In some of my previous work, and in two pieces of which I spoke briefly about in a previous issue of Mixed Mag (June 2021), I aimed to center my pieces around some of the main facets of my identity: my ancestry, my culture, my pride, and the aspects in which colonialism has disconnected me from them. This is still something I want to continue to explore with indigenous models, be they Inuit, Nahua, Yaghan: being young and Indigenous to the Americas in an increasingly “modern” world, one with militarized borders and the robot attack dogs from Black Mirror. But the very first thing I wanted to capture with my work however, first and foremost, was people feeling good about themselves, people feeling hot, empowered, and venomous.
However, I’ve found recently that some of my work centers on another aspect of my identity, one that is also debatably a product of colonialism: self image, sex, and guilt. While most of my pieces feature nudity, this is done to depict a raw state, and to celebrate body positivity in people who do not necessarily consider themselves models– or even photogenic. My first model for these images was in fact myself. There was never a direct connection in my mind between the nudity and sex per se. Maybe the right word to use here is sexuality? It took me a while to realize that the spidering and mutations I edit, while representing the strength of Earth’s inhabitants, can also represent the darkness of the human psyche– or what we consider to be dark. And what is dark about sex, or even just the human body? Our learned guilt surrounding them, guilt and shame that are taught and ingrained in us– especially in those of us raised in religions that negatively conflate consensual sex and morality, those of us taught to be ashamed of our bodies, and especially those of us who are not heterosexual or not cisgender. I started to joke to myself: You can leave Catholicism, but Catholic guilt stays with you. It was more than that though, and I knew it. These beings with arachnid anatomies represent to me empowerment and autonomy, divine feminine/ divine masculine/ divine two-spirit/ divine human, but they can also at times simultaneously represent their very opposite: shame, guilt, self hatred, and taboo. And when my mental health gets bad, I start hyper-focusing on this version, and it’s suddenly all I can see in my art.
Acknowledging and analyzing this view of my art (along with other things) helped me come to terms with the fact that I suspect I have a form of OCD, specifically one hinging on exaggerated morality, good energy vs. bad energy, and sexual guilt. This is often called Scrupulosity OCD, which is sometimes connected to religion, but not always. When I’m in an especially bad episode, in addition to it affecting my personal life, my art seemingly betrays me, the very art I use to express myself and portray positive archetypes. These obsessions, sensations of dread, and feelings of guilt, ironically affected my ability to even submit the original version of this piece of writing. I felt like the vibes were so bad in the original draft, that they could cause actual harm to anyone who read it. This motivated me to write a better version, and even to make a new art piece.
In other words, I regained motivation when I realized the solution was to balance out the perceived “negative” with the “positive.” So I went back through the photos from the shoot that produced the piece Mein Kruzifix (more info on that later), in search of good vibe ones. I found them: two photos where I remember the model surprised me by striking a few confident, feeling-himself poses out of nowhere. I got to editing; it became the positive counterpart. I titled it Kaluguran, a Tagalog word for love, pleasure and joy. The reasoning behind the titles, it’s worth noting, is that the model (who wishes to remain anonymous) is half Filipino and half German, and I have witnessed firsthand how he has struggled with his identity– something I related to.
The piece Mein Kruzifix is the one that I knew from the beginning would represent sexual guilt specifically, as well as other traumata. The idea of spider appendages covering a penis came to me in a type of vision one day this last September, during one of my lowest points. I knew it was the visual metaphor I needed to convey this concept, and that I had to make it for the sake of my art, even if it negatively affected me at times. After creating it, this piece became perhaps my most vulnerable one, so much so that I haven’t shown it to anyone until now. I thank the model for being willing to channel this energy and being the medium for my vision.
To conclude, we can simultaneously hold space for our trauma– religious, societal, sexual, developmental, or otherwise– and we can also choose to heal in whatever ways work for us. Looks can and likely will change over time, and that’s okay. An ex partner of mine once told me, “a person’s mental health is more important than their art.” And at the time I didn’t quite understand or agree, but now I do, and that is why I give myself the option to take breaks from creating, whenever I need them. (This is especially important in an era where we feel held captive by social media’s algorithms.) Giving myself these breaks and removing any perceived pressure to deliver, helps me greatly, and makes creating feel like something healthy again. It’s not always easy, but to me it is necessary. None of this is advisory per se, nor is it a uniform message. This is just a brief look into my own creative process through the lens of struggling with mental illness. If there is a conclusive moral from this, it is the following: The spider legs that restrain you, that you hide yourself with, can also be your wings.
Mateo Omar is a 22 year old artist and writer based in San Diego county, California. His work incorporates concepts of metamorphosis, psychology, sexuality, occultism, and ancestral roots.