THE POWER OF THE FEMALE BODY
Nicole Oliveira Batista was raised by her parents and lived in a house with her two sisters, when at 8 years old she watched closely her parents' separation.
With a history of aggressiveness, Nicole's father was banned by the court from coming close to his daughters and for more than 12 years he had no contact with Nicole.
"My mom went on a mission to find a rich boyfriend to have money after she broke up her relationship with my dad because he had lost his job.
With the concern of seeking a new relationship, Nicole's mother would leave her at her uncles' house at the weekend, a routine that happened from 8 to 15 years old.
“I don't remember how it started, whether it was abuse or rape, but the first memory I remember of my uncle touching me was at Christmas. The first Christmas I spent away from home. When I came home and told my mom, she blamed me. She said that my behavior caused this, but then she asked me if I was sure it was abuse, or if it was not normal affection, that I did not understand because I had been without a father for a while."
Despite her young age, Nicole knew that this was not normal affection and knew that her mother was wrong, but this conversation and lack of maternal understanding made the girl a rebellious daughter. The attempts to justify and explain to the mother why that was wrong were left in her memory.
“I remember the conversation with my mother much more than the abuse I went through. I could not react with my uncle, but I was rebellious with my mother, I was angry with her for not doing anything."
They spent 7 years going to their uncle's house and trying not to think about what was going on, but as time went by Nicole started to process the events.
“My uncle was the children's cool uncle, who played ball, cooked, played the guitar, took care of children from other families too, so that revolted me. Every time my aunt left home, abuses happened."
Nicole remembers the last abuse she suffered. The girl remembers seeing her mother and aunt leave the house and, as always, the command was for her to stay at home with her uncle.
“ I remember I said - no, no, I'm going to church with you and she told me to stay because he needed me. It was the last time I was abused. After that I asked my sister for help, I told her that I was being abused and after a fight she had with my mother I never went back to my uncle."
When remembering the situation with her aunt, Nicole believes that somehow her aunt knew what was going on, but as she was very dependent on her uncle, she did nothing.
"I think people pretend they don't know, they don't want to see it, because it was clear."
The abuse always happened at a time when no one was at home. Nicole says that her uncle gave rewards, like condensed milk, before the abuse.
For Nicole this lack of reaction has already happened in other situations of abuse that she suffered, years after the events with her uncle.
“And that lack of reaction happened in other abuses that I suffered. I crashed, I couldn't react . One day I woke up with my friend's boyfriend abusing me and I didn't know how to react, I just waited for him to go out so I could talk to her that I didn't have the courage to do anything at the time."
Reprehending and blaming girls was a constant in Nicole's life. When she tells about her teenager years, how her body started to develop, she remembers the repressions that she suffered at the nuns' school where she studied.
“I developed breasts early, then they forced me to wear a bra and forbade me to wear shorts, instead of teaching boys to respect girls. I think this has a lot to do with our education."
When talking about the emotional and psychological remnants of the trauma she suffered, Nicole points out the importance of talking about what happened as part of the process of overcoming it.
“The more I talk, the less I have these remnants of heavy trauma. I started my sex life very early, at 13, to understand sex. Because I was raped, I didn't know what sex really was. But sometimes in the middle of intercourse I would stop and cry, I couldn't go on. I never masturbated, I have a lot of problems touching myself, feeling myself, feeling pleasure. I took the virginity of everyone my age, because I became very sexual and I expected older people to abuse me. When I saw a teacher flirting with me, I was much more thrown at him because I wanted to be in control of the situation, I didn't want to feel myself being raped again. The thought was that I was putting myself in control ”.
As a way to protect herself and anticipate any abuse, Nicole was forced to “mature” and seek independence early, and since she didn't want to go to her uncle's house, she ended up accompanying a friend in her costume design work and became interested and falling in love with photography.
“This friend of mine, Viviane, saw my rebellion with my mother and started talking to me, asking what was going on, talking to me about seeing a psychologist too. I went with her to the rehearsals, she did a lot of shows, so I started taking pictures, being a photographer so I could leave there."
The process of getting a psychologist did not come easily, in the face of her mother's resistance.
“I came home and told my mom that I needed a psychologist and she said that I didn't need a psychologist. I remember saying it exactly like this - I need it and you will give me a psychologist or I will kill myself. That was when Dr. Silvana appeared and saved my life."
Of the countless violence experienced, the one that most scarred Nicole was the lack of quality listening.
“I didn't feel heard, I didn't find a way for me to do anything. I asked for help from the people around me and nobody really helped me."
Viviane's arrival in Nicole's life brought a validation, a welcome, the feeling of being heard.
"I was going to war with my mom and everyone because I wanted to do something and everyone wanted me to be quiet."
In depression, the teenager was unable to establish a relationship of trust, she did not see the motivation to study, she handed over blank exams and started to think that there was no reason to live and that everything bad happened to her. It was at age 16, when she started attending the psychologist that changed her view of what had happened.
“It was at the psychologist that I started to change my mind and understood that so much shit happened to me because I actually have the strength to continue. Understanding that a lot of people cannot move from that pain we have, it is very difficult to overcome, but at the same time I can, so let's go as far as we can get it. This is what moves me today."
On the other hand, the relationship with the mother did not improve and psychological and physical abuse took on excessive proportions.
“My mother was already torturing me at home, she left me 3 days without eating. I took my mother to the psychologist 3 times to try to solve her things, but even the psychologist gave up."
Tired of so much violence and abuse, Nicole went to a judge and told her situation, and the judge as a higher authority, on learning of a case of child rape, is forced to act.
"I thought it would be quick, but I was wrong, I have been in justice for 6 years."
At war with her mother and without support, Nicole sought her father, after many years without contact.
