Cheeky Ingelosi - A Girl Called Melancholy
Cheeky Ingelosi, a.k.a Janelia Mould, is a talented self-taught conceptual photographer and digital artist from South Africa. The images chosen for this post are all a part of a series which looks at her personal experience with mental health issues, in particular, depression. Because this series of work is so directed, I took the unusual step of contacting her beforehand, and I offered her the opportunity to read the post before it was finished in case there was anything she would like to say or add. Thankfully, she only said nice things and mentioned she'd been able to gain more insight. When I first came across Janelia's work, I felt no hesitation in my desire to explore her images in a more meaningful way. Whilst these images are talking about aspects of depression, I didn't find them depressing in any way. All quotes given here accompanied the original image postings on Facebook.
"From the outside looking in, it's hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it's hard to explain."
We have a bunch of dried but dead flowers standing on what looks to be an old rusty can. The female figure wears a modest white nightie. The left arm and the majority of the upper body are missing, and she is hung on a coat rack with a coat-hanger. One shoe on and one shoe off; the left is discarded on the floor. Are the dead flowers a sign of an aspect of life which has died? Does the single shoe-clad foot tell us there is at least a small part which is still capable of walking forward? The right-hand could easily take the hanger off the hook; does this suggest a possibility of self-help? Does she need to take herself off the hook? Is there an element of experiencing either guilt or shame here? Does the sleepwear suggest a desire to rest? Over-sleeping or the overwhelming desire to sleep is a well-known indicator of depression, but does the shoe represent an awareness or acknowledgement of the desire to get back out there? Or is the shoe the clue which tells us there is guilt around not being able to get out and about and participate in the world? In the land of woo, the left side of the body is frequently referred to as the feminine side, and the right rules the masculine. If we take that into account, this image is saying the issue is with the feminine side of the personality. Taking a leap of faith into the realm of possibility, does this suggest an underlying issue with the female identity? What I mean is, does an identification with this image point to an issue with uncertainty in regards to one's role or image as a woman? I'm wondering if there is any fuel left in the red can. Red being symbolic of blood, and therefore life-force, is potentially a good sign. Symbolically, it shows the ability to store extra energy which can be used if regular supplies run out.
"Its feeling like you've lost something but having no clue when or where you last had it. Then one day you realize what you lost is yourself."
We have the same foot in a shoe, and the other is in a suitcase. Old photographs are laid out to the side and a black cat sits on the grass. Torso and head are missing; is there a reference here to a lack of feeling, or is the majority of her being simply elsewhere...somewhere, perhaps, that her mind has taken her? Is the suitcase an acknowledgement of being on a journey? I find it interesting the missing shoe is actually in the suitcase; this suggests a certain amount of conscious awareness that it is indeed only a part of the person who has gone off on a jaunt somewhere. Bearing in mind this series is a deliberate attempt to understand and express a difficult time in life, I would suggest a knowingness on the part of the photographer that a split has occurred. This could be an important clue to the perspective held - the difference between knowing the self is made up of many different aspects, rather than over-identifying with only one aspect of the self and ignoring the complexity of character. The black cat is traditionally a symbol of intuition, its presence in the image is suggesting access to the unspoken, a sensitive nature perhaps, or maybe that information is being picked up intuitively. The old photographs are suggestive not just of memory, but of history. I suppose the question here is, are your memories helping or hindering your recovery of self?
"Maybe we feel empty because we leave pieces of ourselves in everything we used to love."
I wrote about hair in an earlier post about Rapunzel here, yet in this image, she isn't sitting in any kind of tower. It's a little bizarre because the head is completely missing, yet she holds the hair in her right hand. Again, there is a subtle drawing of attention to left and right..the scissors are in her left, is this a reference to the feminine side cutting away the masculine? If hair is said to represent our strength and status, Maybe there's a simpler explanation, and the photographer herself is left-handed? Either way, the suggestion is a cutting away of strength. The tidy plait would suggest attention has been given to appearance, and yet that's the bit which has been cut off. Does the absence of footwear suggest an inability or a lack of desire to walk among the "regular people" of society? Or maybe it's a feeling of wanting (or needing) to be closer to nature, or a simpler way of living? Being out in natural surroundings can certainly be grounding, and it's frequently recommended as a tool for healing if you're spaced out and feeling disconnected. The loudest message here is that the body, the more primitive aspects of self, wants one thing and the mind wants another. The body is clearly winning. This shouldn't be a problem, although society has its own ideas about what we should and should not be doing. The message here is a desire to simplify the life. A retreat from the daily grind may be necessary. Taking a closer look at the quote, was the head disconnected after a painful loss? I can more than identify with the desire to stop thinking about someone if it produces painful memories.
"Why can't I try on different lives, like dresses, to see which one fits best?"
I really like this particular image because it can be read in a couple of different ways. The first is, of course, a sense of feeling hung out to dry. Another way of approaching the image would be to look more closely at the highlighted item of clothing. The dress is the most obvious piece of outerwear which could hint that there's an issue of being hung-up on appearance, or possibly identity. At a basic level of interpretation, birds are usually symbolic of the social self because they're not loners, and unless they're a bird of prey, they're usually in large groups. The quote by Sylvia Plath is an appropriate question and shoves the interpretation of the dress towards identity. Is there a message here that some of us have an inability to be social because we haven't found our flock? It's no crime to struggle with a sense of identity; all that shit is man-made and can cause as many problems as it solves. Two things now come to mind; the first is there has to be an awareness at some level that the external identity is indeed self-created, the second is other peoples expectations of consistency. Other people, especially those closest, can be incredibly oppressive when it comes to deciding on a change of outward persona. This is rarely a conscious act on their part; it's just humans being humans. It's easy enough to feel scared when someone changes because change will often bring loss. Unless the person changing is a complete arsehole, we probably won't want to lose them. When it comes to trying on different lives, people get left behind...
"Somebody asked me if I knew you. A million memories flashed through my mind, I just smiled and said: 'I used to'."
An extremely feminine dress, yet barefoot. Despite missing her head, she holds up a hand mirror. Pine cones litter the floor. The picture to the left could easily be misinterpreted as representing an aspect of vanity, yet I don't think it's saying anything of the sort. To me, it shows how some us can struggle with identity; we simply don't see who we are. The missing face could also be an indication of an inability to self-reflect in a productive way. The pine is an evergreen and as such represents immortality. Pine cones are rich in symbolism to a number of religious and spiritual doctrines. If I take the commonly accepted meanings, their presence in the image symbolises not only a period of enlightenment but a promise of growth for the future. The quote is an interesting one when read in context with the image because it refers to the self rather than someone else. Does the image represent the search for the self? Again, we see the body out in nature. Is there a hidden reference to the nature versus nurture debate? Or maybe some kind of argument between what feels natural and what doesn't? Or is there a suggestion of trying to find oneself in nature?
"Some days, I feel everything at once. Other days, I feel nothing at all. I don’t know what’s worse ― drowning beneath the waves, or dying from the thirst."
Another favourite of mine; I love the pink-red hues on either side of the road. You could almost miss the owl sitting on top of the umbrella, but there's no chance of overlooking the rain coming down on the inside. The whole body is present with only the head missing...is this a reference to when the body is physically present, but the mind is far away? Is the sadness, indicated by the rain, felt most strongly in the body? Does the absence of the head suggest thoughts are not the problem here; that the origin of the sadness is deeply rooted in the body? Standing in the puddle says the rain has been coming down for some time, although the lack of shoes tells me there is a need to connect with the feelings as closely as possible. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I have a slight mistrust of umbrellas due to the limited protection they offer. In this image, the umbrella could almost be seen as part of the problem - does this translate as something which is normally used as a shield is a source of attack? The owl sits on top of the umbrella which could be interpreted as a block between the self and available wisdom (the owl). Our so-called shields in life are most often a job, all kinds of relationships, as well as other things which offer respite; not just from the harshness of the daily grind but our normal human fears and insecurities. For instance, we might welcome a social life, but at the same time, it brings a whole host of problems if we're not comfortable being fake. The image could be referring to any situation, the picture has been created from a personal perspective, and it's being interpreted by another personal perspective - I need to leave it open enough for you to find your interpretation. What does it mean to you?
