Giselle Storm talks to artist Babbikat about embroidered pants, nude selfies and growing up. This is a badass woman you need on your radar…
Sam Stone (aka Babbikat) strides into the cafe we are meeting in, striking in an ornate safety-pinned choker, a simple black harness (both of which she’s made herself), and a white shirt with two simple hand embroidered naked women on the lapel. She immediately proclaims herself on the verge of a hangover and vanishes in search of a coffee.
Babbikat is a Bristol/London based artist who has just finished her latest project, Dirty Talk. It’s a zine and a range of hand embroidered underwear. Personally, when I think of embroidery the first thing that jumps to mind is old women, thimbles and roses on handkerchiefs, but Babbikat has changed the game. The underwear are of the baggy, white, distinctly ‘forgot your PE kit in primary school’ variety, and the embroidery, far from ornate roses and pretty flowers, are short, shocking quotes of things people have said to her during or after sex. The zine is a beautiful yet eerily nostalgic, oddly childlike, series of photos, almost completely devoid of any text beyond the simple writing on the underwear and the artistry of the images. Without words, it says a lot.
“I have always been someone that by necessity needs to overshare,” she explains to me, “if I don’t overshare then I just go stir crazy. I didn’t lose my virginity until really quite late, and then although I really enjoyed myself, had a very accelerated start, which had some negative experiences in it. So the quotes in the Dirty Talk zine, it’s five different quotes, from four different boys, of things said either during or after sex, ‘push through the pain’, that’s pretty bad. ‘Who even are you?’, ‘I’m not going to hurt you’, ‘I wish I was someone else’.”
The last one is suprising, perhaps, because it’s comparatively intimate. ‘”They were the only person that I actually dated seriously’ she tells me ‘and the only person that actually has two quotes in the Zine, they were quite a blue character. So immediately after sex they said “I wish I was someone else’ which is actually more funny if you pair it with the next line which was ‘I wish I was more like Stephen Fry”.
But this is the amazing thing about the Dirty Talk zine and the collection; it is so personal and so intimate, but at the same time it seems to resonate with so many other women’s equally intimate and private sexual experiences. “The weird thing is how much girls have clicked with it in a really exciting way, I didn’t realise it would actually mean stuff to other girls.” She explains, “It was just my personal experience, I didn’t really think that anybody else would give a shit. But I’ve had a lot of girls who have said ‘oh, I’ve gone through similar things’. I want people to connect, you know in a way when a song lyric is vague, it’s definitely not about your recent breakup with your recent boyfriend, but you think ‘oh god, it is’, and so that was why there were no words in Dirty Talk zine, I wanted the project to just be like a picture book because I think it is easier to connect without having the context of ‘this was one person nine months ago, and I met him from this, and then they said this, and all of that”.
But why did she choose embroidery as her medium, such a dated thing so interwoven with conventional ideas of femininity, and why specifically underwear?
“Because it’s done in stitching, it’s really interesting because it’s not pornographic, it’s three lines which are the curves of a body and some boobs, it’s really simple, but still really shocking as well, there’s still so much politics.” On her choice of underwear she muses, “I think because it’s so intimate, and that the point you would be seeing it is the point those quotes would be said. I think there’s also something weirdly naive about it, I was thinking about childish expectations of love and romance, and so that’s the slightly baggy white girls knickers from Tesco. It’s not a sexually liberated woman, it’s the slightly awkward girl who’s discovering sex for the first time, when you’re wearing those horrible baggy knickers. So I think that’s why so much of the imagery for it is about girlhood and naivety. As a child my expectations of love and sex were ridiculous. I really believed that I would meet one person that would fall madly in love with me and I would never be with anyone else, I was planning my wedding since I was six years old. Then, obviously, that was not the experience that I had, and so there’s kind of this disconnect, and part of the project was me trying to compare what actually happened versus what I expected to happen, and how I feel about that now.”
The zine itself reflects this childish naivety, “Dirty Talk is all photographed in my childhood home, it’s got the phone in it that I used when I was thirteen, I’m wearing a tiara, also I’m with my cat, Popcorn. At about eight years old my relationship with Popcorn was just me telling her about boys I fancied, and getting her opinion on them, like ‘nod once for this, don’t nod for that”.
Babbikat is driven, despite the idle and whimsical nature of the photography in the zine. Amongst her various side projects she is designing and embroidering a series of patches for band Girl Ray, and participating in a video project on female identity and featuring in an art show in Bristol later this month.
“I’m working on this series of napkins which have nude selfies embroidered onto them’ she explains, ‘a lot of my work has centred around female nudes, particularly nude selfies that I’ve taken of myself and then embroidered. I think because like a lot of girls I didn’t used to like my body a lot. I kind of viewed myself as this pudgy, lumpy, marshmallow creature. It took me several years to be like ‘oh, you’re that pudgy, marshmallow creature but you are also kind of sexy and curvy, and it’s kind of cool’ I think that taking images of myself that I actually really liked, and then using them as kind of an art form, that made me feel way more comfortable.’ And just like her underwear, Babbikat is all of us; I mean, we can all relate to those marshmallow days. Even just after one coffee, I feel as though I know her like a confidante.
Underwear seems an obviously sexual choice, but there’s something subversive in the way that Babbikat presents her collection. “I’ve really been thinking about the psychology of nude selfies, it’s weird as a young girl being aware of the young female body as a commodity, it’s odd owning something that you know can have that power and that sexuality. I find it weird, and interesting, thinking about my body as a commercial entity, when for me it’s just a practical thing of eating and sleeping and containing my brain.”
On the subject of commercialising our bodies I ask her whether she plans to sell the collection? “Not at the moment, but I may well do. At the moment I’m only selling Dirty Talk zine, but I think eventually I’m going to sell the pants as well, because it’s letting go of those experiences, if I hold on to it, what’s the point? Those memories don’t have a hold over me anymore.”
But, wouldn’t you feel weird, knowing that someone would be walking around with your personal intimate moment, embroidered on their vagina? “I would love that! I think I’m secretly, not even secretly, quite an exhibitionist, hence all the nude selfies, I’d really like that!”
Keep an eye out for Babbikats upcoming line Babbigang (think the powerpuff girls but with more harnesses and – in the most feminist use of the word – balls) and check out more of her work on Instagram @babbikat
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