Human bodies are her canvas. She’s inspired by every single person she’s worked with. Her work liberates her models and speaks about bigger issues through physiopoetry – the combination of photography and short poems. Meet Jessica Lakritz, a writer and the founder of Sex on Sundaze.
Jessica introduces herself as a poet first and foremost. She started writing when she was a child, using every single opportunity to type away.
“People kept telling me I was good at it,” she reminisces. “I got published in the school paper for a story I wrote in first grade. Then, I was picked from my whole elementary school to go to a writing conference to represent the school, and later my mom gave me one of those old word processors when I was around twelve. I locked myself in my walk-in closet with it whenever I could. So much encouragement and positive reinforcement kept that fire in me going all these years, and now it is solidly planted in my interior forest.”
Her project, Sex on Sundaze, is a combination of poetry and photography – all served in an unusual form in the times when Instagram poets are on the rise. Her photographs capture the moment by depicting her models with the verses on their bodies, providing for an interesting collage of different experiences.
“A friend asked me one day, ‘How are you going to get people to read your poetry, Jessica?’ In that moment, I just figured they wouldn’t, for the most part, unless I did something different. Still, I’ve always wanted to give poetry a louder voice,” she explains.
The concept of a body acting as a canvas for her words first appeared as a joke in the first place in the same conversation.
“My friend suggested I write poems on girl’s butts to grab people’s attention. The wheels in my brain started working overtime after that,” she says. “I wanted to hold myself accountable, so I had to make sure I had a consistent deadline, which ended up being every Sunday. The name needed to be catchy and roll pleasantly out of the mouth. And sex sells. After a while, I realized that sex also has another role in the name. I think of poetry as metaphysical intimacy much the same way that sex is physical intimacy. I like to imagine that perhaps that was in my unconscious all along when I thought of the name.”
Instagram is many people’s favourite social network. We’re bombarded with imagery across social media, too – so was it difficult for the artist to find her distinctive style? Jessica admits that she checked if anyone else has done something similar before, and when she couldn’t find anything like it on the Internet, she decided to plunge straight in.
“There’s a whole concept behind the project, discussing topics: body image, mental illness, emotional openness, multiculturalism, and gender roles. These are important things to talk about, and I feel that doing it through the lens of my project, through this physiopoetry, can provide a unique way of thinking about these ideas.”
To do this, the writer decided to speak to people who were willing to participate. At the beginning, it was a big task to encourage others to take part in her project without anything to show for.
“It was hard to find people willing to strip down and let me write on them, even in the name of art, without much social proof to show them. Now that the project has over a year of episodes on the website and across social media, it is easier. Sometimes I ask new people I meet if they’re interested in participating,” she explains. “Many times people volunteer after hearing me talk about it. More and more often, previous models have been telling their friends, and they approach me to see if they could try it too. At one point, I had such a long queue that I had to turn people away – I was moving and couldn’t fit them all in. There isn’t a formula, really. I love getting to know people enough that I can highlight the special things about them in a poem and share that with the world.”
The photos are also the marks of individual experience for each of the participants, and each of the poems is inspired by the model it’s written on. That often opens up a way to speak about their own problems while still contributing to discussion relatable for the others.
“When someone says to me that they have issues with scars, or some part of their body, or something in their head that they’re dealing with, for instance, I aim to see if there is a way the project can combine with who they are to provide illumination in some way,” Jessica tells us. “I like to tell people how I have experienced that even the most supermodel-looking people tend to have issues with their body. I know that society puts this pressure on women, and men too, to look a certain way. Not everyone can do it. If everyone did, I bet we would start looking for some other way to be, to be honest.”
Taking the photos is a very intimate experience for some, so the writer strives to develop a connection with her models beforehand, encouraging them to open up. Engaging with them and asking how they feel about their body, she helps the subjects of the artworks to become confident in front of the camera.
“Some people say, ‘my body is your canvas—go nuts!’ Others tell me where they would prefer I would write. Typically, if someone is uncomfortable with some part of their body and they specifically don’t want it to be a part of the photo, I know ahead of time and we can talk about how to develop the concept for their photo,” she describes her creative process. “The most important thing is encouraging openness and letting them know that I won’t post anything they aren’t comfortable with. And also, ensuring them that I think they are beautiful inside and out, and this will be a really awesome way to share their specific beauty with the world. I get so many private comments on all of my posts these days that I know my project is reaching people in a positive way. Being able to share that information with the models also seems to boost their confidence, which I love.”
Having worked on a project for so long and highlighting so many people, it’s still difficult for Jessica to pick just one favourite picture.
“I have such a cool connection with each of them because of how intimate the physical act of writing on them is,” she explains. “If I had to pick just one, I guess I’d pick Episode 28, Unmapping, which is a reimagining of the Pink Floyd photo of the girls sitting at the edge of the pool. In my work, they are six girls from six different countries, and the photo was taken in Barcelona by a great photographer I have often collaborated with, Eder Candido Zapata. Maybe I am choosing it because I feel proud of combining such an iconic photo with my concept.”
Her biggest inspiration is the poet Mary Oliver. She says that her poems have a wise, humble voice expressed with accessible language that opens her poetry up to everyone. If she was given a chance to collaborate with any person in the world, she’d pick Rihanna or Ellen.
“When it comes to Mary, when I have heard her talking in interviews, so much of what she says has such profundity, it’s hard not to be swept up by her magic,” she shares. “Rihanna, because she is the epitome of girl power to me, and I love her music on top of it. Also Ellen. I would love to write on Ellen on her show live. Goals, you know?”
Jessica has published a poetry collection, and at the moment she’s working on a non-fiction book, which she describes as “a casual guide to moving”. She doesn’t have any plans of exhibiting her photographs at the moment, but as she’s trying to find her feet on the art scene in Mexico City and hopes to engage with the local galleries soon.
“I have lived in ten cities in four countries in thirteen years, so I feel like I’m an expert at this point. I don’t even need to look anything up to write it. It started because people always say, ‘write what you know’. Well, I know moving, and it’s becoming easier and more popular for people to do it. I have tons of practical advice to give from so much experience moving, both logistical and psychological, it would be a waste not to share it,” she says. “I would like to do a series in Spanglish that I could present at a gallery here. I’m even open to doing a sort of live gallery show, where the photos are on display while I’m writing on people. I did that once, not the gallery but the live show, at a small art and music festival in Barcelona, and it was a blast.”