“I didn't want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that's really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you're so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”
Somehow, I feel this image is a little different to the others. The mattress in the open space can be saying there are things missing which are needed to provide physical comfort and emotional security. There's an indication of a lack of feeling protected at a time when we're normally able to be at our most secure. The appearance of spiders can mean a multitude of things. A more common (and easier) interpretation is that of a need to weave a story for oneself. The complicated approach would be to interpret the whole myth of Arachne, the skilled weaver who pissed off the not-so-nice-Goddess Athena. With at least three versions to choose from the basics are; Arachne was caught bragging about her abilities and ended up in a contest with Athena. Arachne chose to weave a scene depicting the Gods in a whole host of embarrassing incidents. Athena took the hump at her creation and turned her into a spider. Back on planet reality, the Gods can be represented by government, parents, social norms, and anything else which imposes rules and regulations on an individual. The head is still missing, and again I get the impression this is about feelings in the body, rather than thoughts in the mind. The rocks could be symbolic of the connection to the Great symbolic mother, the aspects of the psyche handed down through the maternal bloodline which can be used to build strong foundations for the future.
“It’s not always the tears that measure the pain, sometimes it’s the smile we fake.”
The dress is a little different here; it's almost like a maid's outfit but the material is shiny and could be one to hit the town in. The right arm is missing along with the head: In earlier pictures, it was the left side which was absent. If the left side represents the female and the right is male, there may be an unconscious identification that it's the feminine self which puts on the false face. The expectation to look pretty and smile is said to be implicit within many societies; the term resting bitch-face is used with a sardonic tone by women who commonly fail to live up to such expectations. I certainly lost count of the times I've been told to cheer up love it might never happen and not been remotely depressed at the time. It took a few years of life before I realised how presumptuous and offensive it is for anyone to assume we should all be walking around with a Pollyanna-like demeanour. We're still barefoot; we still have the desire to connect with what is natural but running the risk here of standing on something which will hurt. There is the implication of needing to protect the sole/soul if steps are to be taken in any direction.
"And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in."
The image above is my absolute favourite. What I love about it the most is the presence of the snail; as it sits in place of the missing upper body and head, it's positively screaming that something is taking forever, it's going at a snail's pace. Everything in the room is decaying; the makeshift bed is no more than what looks like an old door. The broken window suggests there is work to be done on perspective; the personal view may be partially obscured. Perspective is closely aligned with belief, and the broken window could point to a time when personal beliefs were shattered. The fact some of the glass has been boarded up says the old damage is making it difficult to see everything which is outside of that room. The snail is a great indication of needing to be patient; in place of the head, it could be showing thoughts being contained, but the container is fragile, and there might be a need to stay away from people who wear heavy boots and don't keep an eye on where they're putting their feet.
Looking at the collection as a whole makes it easier to see the major themes running through this series of images. What stands out for me is the consistency of the missing parts, most noticeably the head. In a way, this makes it easier for others to identify with the message, but it could also be saying that none of this is personal. What I mean by that is, the human condition of depression is not personal. It doesn't seek its sufferers out, and those who suffer with it are not asking to be afflicted. Depression doesn't arise from being in the wrong relationship or the wrong job, although these could certainly be aggravating factors for some. Maybe most importantly, throughout this series of images, there are signs of hope and positivity; the fuel can in It's Complicated, the black cat in Withering Away, the pine cones in Forgotten, the owl in Barren, the rocks in Jaded, and the snail in Isolation. I do get the impression the so-called feminine side or expectations around being a woman, are at odds with what feels natural. The missing head can be an indicator of being disconnected and even a deliberate attempt to shut out thought and memory. Interestingly, the mind - symbolically speaking, is often referred to as masculine, whereas the body is feminine. I feel I need to point out that I don't think thoughts are a problem here. No amount of positive thinking is going to make a difference. But, I do wonder about the other side to all of this; is there an over-identification with the feminine and therefore a need to embrace the more masculine traits? Or is the masculine self just fine and dandy and it's the feminine-self which needs to be worked on? Is the body trying to tell the mind what's going on, only to have the mind shut it off completely?
A final note: I've chosen these images deliberately to fit my own agenda in regards to a specific theme. These are no more than fragments of a complex picture, and that picture is not shown in its entirety here. My interpretations may be far removed from Cheeky Ingelosi's ideas, intentions and impressions; what is offered here are suggestions as to why us, the viewer, may be drawn to these images.