“When I went back to speak with my father, he helped me file a lawsuit against everyone. But the war with my mother only got worse. She ruined all my clothes, put some animal shit on my bed, killed my cat, took off his head and put it on my bedroom door. She became the devil because I went back to speak with my father and decided to sue everyone. That's when I asked my father to come and live in New York and he helped me."
The relationship with her mother was full of traumas and problems and the deconstruction of the maternal image of protection and comfort was something that affected Nicole's beliefs.
“I called the police once, when my mother was destroying my house while living with me, and the police said that nothing could be done because she is my mother. There is a question of power there, which is also a great abuse. I had friends of my mother who touched me, I had a lot of people sexualizing my whole life. There was a teacher who abused me and I told the principal and another teacher and they said that nothing could be done. It was only when I told an ex boyfriend, who was the son of a politician and threatened to spread the information in the media that he was fired. I had a boyfriend who locked me up in a gym and only let me out after I had sex with his friends, older men inviting me to their house when I was 12, 13 years old. It all happened."
At age 16, Nicole started dating, a boy who, like her, was abused and dealt with various family issues. It was the first boyfriend she shared the personal issues of her trauma, Nicole says she became emotionally attached to her boyfriend and ended up being together for more than 4 years.
“As he drank a lot, he hit me once for two hours and I ended up in the hospital because my brain swelled and I had to be under observation to make sure there were no sequels. I was completely destroyed. It was a very intense moment and when I got home, it was my mother's birthday. I remember that she simply said she was going to travel and said bye, she didn't say anything about my injuries."
Talking about her traumas and sharing her stories made the weight less heavier and the feeling of "carrying a secret" disappeared, so Nicole is in favor of sharing and talking about her traumas.
“I think I would rather have gone through all this hell and be aware that I have the power to talk to other women about it and help other people. I think about it a lot, regardless of the situation that any woman, person, is in, there is something to be done. This pain can become art, photography."
Like other women in vulnerable situations who need to go to the police station, Nicole shares frustrating stories about her interactions with police officers when asking for help.
“Every time I went to the woman's police station I was attended by a man, and the last one who answered asked me what my religion was and I said:
- I believe in aliens.
What a pain. What does religion have with the rape that I suffered? With my report?
A woman at the police station asked if I had lost my virginity to my uncle, but no, I was raped by my uncle at the age of 8."
Religions aside, one of the things that helped Nicole feel better and served as a hiding place for her abuser, was the bathroom.
“When I was abused I used to hide in my uncle's bathroom, I used to take a shower and then I used to stay there. I was there for nothing, I would stay there all day. But after a while he started to open the bathroom door and it was no longer safe."
Upon arriving in New York and having her first bath, Nicole created the “My Bath Tub” project.
“I started to bring people to my bathtub, to my protection place and it was then that I started associating several things: that the bathtub is like a round thing, which has a similarity to the uterus, you know?! A welcoming place. And it's a personal space, where you take a shower, you clean yourself, a place where you can do whatever you want and that's what I did, I opened my bathtub for people. I told my story, prepared a bath for people, they could pose there, do whatever they wanted, and several times, the people in my bathtub told me stories of abuse they had suffered. There are a lot of people like that."
Seeing people for what they are in their bathtub, stripped of vanities and masks, made Nicole starts a process of internal healing of her insecurities, with her body, with her history, always using photography as therapy.
“My mom tried to end my project in the bathtub too, she cut off the water, called the police, said I was doing pornography and I put her in court, and I won, because you can't call art simply pornography. I hired a water truck twice, pinned with papers and wrote in my whole house saying that I had been raped.
I did an exhibition in Brazil, with My Bath Tub project, but the first exhibition ever was in the USA, and I also have a photography book called: EU´s."
Everything Nicole experienced had a great power in transforming her self-image and how she sees her story today.
“I see myself as a very powerful woman, I see my story as being very incredible, I am very proud of the child that I was, that I understood at such young age that it was wrong and that I got to where I am after all these things that happened. I value my strength and my history."
“When we go through so many difficult things we get to understand each other better and we learn how to listen each other. We learn how to talk less and better listen and I believe that, in some way, that was very positive. At the end of the day I am very accomplished, I cannot imagine myself in another way.”
During the project “My Bath Tub” Nicole realized the concern that people had with their body, how they were going to appear and how the photos were digital, people requested a lot of Photoshop.
“People wanted and expected a fake image, it was then that, at Christmas I got a Polaroid and I thought about using it to make the photos, because there is no editing, you take the photo and 5 minutes later we reveal the photo and I was in love because of that. I try to de-sexualize the female body , because women end up being products for men and my photos are for girls if they like it, if they feel powerful like goddesses. I started to realize that girls were always portrayed in a vulnerable way, looking down, shy, faceless, even more so in naked pictures. That's when I started to do the opposite, asking them to look at me and putting the focus on the face."
Living in New York brought possibilities, models of all places, of all sizes.
“Most of the girls who come to me are because they broke up a relationship or have a problem with self-esteem, you know. There are girls that the first time they put open up their hearts was with me. I have a friend who says she didn't even have sex without taking off her bra and after the photos with me she gave it a chance. And I think it's very important that you feel beautiful. Polaroid is very important because it has no editing and you like it right now, it is like a surprise for anyone."
Nicole's struggle to find her place in the world, brought a mission to help other women, who for some reason may feel oppressed or unhappy, to find the real beauty of their bodies, without sexualization, but with the natural beauty of feminine and of the curves of the human body.
Nicole Batista is a photographer and lives in NYC.
She was responsible for the photos of Luiza Tojer in this exhibition.
As a polaroid photographer, Nicole does an incredible and empowering job on women through her images.
If you want to know a little more about her work, see the My Bath Tub project mentioned here or even hire her: