‘I’ve always fought Instagram to free the nipple’

Artist Clíodhna Doherty reveals how she hopes to empower women with her nude portraits and why she’s backing the bid to stop online censorship of female bodies. By Deirdre Reynolds

Talented Clíodhna Doherty has found success with her natural portraits of women

Clíodhna Doherty with one of her natural portraits of women

Sunday World

During lockdown, Newry woman Clíodhna Doherty admits she found herself flooded with nudes. Thankfully not, as Magazine+ initially fears, from creeps sliding into the beautiful artist’s DMs — but rather from women from all over Ireland hoping for her to celebrate their naked body in all its glory on canvas.

Just a few years since picking up a palette professionally, the 27-year-old has already had a brush with success with her Intimacypaintings collection, capturing regular women in their natural state doing everyday things like painting their nails.

“In the beginning I found it very hard to get women to pose,” tells Clíodhna. “It was during Covid and, as you can imagine, when you type ‘naked female form’ into Google, heavily sexualised images appeared.

“Once people started seeing my work and understanding the meaning a bit more, it empowered women. Every day, I was receiving messages of women and their stories. I received something like 139 images of women up and down the country.

“The aim of the collection was to show women we all do the same small things naked. We paint our toenails, we have a bath, we get dressed and undressed, and some days we just chill around the house naked. It’s normalising the naked body without sexualising it.”

Although she grew up in a home bursting with creativity, the former teaching student initially went down a more secure path in life, before dropping out to go to art school.

“My mummy was an amazing artist and my granda a painter,” says the Belfast School of Art alumna. “So I was always encouraged from a young age to be creative.

Clíodhna Doherty with one of her natural portraits of women

“[At art school] what I loved about life drawing was that it was so peaceful — there was never any comment on the model’s body. The human body was just taken as a thing of art, not something that is hated because of media, religion or other social aspects.

“Honestly, it has been a whirlwind,” continues Clíodhna, whose vibrant portraits have names including Martina, Sorchaand Ali. “I could never imagine three years ago being where I am now. I am so blessed and full of gratitude towards the women who allowed me to paint them.

“The more we see of the female body, the less we think of it as an object purely for pleasure. We recognise it as a functioning body that can do so many amazing things.”

As well as promoting body positivity among women, the eco-conscious creative only uses vegan paints that last a century without fading, and organic linen and cotton canvas to safeguard Mother Earth too.

Getting her images to last on Instagram, however, is another story, as she tells how she has fallen foul of the social media site’s controversial ban on pictures of female nipples — but not male ones.

Backing the #FreeTheNipple campaign, which also has the celebrity support of Naomi Campbell and Emily Ratajkowski, Clíodhna reveals: “This is something I have been fighting against since the beginning.

“I have been reported, blocked and shadow-banned on Instagram — all because my art shows the female nipple. It’s something I really can’t wrap my head around; I don’t see the difference. Some people find the male chest attractive, yet it isn’t banned?

“I would love to see this lifted, especially for creatives.”

And the figurative artist vows to continue to challenge the ‘male gaze’ with her upcoming winter project, Renaissance, reimagining some of history’s most iconic images through female eyes.

“Most of the artwork you see hanging in galleries of females are mainly painted by men,” she says. “Basically any naked portrait you see has been painted by a man, mainly for the pleasure of men.

“I want to try change that, to make women feel like they are being painted in a way that represents them — not how they are expected to be represented.”

Having beautifully captured dozens of fellow females of all shapes and sizes, Clíodhna explains how posing for a nude portrait is top of her own bucket list.

“I have never actually sat myself,” she says. “It is something I would absolutely love to do.

“The message I want people to take away from my work is: be true to your authentic self. Love your body the way you want to be loved — and don’t worry about what other people think.”

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