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EHV x The Arts: A conversation with artist, Aliomalley.

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

My love of Aliomalley’s Instagram account is something of an underlying obsession. There has been many moments when her work has resulted in me having a fat chuckle to myself, or ignited a desire to scream ‘fuck yeah!!!!’ to my quiet tube carriage. I, and many others, resonate with her work on so many levels.

I have known the artist behind the work (Boo Bruce-Smith) since my late teens, as both of us went to school in the same town. Her drawings are witty, subtle, but also powerful; they provide an honest and evocative insight into the experiences of young women in contemporary society. They’re also just hilarious and bang on the money, and everyone, of both genders, should look at them.

I hope this interview provides a glimpse into the work of this utterly lovely and talented woman. She’s going to go places, so watch this space!

So lets start at the begginning! Why did you start drawing, and what were your early inspirations that prompted some of the interactions you depict?

I have always loved art, but never considered it as a career. My drawings began when I was working at a Women’s Rehabilitation Centre as a Researcher. I would had some spare time in between projects so I began drawing sketches of certain experiences or conversations with friends that had left a big impression on me. I now can’t bear to look at those early drawings, but I know that’s natural as my style has changed.

And what was the inspiration for the name ‘@aliomalley’?

It all began when I was talking to my sister about whether to start the account, and we brainstormed about what to name it. We came up with Aliomalley as my Uncle had just passed away, so we thought it would be nice to name it after him. Really it came from Flav’s imagination!

You’re very open about the caveats of social media in your work. How did you feel about starting the Instagram account?

Honestly, I was very nervous at first. I worried about what people would think and if people would wrongly interpret the pieces. I think that’s a feeling that many people get when they share work or anything personal on the internet - you can’t convey tone or include a preface, and you never know how people will react. I knew that some of my drawings were quite provocative, and weren’t going to be liked by everyone, so I prepared myself for a little backlash. My friends and family were however, really supportive, which boosted my confidence. Plus, I was encouraged to keep posting as creating the account ignited further conversations about some of my pieces which were really eye-opening.

That’s the exact reaction I had when I saw this recent drawing by you (below). It’s a simple interaction, but presents a sticky situation that I know myself and others have found hard to grapple with, both in the moment and when reflecting on it later in time. What inspired this and what have been your thoughts on it since?

This one was sparked by a recurring conversation I had with friends about how to navigate a situation where someone offers to buy you a drink at a bar. It’s something I’ve never totally felt comfortable with, but I also have friends who strongly argue that they owe a man nothing after accepting a drink. I don’t disagree with them, but for me, there’s an underlying message that if you accept the drink that it communicates that you are interested in him.

When I think of this situation, in my mind it ties into the notion of men being chivalrous and paying for things for women, which I’m uncomfortable with. Throughout history men used to pay for a meal and dates or whatever else because women weren’t allowed to work or have an income and so couldn’t afford it. But now, if we expect men to pay for us and accept it willingly, it fails to acknowledge the fact that most of these boys have the same amount of money as us, so why should they pay? Maybe we should just say screw it, and accept it as compensation for all other elements of everyday sexism we endure!!!

Another piece of yours that I love is the one below. Oh, the topic of body hair. I myself have been thinking about why I’m so frugal with letting my leg hair go au natural, and yet continue to feel pressure to shave my pits! Body hair is also quite topical at the moment given the conversations about Emily Ratajkowski on front page of Harper Bazaar with full pit hair on show. Tell me - what inspired this drawing and your thoughts on the whole body hair debate?

Hmmm, this piece also took a while in the making. My sister Flav had just stopped shaving her pits and I felt inspired to look into it further. It was something I hadn’t thought about much and to be honest when I thought of women with body hair my reaction was pretty placid. I never thought I would get involved. After delving deeper, I understood that for me body hair is natural, and the only reason I was shaving was to be attractive to men. So, I began to let it grow.

I still get a mixed reaction to it. However, I’d say the majority of men say it’s fair because it’s my choice, but that they don’t like it. Occasionally I would shave my legs and so with this aliomalley post, I was just laughing at my contradiction. Then a friend sent me Helen Plumb’s poem ‘A Prickly Subject’ and I saw it all in a new light!! She perfectly explains the ridiculousness behind societies’ expectations of womens’ body hair, but also makes plain it is an individual choice. Nowadays, I don’t really have a conversation with new people I meet about it. Instead people just double take on my pits and then look away!

Have people made comments about your work online? Has there ever been anything negative?

I have a small following, a large amount being friends or people I know, I haven’t had any bad reactions online. Because my following is largely female, most of my conversations about the drawings have been with women in my life. Some guys have spoken to me about it – a small special few have been particularly interested and really supportive, but most I guess just aren’t interested as they don’t resonate with what is depicted or they don’t love the way I depict men in my drawings.

I’ve also been really careful with what I upload, because I don’t want to upset anyone. Given a lot of the work is based off real conversations and experiences, sometimes friends have texted me saying ‘haha that’s totally from the conversation we had today isn’t it’. There’s been no fall out with anyone but I do put a lot of thought into what I put up.

Is there one drawing that was tough to post?

Yeah this one (below).

