If you haven’t checked out Ambivalently Yours via her longstanding Tumblr page filled with all the feels and lots of pink, then you are totally missing out. This illustrator is one of the hardest working artists on the internet, having had installations all over the world, numerous collaborations under her belt, zine projects, talks and workshops, and much much more.
Ambivalently Yours is an anonymous project, but ironically, most of her illustration projects are about connecting with her fan base and listening to their personal struggles, then conveying those feelings in her art.
We had a wonderful conversation about her work, her life in Montreal, and feminism.
SZ :: How much can you tell me about yourself as just sort of a general introduction? I know that you don’t want to give too much away. Any info or details or fine.
AY :: I’m a female identifying feminist artist based in Montreal, Canada. In a nutshell my work is full of feminist rants, ambivalent advice and an excessive but unapologetic use of the colour pink.
SZ :: When did you start illustrating? Are there any specific artists/influences on your art that you would like to speak to?
AY :: I’ve been drawing my whole life. Drawing was always a safe place for me to hide, and a way to express things that verbal language could not. My biggest influences are my peers, other illustrators and artists, most of whom I’ve met on Tumblr or in other tiny emotional corners of the Internet. (I have a list on my Tumblr FAQ page: http://ambivalentlyyours.tumblr.com/faq)
SZ :: When did you start your tumblr blog? You discussed the response from readers. Can you speak to the most common types of questions that you receive?
AY :: I started my Tumblr on July 21, 2011. I was about to enter my last semester of grad school, I was studying feminism, social media and ambivalence and trying to find a way to put it all together and create a piece or a practice to present during my final exhibition. I never really thought my drawings were important but eventually I started posting ambivalent drawings and thoughts on my Tumblr, and people started responding to my work and began asking me questions. I received all kinds of questions, ranging from questions about love and romance, to feminism, sexual violence, identity, friendship… The underlying in question in most of the questions though was usually: are my feelings valid?
SZ :: Has there been a single communication that stands out in your mind?
AY :: Once in a while someone will write back to me two years later and tell me that the drawing I made for them meant a lot. This process of making drawings for strangers online can be so fragmented, like sending emotions out into a void without really knowing if anyone is really noticing. My online exchanges mean so much to me, I gained a lot of confidence and validation from them, so it’s nice to find out that my little practice isn’t just one sided.
SZ :: I’ve done some research on your blog and have noticed all kinds of projects. Poetry books and the like. Can you give me an outline of some of your stand outs over the years?
AY :: My practice has evolved and taken many different forms since 2011. I make drawings online; I’ve also created art installations where people can experience the work IRL, and I’ve hosted several zine making or feminist drawing workshops. I’ve worked on short films and animations, collaborated with several artists on small projects. I’ve self-published a little book of drawings and poems called: “Some Feelings are Better on Paper”. I also started a podcast last year called Rebelliously Tiny, where in each episode I ask a special guest to help me respond to one of the questions I have received on social media, and I just crowdfunded the second season that will air in the Spring. I think that some emotions work better when expressed through different media, so I try to play around with ways of communicating. The end goal is always to share ideas and emotions and ask questions collectively.
SZ :: I’ve noticed that you participate and attend a good deal of social functions in Montreal. Do you have a favourite from over the years? Is there a certain org or collective that you would like to mention?
AY :: I table at a lot of markets and fairs, but my favourite is always Expozine in Montreal, because it is the one where there is the greatest concentration of amazing artists. It’s really inspiring to be able to share the space will all of them.
SZ :: You mention the “artist conundrum” of the want to create but the need for money to make the creation happen. I’ve heard about this struggle from a lot of artists and would love to hear your take.
