Artist Di Ali-Arab Reclaims Feminine Sexuality Via Cheeky Images With Powerful Messaging

Words: Beth Green
Photos: Beth Green
Thursday 07 March 2024
reading time: min, words

With Friday 8 March marking International Women’s Day, what better way to highlight its importance than spending time with self-proclaimed feminist, artist Di Ali-Arab. The 25-year-old is spreading a message; to turn the archetypal objectification of women on its head, and replacing it with empowering graphics of the female form. LeftLion HQ joined her in RSP Studios, where her work is currently being displayed and sold.

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As the daughter of a graphic designer, Di’s artistic gift was rooted in her from the beginning. “I’ve been drawing since I was able to hold a pencil,” she explains. “My mum always pushed me to explore what I do and don’t like with my art.” In education, she was able to embellish her gift by taking GCSE Art, and then eventually A-level Art. It was during one of her A-level exams, she was given freedom to express herself. “All I wanted was to draw naked ladies,” she remembers. “My art teacher told me not to, and that the female form is pornography; this really riled me.” Understandably so, Di was upset and went to one of her trusted sociology tutors, with no intention to get the art teacher in trouble, “it was purely to vent how I felt.”

It was here that the two of them looked over the exam paper together, and her tutor pointed out the option to do a piece on a political or social movement. Initially unimpressed with this suggestion, her tutor planted the seed to cover the “Free the Nipple” movement. With a new sense of confidence, Di felt encouraged; “Instead of getting modest nudity of backs, or stylistically covered images, what my art teacher now had was full frontal nudity of breasts. I could back it up too, by saying ‘ha, it’s a social movement, you can’t stop me.’ He completely shot himself in the foot by the end.” It was this encounter that sparked her passion for feminist art, and to dismiss the idea of objectification. She was going to regain control, “because us in our normal form, should not inherently be sexual.”

Di expresses she is a proud feminist, longing for equality for all, regardless of gender. One of her favourite quotes, by American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, is: “I’ve been a female for a long time now, it would be stupid not to be on my own team.”

One of her biggest inspirations is Erica Callado, a watercolour artist that she researched for her A-level project. “It was her images of the female form that opened the door for me.” Once 2020 hit, like so many of us, Di was spending her time endlessly scrolling through various platforms, when she encountered a common theme. “It was Covid, I had just started drawing graphically and my feed was full of feminist ideology, often paired with nudity, such as the erotica publication Moanzine. It was all very empowering.”

Us in our normal form should not inherently be sexual

The original starting point for her work came from her emotions, “I would see something negative in the headlines targeting women that enraged me. I’d find a reference photo, and sketch the outline and base colours.” These would predominantly be seen in lingerie, though nudity is depicted in some, which can be problematic for those wanting to grow through social media. “A lot of the time nudity can result in being shadowbanned, or account suspension, so for socials, I will usually stick to lingerie.” Once chosen, the shading and any body modifications are added before the quote. “I will always try to get this to fit somewhere, often on the underwear, or the body so it doesn’t get lost and fits each unique piece.” Finally she will pick the colour scheme, which will be based on both her previous works, ensuring she creates diversity, as well as her own artistic preferences.

Di speaks fondly of how she has worked hard to create a safe and positive community on her Instagram - “I’m in a bubble of people that love it!” It is only on occasion when she is reposted to a bigger page that she may receive some hate. Although, it’s not the actual drawings that generates the trolling, instead it is targeted towards the quotes that accompany the images. It seems pretty telling, don't you think, that what angers the haters are the powerful words that project how women can be strong figures and in control of their autonomy.

Though, for the most part, her work receives a lot of love and support. She does joke, “My mum will regularly tell me how talented I am, but simultaneously asks if I would please stop drawing naked ladies - unfortunately Mum, that’s not going to happen! Plus, it’s not all bad, she still talks about me to people wherever she goes, I often get messages from them, so I know she’s proud despite everything.”

Expressing feminism through art has been popular for almost a century; Frida Kahlo is one of the first to come to mind. However, today unless your social feed is somewhat anti-liberal, there does seem to be an increase in how overt work can be - which is definitely not a bad thing! For Di, focussing on the female form is about reclaiming our sexuality.

Along with fine tuning her niche in feminist art, Di has also created a sense of continuity on and offline. Di has recently branched out on new endeavours, and put on her second “Let’s Paint Tit” event at the end of February. For these events, she makes a number of unique clay dishes, each with their own pair of breasts. They will be ready to decorate with as many colours and patterns as you like. “The dishes can be used for little trinkets, rings, earrings, anything really. We will discuss different ideas and look for references before we paint.” This ticketed event is a fun, safe and welcoming place for all to express themselves, create some art and even make new friends. “There’s no right or wrong way to paint, it’s yours to keep. I’ll also be giving out information on how to correctly check your boobs, so you may learn something too.” At the time of our chat there were only a handful of tickets left, so it’s safe to say it’s proving to be a hit!

Where can you next catch her I hear you ask? Di tells LeftLion of her plans to do another “Let’s Paint Tit” workshop and an art exhibition soon. More immediately, she’ll be at Cobden Arts Market on Saturday March 16, with plenty of prints, keyrings, stickers and more to buy. Plus looking further ahead, she is hoping to be back at Nottingham Pride for the third year. In what she calls both one of her favourite and chaotic events, “It’s always so much fun, so I’m hoping the budget allows me to continue coming!”

Buy Di’s work directly via her Ko-fi - Art by Kerdisha


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