I questioned myself a lot before posting it, mainly because I don’t want to be seen as a voice that attempts to bring other women down. Uplifting women around us is so crucial to female empowerment, but I think there are times when sexist behaviour is enabled by women on the basis of those actions gaining them pride of place with men in a social situation. A lot of the time, I don’t even think some women know what they’re doing is damaging; some women I know have just been brought up in a very male-oriented environment, so find, what I consider to be offensive sexist slang, normal. At the end of the day, feminism is particular to each individual and my ideas of equality will be different from another person’s, but it would be great if more women were aware of how language can perpetuate stereotypes about women that support inequality. If you aren’t calling people out on some of their everyday behaviours then comments get dismissed as banter and “just a joke”. But when you do call people out, you are told “you need to lighten up” or told “you’re too sensitive”, so I understand why it is also easier to laugh along sometimes. But I guess this notion ties in with the controversial Gillette advert about how we need men to stand up for each other and women and do the right thing. It’s so easy to call yourself a feminist - that in itself is exciting, that men are saying this... but it’s of equal importance to act on it as well. We need boys to stop making sexist banter legitimate and we need girls to stand up for themselves and call people out when they do it.

I notice that some of your drawings also feature animals and the negotiation between veganism and animal awareness. What’s your relationship with this cause and how has it been talking about it with your friends and family?

Veganism is something I am also very interested in. I find it interesting to think about it in relation to feminism because of the linked oppression thesis. They’re also both conversations that make people feel uncomfortable discussing or as there are often strong opinions that dominate these topic areas.

I’ve found its very easy to rub people the wrong way when I have discussed these areas in the past. That’s why, with these illustrations, I can communicate my position, that may otherwise sometimes be interpreted as very “vegan” or very “feminist” verbally, in a way thats easy to understand. By the end of university, I definitely felt like I was seen by some as a “vegan feminist” because they are issues I would want to discuss. It probably didn’t help that my entire dissertation was on the sexual politics of meat so it was all I could think about!! There’s a section of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Ted Talk, ‘Why we should all be Feminists’, where she says something along the lines of “people kept saying I sounded angry and I would reply that I was angry about how women were being treated” and I definitely began to feel that way during as I was researching. Aliomalley has given me the ability to address some of these issues with just a snippet of a classic conversation that is less abrasive than a conversation.

So you’re currently working in Paris! How has it been so far? Have there been any experiences that will be featured on Aliomalley soon?

I’ve only been here for a few weeks so haven’t really socialised outside of the friends that I have here. One thing that I have noticed is that my many of my friends, from all across the world, resonate strongly with my work on aliomalley. It almost proves there’s a universal language on dating and social experiences which are relatable for so many people.

Who in your life have been your idols/mentors?

I should probably start with the cliche that it’s been my sisters and parents who very much emphasised the importance of being an independent and strong woman throughout my life. The beginning of my interest in more specific elements of feminism came from my sister Flavia. She will talk about something so casually in conversation that will sit with me and lead me to do my own research.

I also can’t not mention Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi just for creating the perfect essence of what feminism is. She taught me that the baseline agreement is equality, then beyond that there is the space to look through your lens and experiences to adjust it accordingly. It taught me that I can continually add to my narrative of what feminism means to me and adjust with it life experiences, I think that’s such an amazing element that needs to be spoken about more.

Then people like Helen Plumb, Kim Gehrig, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge who have created such amazing pieces of art showing a female narrative that I love and adore. I think I’ve watched Kim Gehrig’s campaigns of Viva La Vulva, Gillette and This Girl Can a million times, projected onto the wall of our flat at uni.

There are so many artists I have fallen in love with on Instagram but here’s a few. The Awkward Frogs is a combination of perfect observation accompanied with an incredible talent in illustration. Anna Smith the Apple reminds me of Quentin Blake who I have always adored and has that nostalgic element of the twilight of childhood with Roald Dahl and bringing an inanimate object to life. And Eloise Marseille approaches her work from a more satirical observational angle covering so many topics of day to day life. With all of them it’s the ability to capture a moment in a frame that you see and get immediately.

Can you tell me about the convo that you had with that friend of yours about being topless below?

This image stemmed from numerous conversations, mainly with boys, about whether it was acceptable or not for women to be topless on the beach. I guess you can trace it back even further to freethenipple when we were at school - that was revolutionary in my mind! One particular conversation that has stuck with me was when I told my male friend that if I wanted to be topless by the pool or whatever, it wasn’t meant to be sexual and his reply was that boobs are sexualised so that is how the male gaze will see them. But my infuriation with that comment is that part of the sexualisation is from covering them up all the time - if we normalise it then they become de-sexualised in that scenario. In the same way, a topless guy can be attractive but that doesn’t mean all you can think about is their body or them sexually - hence this image that puts it in a role reversal and I hope that explains it better than I can with words!

I mean even on instagram it baffles me how the censoring works. I tried uploading some photos to a private account with ten followers that was taken down because my friend and I were topless but then I have a friend who uploaded a video of his male friend stripping and totally naked on his main account that wasn’t censored. It just feels like there are double standards when it comes to the male and female body and our expectations of it. I’ve shown this frustration in my image below!

To see Boo/Aliomalley’s work for yourself, click on this link and have a look. A huge thanks to Boo for chatting for me for hours on end, and watch this space for the next artist to be featured in our EHV x The Arts Series.

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