AY :: I think it’s impossible to make a living as an artist in a capitalist society without having to make compromises from time to time. Sometimes that means doing work for companies whose values don’t 100% align with your own, or to sacrifice time you could have spent working on your own projects to work for others and gain a living wage. Right now I have a part-time job one day a week, I do several freelance illustration and graphic design contracts on the side, and I run my own shop of zine, pins, patches and t-shirts (which I print myself). This does not leave a lot of time and energy for me to work on all the other projects I mentioned above. It can get really exhausting and overwhelming. It can also really affect your self-worth to see people in other industries work reasonable hours and make a significantly larger salary than you. It’s not that I do any of my work for the money, but I can’t do any of my work without money. It’s a constant struggle and negotiation. I am not very good at balancing all of this, and almost completely burnt myself out in the last few months. I have to get better at saying no to things, but it’s hard to say no when you don’t know when the next payment opportunity will come along.
SZ :: What can you tell me about the Montreal feminist/LGTBQ+/artist scene? What has been your life experience, however you identify, living in your city? Pros/cons?
AY :: There is a large community in Montreal, and a lot of events and galleries are showcasing great artists. I’ve met a lot of my peers and collaborators through independent little markets and fairs. One of my favourite places in the city is the feminist bookstore called L’Euguélionne, which carries book and zines by female-identifying writers and hosts nice events.
SZ :: Do you have experience living with mental health issues? Can you speak to that experience at all?
AY :: I’ve always struggled with depression, and in more recent years I’ve started to struggle with anxiety. I’ve found a lot of empathy and validation online, especially on sites like Tumblr. I’ve also started going to therapy and try to treat myself better by sleeping more and moving more and not isolating myself too much. It’s a constant struggle, I’m still working through it. Making art helps a lot.
SZ :: You have recently launched a podcast w. collaborators. What can you tell me about that project? Who would be a dream guest/collaborator? What would you discuss?
AY :: On the podcast we discuss the questions that people send to me online. In particular, we discuss some of the questions I don’t feel comfortable answering on my own. Right now I’m starting to prepare the second season. I will be reaching out to some of my favourite authors and artists, but it might be a long shot. I don’t want to say who, because I don’t want to jinx it. lol. The best episodes of the first season though were with the people who I am already close to because we are able to be more open with each other. There will be more of these conversations in season 2.
SZ :: You are pretty clear about your motivations, but can you get into that in a little more detail? What is your mission? What keeps you creating? What do you hope to accomplish?
AY :: One thing that really bothers me is how bad humans are at communicating with one another. No matter how many technological advances there are to help us stay connected, there is still so much that remains unsaid and that is misunderstood. Right now we hear a lot about social justice and feminism in mainstream media, but it is all very fragmented and often sensationalized and or over simplified. With my work, in all its shapes and sizes, I try to find ways to explore ideas in more open and complex ways. One of the reasons ambivalence is the main emotion motivating all of my work is that it is an emotion of several emotions, of mixed feelings. I think that if we made more room for our mixed feelings to coexist, for different opinions to coexist, for different types of people to coexist, we would be much better at communicating with and supporting one another.
SZ :: I think I mentioned in my introduction email about how personally affected I have been with the overwhelming number of women that have been coming forward lately about sexual crimes. I have always represented myself as a feminist and initially kind of felt weird (offended?) when the same women that used to give me a hard time for using the “f” word started using the term themselves. Ive mostly gotten over it. I think I was mostly just upset at the girls who I went to high school with.
Do you have any feelings about this?
AY :: I totally get that. Feminism is on a high right now. It is talked about in mainstream media and more and it was just named word of the year I think. A lot of people are jumping on board for the right reasons, a lot of people are jumping on board because it’s cool. While this popularity may be ultimately favourable to the movement, there is still a lack of diversity within those praised and included in the larger conversation. We have to be careful not to allow our ideas to get diluted and homogenized by the mainstream. Capitalist culture benefits from marketing Feminism as this one consumable thing (often a traditionally pretty white cis girl with her hands on her hips looking tough and wearing a quirky slogan tee), but for Feminism to be intersectional, we have to allow multiple versions of feminism to coexist. We have to listen to and value more narratives than just our own. Building feminist communities can be fun and fulfilling but it is never going to be easy; it’s work. The movement always has to keep evolving, questioning and redefining itself in order to avoid becoming exclusionary or meaningless.
SZ :: Do you want to end on a piece of feminist wisdom? Words of your own? From others?
AY :: “Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.” – Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities