Punctured Ink is a new collection of photographs by artist Reka Nyari that are being exhibited at New York’s Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in the Fall of 2021. This series of works consists of large-scale nude photographs that explore the concept of self-identity and female empowerment. The photos feature bodies with notable tattoos symbolizing strengthened self-image. Reka hand puncture each photograph with needles and tools, scarifying the paper as it was skin. She basically tattoos, or punctures, her artwork giving it yet another dimension on top of the tattooed body. This is a new practice that she has not explored in her previous work.
Through highlighting the intricate woven threads of ink on a French Vietnamese artist named Anh, Reka Nyari proposes the idea that self-empowerment and reconciliation with one’s traumas can be linked to the act of greeting one’s “own skin” or inventing their own story. She also makes an effort to include patterns that are inspired by nature, as nature is the ultimate healing and transformative power.
Reka was born in Finland and now lives and works in New York City. Photography, video art and installations are her artistic passions which she uses to explore the line between mischievous eroticism and wistful splendor. She also explores traditional ideals of beauty and gender to portray sexuality from a predominantly female perspective.
Reka recently discussed her work via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming an artist and why does the medium of photography so interest you?
Reka Nyari (RN): I have always wanted to be an artist. When I was a little kid, I remember saying that I wanted to be an artist or a rockstar. My parent’s joke that I could paint before I could walk. I initially wanted to be a painter, but always have loved taking photos. It was somehow very easy and natural for me, and so much more effortless than painting. I love how photography can capture a moment, even an accidental one, and say more than a thousand words.
MM: What is it about the human body that compelled you to create a photography series inspired by it?
RN: I love shooting people. I have no interest in still life or landscapes. I am actually most interested in the story of a person, not specifically their nude body. It is just that a tattooed, scarred, lived-in body has just so much to say, I want to capture it all.
MM: You are a model, so how does that influence your sense of style and beauty?
RN: I am actually not a model, I modeled for four years after I graduated from art school, mostly because I wanted to travel more and had no idea how I was going to make it as an artist in NYC. Today I am sometimes a muse to my artist friends, and sometimes to myself. But I have definitely always loved beautiful clothing and loved to play with make-up and hair. But I think my style has developed naturally over the years, from being around all the amazing creatures in NYC, my travels, and my work.
MM: How did you select the women who are featured in this last series?
RN: Usually, each one of my series features one woman, as it is with this latest one, Punctured Ink. It features a French-Vietnamese woman Anh who is a beautiful, free-spirited, nature-loving artist and muse. Each woman has come to me in a different way… Through friends or many times, through the webs of social media.
MM: Why are you so interested in tattoos, and do you have any of your own with interesting backstories?
RN: I actually do not have any tattoos of my own, but I have always been very fascinated by them. I remember wanting a huge back piece when I was 16 years old, drawing it (it was a lion, like Leo me), and telling my mom about it. She was quiet, and then asked me to wait until I was 18: She would come with me and pay for the tattoo. Two weeks later I had changed my mind. By the time I was 18, I had changed my mind about a hundred times. I am an extremist, so I throw myself full force into everything I do- My tattoos would have to be over-encompassing, huge, larger than life. So perhaps I live vicariously through the tattooed women that I capture with my lens. Although I absolutely love the art of tattoo, I have not yet decided on the piece I want on my body. Perhaps one day.
MM: You grew up in Finland, so how different (or similar) are attitudes towards the body, sexuality, and tattoos there compared to America?
RN: Finland is an interesting, wonderful place. It is the home of Sauna, so I grew up with lots of non-sexualized nudity. Bodies are natural. Nudity is not necessarily sexual. Women are very equal to men, often ballbuster strong, and in charge of their bodies and sexuality.
MM: Out of all the photographs in this series have you a favorite? If so, which one and why?
RN: The favorites change all the time. Right now, my favorite is perhaps “Thuong Ngan (Forest Goddess), named after the Vietnamese Princess of the Forest. I love the shape of the plants, almost like wings. The piece has thousands and thousands of punctures and takes me weeks to complete.
MM: How did you find out about the Emmanuel Fermin Gallery and what do you most enjoy about exhibiting with them?
RN: Fremin Gallery actually had my first NYC exhibition Geisha Ink in 2017, and since then we have done some amazing fairs and shows together. They give their artist a lot of freedom while helping to guide the artist in the right direction.
MM: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
RN: I had my 1st museum retrospective at Maison de la Photographie in Lille, France, which was up almost a year before COVID lockdowns. I also exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2017 and 2019 with the European Cultural Foundation. I absolutely love showing my work around the World and seeing people’s reactions to the heavily tattooed women. In lots of places in the World, it is still very taboo.
MM: What other themes might you focus on in future series?
RN: I am still working on the themes of self-transformation, female sexuality, and empowerment, but am interested in diving even further into puncturing, tattooing, and scarifying my pieces physically. I have now released six women of my Ink series; my goal is to have 10 unique tattooed women from around the world and tell their stories through art. After that, who knows. I have some ideas, but my ideas change.
MM: What events, projects, or other exhibitions are coming up soon and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?
RN: Puncture Ink will be up at Fremin Gallery in NYC until October 30th. I will have a live puncturing session at the gallery where people can watch my process later in October. I am also gearing up to head to Exhibit at Contemporary Istanbul in October with Muse Contemporary Gallery, and Art Miami in December. I am also preparing for my first NFT launch next week- Super excited. After a year of hiatus and canceled exhibitions and fairs, I am so happy to be creating, traveling, and sharing my art again.