Interview of Monika Kozub by Freya Bennett
Hi, I’m good, thanks for asking. I just recovered from COVID (I managed to avoid it until now), and am very happy to be back to my daily life and creative endeavors. And sooo ready for spring and warm weather here in Berlin – this winter seemed very long.
Where are you from?
I’m from Krakow in Poland, but I live in Berlin at the moment. I think of myself as a citizen of the world, it’s the people around me that matter, not the country.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I’m an artist and feminist activist, focused on showing women’s beauty and power with all my creative talents. I’m a firm believer in the importance of sisterhood and community actions. I love long walks with an audiobook on, dancing in my kitchen and watching series with strong female leads.
Tell us a bit about your art and what got you into creating the kind of art you create?
In 2019 I founded Berlin Boudoir, when I realized that with my expertise in photography I can try to change the way women’s bodies are shown in the media. Back then I had worked as an Airbnb experience host, taking photos of travelers from all over the world. The majority of my clients were women that started our photo shoot with excuses: “I’m not good in front of the camera”, “I’m having a bad hair day”, “I wish I was 5 kilos slimmer”.
I saw stunning women of all body types and ethnicities, whereas they were very insecure and self-conscious. That led us to very meaningful conversations about beauty, body and the toxic culture around it. It made me realize that the notion we’re all made to believe that you can always do more to be more beautiful and it’s your personal problem if you don’t – is a big lie.
The requirements given to us for how we should look are mutually exclusive. If you’re fair skinned like me, you should tan the first moment the sun is out. If you have brown skin and tan easily – you need to avoid the sun and stay as fair as possible. That feeling of all of us being forced to follow unattainable beauty standards was deeply connected with my personal experience. Even though now I know how privileged I was to be born white, tall and slim – it didn’t help. From the moment I hit puberty until the end of my 20s, I couldn’t look at myself naked in the mirror. All I could see was a flat chest, big butt with cellulite, stretch marks even on my knees, pimples and Keratosis Pilaris which also goes by the name chicken skin, as it describes exactly how it looks.
It took me long years of unlearning to appreciate and cherish the body I have. I was tired, I was angry and determined to not let any other woman dismiss her natural beauty. As a photographer, I actually had the medium to change the way women’s bodies are represented in the media. And as a woman with a history of battling self-doubt I could empathize with women going through the same process. I combined these two and Berlin Boudoir was born: intimate photography with a feminist perspective, focused on giving the woman, the model, the ownership of her body image. Showing her as a powerful, sexual and sensual being. And since photos can only say a certain part of what I want to share, I started a podcast called Boudoir Talk, where everyday sheroes like me and you share their stories.
What do you want to leave the audience feeling after seeing your art?
It’s very important to me that my art is not exclusive. I studied the history of art, which led me to work in the fine art “industry” and I learned how supercilious and condescending modern art can be. Kind of “if you don’t know what I meant, come back after you read Derrida” attitude. I don’t want to preach to the choir, I want to access people that might still think that you should be slim to be considered beautiful or that wrinkles should be surgically removed the moment they appear. That’s why I’m on Instagram – home to all artificial filters and skewed perceptions of what beauty means. I’m hoping that someone might stumble upon my photos and it might plant an idea in their head, that they don’t have to change anything to be beautiful. And all the “must haves and must dos” we’re being sold, mean simply huge profits for the beauty industry. As I read once “next time you feel bad about your body, think about who’s profiting from it”. I want the audience to recognize that beauty is diverse and no one has a monopoly on deciding what is and what’s not beautiful.
What is your favorite thing about creating the art you do?
Connecting with people. When I feel that something that started as an idea in my head is actually an image or a thought that resonates with others. I feel that art has this amazing ability to speak beyond words, grasping deeper meanings of the world as we see it. And when you feel that you can connect with others through it – that’s the best feeling.
Do you have any advice for young artists getting into creating?
Done is better than perfect. Start now and you’ll learn so much along the way. You might not feel ready to go out into the world with your assumptions and creative ideas, but remember that there’s no other person in the world who has your experience and your sensitivity. That alone makes your voice valuable and worthy of attention. There will be hardships you weren’t expecting, and you could have never been prepared for it, but the energy surrounding projects that have meaning to people will surpass any problems and make you focused on your goal.
On a practical level – remember that your art can be separate from your work. You don’t need to pay the bills from your art. It may mean less time for art creation, but also more freedom to experiment without the stress of making a mistake in front of a paid client. Separating my art from my day job allows me to push myself more, tap into the area of discomfort and discover new ways of expressing myself rather than repeating what I know works already.
What can we expect to see from you next?
I’m just about to finish my first video project, which I have done together with my boyfriend. It’s a rap about menstruation, where I tap into the topic of period poverty with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. I want to reach people who would hear “feminist video about menstruation” and immediately switch off. I hope I will keep them entertained, while at the same time start an important discussion: why toilet paper is available for free in every public restroom yet menstrual hygiene products are not? We all know menstruation is not a choice and not being able to afford pads or tampons is more common than we might think. So tune in for P.E.R.I.O.D. video coming soon, where I will debut as a rapper – laughs are very much welcome. In the meantime you can follow me on Instagram @berlinboudoir and subscribe to my newsletter.