought-leaders and art is a powerful weapon we use to either empower, document, inspire or challenge the world. When we are dedicated to honoring their truth and walking in alignment with what’s right, we become dangerous. We start to walk in our power, and when we do that, we tap into a level of influence that becomes undeniable.

Is there any advice you’d give to someone who’s just starting out?

Love your beginnings. It’s the starting point of your journey to greatness.

Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?

Absolutely. I’m just a vessel and I was placed here to serve and empower communities of color. As a black woman, as a follower of Jesus, I most definitely have a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than myself. I serve a greater purpose.

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Photos provided courtesy of Deun Ivory.

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