Shyla grew up in the south, where doing something deemed “unladylike” or combative would lead to people telling her to “stop being ugly.” Looking at Shyla, with her bright blue hair, facial piercings and gothicly-inclined style, it’s not hard to see why she was often the target of criticism by southern conservatives. But that didn’t stop the fine artist from expressing herself. Instead, she took “Ugly Shyla” as a nickname, became an alternative model, and started making an army of “ugly dolls,” her fine art pieces that often represent feminist issues.
TRIGGER WARNING: Violence
Shyla has said that many of her pieces are inspired by female circumcision, the loss of children and domestic abuse. On her website, Shyla said, “I know what the purpose of me making some of these things is, sometimes it could be to make people face the horror of what something really is.” It is not hard to find these themes in her haunting pieces, which you can view by going to her online gallery, or viewing her Facebook page. Her piece Female Circumcision Shadow Box features a razor beside a mutilated vagina, juxtaposed by an ornate frame. The Accusatory Doll shows a grinning girl, seemingly happily, displaying a gaping wound on her shoulder.
“Hopefully somebody can see some of my work and relate to it, or feel better just knowing somebody somewhere is speaking up for anything,” said Shyla. “We live in a time when we have the most freedom and a large ability to be seen, but it’s also a time when we self-censor the most.” She explained that despite having freedom of speech, many people hold back to keep from offending others or being criticized themselves and that women, especially women in the art community, are notorious for this. “If you are female and state an opinion you will be more likely to be attacked for it. You can either let it make you go into a shell or say to hell with it and tackle it all head on.”
Another gripe Shyla has with the female art community is its diminutive size, when compared to the male art community. She explained that while there might be many female artists, it is rare that they become as famous as male artists or that their pieces or style are studied as extensively in schools.
“I think in some aspects there is still a bit of a glass ceiling for female artists,” she said. “I mean how many female visual artists can you get a girl under the age 20 in America to name? They can name ten fashion labels or makeup bloggers, but hardly any female visual artists.” Even though Shyla has nothing against mainstream fashion, she enjoys modeling herself in an alternative way. She believes that women would only benefit from knowing art history and the origins of fashion, and that this knowledge may encourage more women to pursue art.
It takes Shyla anywhere from a day to a few months to complete a piece, depending on if she is making something from scratch or making a “repaint,” which is when she makes over an already made doll. Besides dolls, Shyla also creates sculptures and jewelry, which can be purchased on her etsy shop or website.
On her Etsy shop, Shyla includes the meaning behind each piece in the description. The piece Yellowed, I Never Seem To Cry Much Anymore, a baby doll that looks like it has bright yellow mold growing from its face. The piece was made from a doll retrieved from Shyla’s house after it was destroyed during a tornado. In the description, Shyla writes that a tree was thrown into her house and landed inches from her sleeping head. Mother of Sorrow Self Portrait Death Mask, is a mask cast from Shyla’s own face. In the description, it says she made the mask after several family members and pets passed away.
Shyla started making her dolls when she was just 16 years old, the first being a doll for her mother, who collects strange dolls. Three years later she was creating art professionally. In that time, she has encountered many people, especially online, who think she is too out spoken. She has even received rape threats after asking strangers to leave her online pages alone. “I’m 35, so I’m old enough to remember a time when there was no internet,” she said. “Being female, I tend to observe what happens to not only myself, but other females online and in media. People will try and attack you out of the blue over anything and if you dare to tell them to piss off and cut it out, especially if they are male, they will go into a hysterical frenzy.”
“Feminist art helps to give a voice to people that could be marginalized and it forces people to have to acknowledge women as “real artist” in the artist community,” she went on. “It makes us, at times, a thorn in someone’s side, which can be a good thing and something that helps get things changed and done.”
While Shyla’s stained and mutilated dolls might not be considered conveniently beautiful, there is no denying that her work is intricate, both in meaning and method, and that Shyla has found her own form of beauty, one that doesn’t need to be acknowledged or defined by other people.
Photo credit: Megan Trosclair