Let’s Talk About Our Feelings
by Anney Bounpraseuth
I remember in the early 90s my sister and I would spend our post-school afternoons with the babysitter while my self-sacrificing mother was sewing away in her makeshift clothing factory-cum-garden shed for a measly five cents a garment. Amongst other things I won’t elaborate on, we were raised in a fundamentalist religion, so our childhood was far from ideal. In fact, it was incredibly sheltered and characterised by extreme loneliness and sometimes physical and emotional abuse. Our babysitter was none other than Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah became ike a second mother to me, teaching me things like the transformative power of the makeover, home decor on a budget, low-fat eating and the therapeutic release of a good old sook. When the general consensus was to “Get over it” or “Suck it up”, Oprah gave people permission to talk about their feelings and “Let it all out”, turning it into a lucrative business empire in the process.
The perception of public confession and outward displays of grief (also known as ‘Oprahfication’), can incite empathy, discomfort or disdain on the richter scale of human emotional responses. Oprah’s minions revere her as someone who has successfully transcended personal hardships such as poverty, discrimination, abandonment and sexual abuse, while empowering others to follow suit. She’s an almost Christ-like figure who genuinely cares, having been there and done that herself, you could say. Others however, see her as this overemotional egomaniac – “I’m a bleeding heart and it’s all about me and my feelings!”.
I wanted to explore this polarising Oprah dichotomy in a watercolour series depicting her in various states of emotional meltdown. Watercolour obviously has this beautiful emotional quality to it, reminiscent of painting with coloured tears … from a unicorn … frolicking in a meadow … of carnations … to Celine Dion. I borrowed the title of this series from The Western or ‘Wailing’ Wall in Jerusalem, where predominantly male Jews gather to publicly vent their grief and pray for divine intervention. There’s something very awkward and humiliating yet vulnerable and touching about open displays of grief.
By portraying Oprah – who is regarded as a highly influential spiritual leader and cult figure of self-help and self-improvement – at her “hot mess” worst, my intention was simply to humanize her.
The reality is, we’re all just as messed up as each other and trying to do the best we can to make sense of it all and keep it together. Scratch the surface of any of our heroes and you’ll find some emotional baggage. Admit it, there’s a bit of Oprah in all of us. Oh the humanity of it all! Someone give a girl a hug and some tissues, please.
TALK SHOW (to be continued), MOP Projects, 2/39 Abercrombie St, Chippendale (NSW), until 8 September – mop.org.au