Reka Nyari Shares the Story Behind Her New Exhibition, ‘Valkyrie Ink’

DVSproject

Reka Nyari Shares the Story Behind Her New Exhibition, ‘Valkyrie Ink’

In 2017, Duggal Visual Solutions had the privilege of producing photographer Reka Nyari’s breakthrough exhibition, Geisha Ink. A year later, she is again making waves with avant-garde imagery inspired by the strength and resilience of women who have chosen to tell their life stories on their skin through the art of tattooing.

On display at Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in Chelsea, New York City, Valkyrie Ink is a 13-image series exploring the empowerment of nude portraiture. The exhibition portrays Eowyn, a young woman who has endured a great deal of trauma since her childhood, and who, in rebellion from the age of 16 on, adorned her body with an abundance of tattoos. Best understood as an audacious act of resistance, the tattoos not only sent a deliberate signal of strength to peers and predators but also reclaimed a body marked by the scars of self-inflicted cuts and a soul subject to abuse and mistreatment. The undulating lines, symbols, and words that cover her skin become an emblematic suit of armor.

Duggal met up with Reka Nyari at Emmanuel Fremin Gallery to walk through Valkyrie Ink and learn more about the backstory, as well as Reka’s creative perspective.

Valkyrie Ink feels very much like an extension of Geisha Ink. What are the similarities and differences between the two series?

After the positive response I received from Geisha Ink, I wanted to continue on this journey of exploring the art of tattooing through a life story lens. For both Ginzilla in Geisha Ink and Eowyn in Valkyrie Ink, their tattoos truly tell their trials and tribulations. They are reminders to embrace every aspect of life, including the negative.

Ginzilla’s story is centered on love, while Eowyn’s is much more aggressive. Eowyn’s tattoos essentially form a shield. Having learned both of their respective backgrounds, I can say that both women are undeniably strong in their own ways.

Copyright Reka Nyari

Copyright © Reka Nyari

What is the meaning behind ‘Valkyrie?’

In Norse mythology, Valkyries were goddesses who lived in the sky and rode horses. They decided which men and women died in battle, making them these beautiful, powerful beings.

Copyright Reka Nyari

Copyright © Reka Nyari

How did you meet the woman in the photos, Eowyn? What is her story?

I first saw Eowyn at a Human Rights Foundation conference in Oslo. Everyone else was dressed in a suit, and here she was in a tank top, with all kinds of tattoos, blue hair, and just a radiant energy. Knowing I wanted to continue this nude-tattoo portraiture work, I went up to her, introduced myself and we talked more from there.

Eowyn has Viking lineage, thus the Valkyrie concept. Her parents are from Sweden and Norway, and her middle name is actually Odin, named for the Norse god of battle, healing and many other elements that have an underlying interplay in the images.

Eowyn had an extremely rough childhood and young adulthood characterized by pain and trauma. By age 16, she was traveling the world alone, and you can see in some of the images that she was also a cutter. As she started acquiring tattoos, she felt she was building a sort of armor that made her stronger, physically and emotionally. Eowyn is literally a warrior by every definition of the word.

Copyright Reka Nyari

Copyright © Reka Nyari

How do you build rapport for such an intimate photo shoot?

There’s definitely a process to it. For this shoot, we casted eight women. I start with several meetings to explore whether they’re interested, comfortable, etc. We’ll talk for hours, usually over wine or tequila. It really is intimate and incredible to connect with these women on the level that I have been able to for both series. By the time we get to the shoot, there is so much trust and comfort that it doesn’t feel like nudity to them at all. It’s empowering and enlivening. Nudity is simply the logistical means of showing the tattoos.

Copyright Reka Nyari

Copyright © Reka Nyari

Pick any image and tell us a little more about it.

In this image (shown below), you can see the dirt under Eowyn’s nails. That’s 100 percent real and intentional. It always bothers me when actors portraying the Middle Ages have makeup and pearly white teeth. We actually had Eowyn trudge and dig through a forest outside of Oslo to achieve an authenticity that you don’t usually see in this type of theme.

Copyright Reka Nyari

Copyright © Reka Nyari

What role do printing and production play in your ability to bring these images to life?

Quality and the fine art effect are pivotal for me. What makes these images impactful is that they are not digital c-prints, which would be glossier and more reminiscent of commercial photography. Instead, we use archival pigment prints, which absorb the ink to create depth and contrast. I’ve been working with Hillary Altman at Duggal for so long now that we have the process completely refined.

Copyright Reka Nyari

Copyright © Reka Nyari

We’re big fans of your work. What’s next for you? Tell us everything!

I have been asked to exhibit in Venice again, at the 2019 Venice Biennale! In the meantime, I’m taking Valkyrie Ink to CONTACT in Toronto later this spring, while exploring new projects and subjects along the way. I am also working in human rights and will be going to Oslo to shoot a portraiture project spotlighting activists from around the world. And lastly, Geisha Ink is now available in a limited edition, signed fine art photography book.

Valkyrie Ink by Reka Nyari at Emmanuel Fremin Gallery

Valkyrie Ink by Reka Nyari at Emmanuel Fremin Gallery

Valkyrie Ink is on display at Emmanuel Fremin Gallery until April 15th, 2018. To see more of Reka Nyari’s work, visit www.rekanyari.com.