How do you draw guilt and shame?
Figure 1 Zino Loci #1 ‘Guilt + Shame’ (2023)
Zino Loci #1 can be seen in full here: https://youtu.be/-psaBGkEWa8
As the curator of the Zineopolis art zine collection at the University of Portsmouth, I also run an MA in Illustration. Our collection of art zines are self-published limited-edition publications on any theme, mostly made by artists or visual practitioners. We have over 500+ and use them as a valuable teaching and research resource in the School of Art, Design and Performance.
Zino Loci (Figure 1) came about through conversations between myself and Nicolas Verstappen, a colleague teaching in Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. We were planning a collaborative zine project that would allow artists to tackle the challenges of visually representing emotions. For example, how do you draw pain, jealousy or anxiety?
Through discussions we started talking about the feelings of ‘guilt’ related to art, the anxiety of missing deadlines or of not being good enough. The familiar background angst of the artist knowing a project needed attention then led us on to discuss ‘shame’ or the feeling of being ‘ashamed’, initially thinking about the embarrassment of creating poor work, mixed in with the feeling of disappointment, i.e., ‘Letting people down’.
Nicolas commented that for his students in Thailand, ‘shame’, especially bringing shame on your family, seemed much more of an issue than ‘guilt’ and we wanted to explore whether there was indeed a cultural difference at play – Western-guilt as opposed to Asian-shame.
We both invited our students and alumni to submit a single artwork or narrative sequence on the theme of either guilt or shame. The submissions were selected and curated to form the 36-page art zine Zino Loci. There was a wonderful diversity of artwork submitted and I will share a few examples of the published ones.
Figure 2 Illustration by Tim Clark
Tim Clark visualises ‘guilt’ as a tangible monster that must be carried on your back, a living burden that only you can see and feel (Figure 2). The illustration is playful, but the burden is real, heavy, and growing. Illustrative anthropomorphism, giving human characteristics to something intangible or animal, is a useful visualisation technique as it renders the invisible visible, we can now see the weight of the ‘guilt monster’ as the characters try and live their normal lives with it firmly attached.
Figure 3 Double-page spread by Nattacha Uthaiwat
Nattacha Uthaiwat illustrates a ‘day in the life’ two-page sequence where her father is lamenting that she’s not a boy (Figure 3). His blame slowly builds into her shame, that of being a girl. She writes “The most hurtful part of it comes from the family that lives with you and repeats those words again and again until the wound is too deep to be healed”. The sequence uses repetition as an illustrative technique with speech bubbles emphasising variations on ‘…if you were a boy’. The isolation of the small child in the final frame (bottom right) is heart-breaking as the speech bubble from her father reaches out from his panel across the frame divide and into her own personal space, as if she can hear his hurtful words wherever she is.
There were many different angles taken in the submissions for example, the shame of binge-eating, the shame of not socialising, the guilt of speaking harshly to animals, religious shame and guilt, gender shame, the guilt of shouting at family, the shame of crying, the guilt of work, the shame of the mid-life crisis car.
Figure 4 Illustration by Lloyd Jones
In many cases the guilt and shame became interwoven, feeding each other, rather than guilt (over an action) leading specifically to shame (feeling after an action). Visualisation techniques varied including a humorous response from Lloyd Jones ‘Haunted by my unfinished projects’ (Figure 4) illustrated as a spoof horror film poster.
Figure 5 Illustration by Joe Kolessedes (left) / Illustration by Wen Xue (right)
Wen Xue is studying MA Illustration at Portsmouth and has discussed social constraints and the expectations placed on women in China during tutorials. Her illustration (Figure 5 right) visualises the shame she feels she’s been fed by society as actual food. Interestingly in her illustration she’s force-feeding herself the shame rather than being-fed by others. She explains her illustration “Shame Shit! I have been fed by various social moral standards and self-moral standards since childhood. What kind of figure? what kind of role? What kind of talk? What kind of expression? Now I just want to say go away!”. There is palpable anger in this artwork that lays bare pent-up emotions that are now visible. Joe Kolessedes explored guilt and sexuality; he described his illustration (Figure 5 left) as a cartoon about male shame over repressed desires. In both cases Joe and Xue have used drawing as a tool to bring hidden thoughts and feelings into the open.
This is why I love illustration and drawing so much, it gives us the facility to visualise the invisible, we can give shape to emotions, fears, and desires. We can share personal stories, intimate moments, and give form to childhood experiences. Storytelling with images can create a space for difficult conversations in a way that words can’t. Illustrations give us room to add our own words.
For more on Zineopolis and zines:
- Zineopolis – http://zineopolis.blogspot.com/
- Batey, J. (2012). Art-zines-the self-publishing revolution: The zineopolis art-zine collection. International Journal of the Book, 9(4).
- Batey, J. (University of P., Verstappen, N. (Chulalongkorn U., & Scott, J. (2023). Zino Loci #1 Guilt + Shame (first). University of Portsmouth.
- Batey, J. C. (2020). Are You Okay?: Mental Health Narratives in Art Zines from the Zineopolis Collection. Information, Medium, and Society: Journal of Publishing Studies, 18(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.18848/2691-1507/CGP/v18i01/1-12
Dr Jac Batey, Associate Professor in Illustration, University of Portsmouth
Photo credit: Zino Loci #1 ‘Guilt + Shame’ (2023)
11th September 2023