Warrior Woman, Vol. 4

Ytaelena Lopez

There was no plan, really. Sure, we’d talked all week about how the shoot would go: which location (beach or jungle?), what time of day (dawn, obviously), which props to use (a cow’s bleeding heart!), but, intuitively, I think both Yta and I knew that no plan could ever adequately prepare for her.  

So, at 1:30 a.m., just hours before our shoot on the night before we left Mexico, I stumbled through a pitch-black slice of Tulum’s tropical rainforest behind our host, Dante, in search of a machete at a nearby cabin. Yta — my boundless and inspiring artist friend whom I’ve known for 13 years — got barely three hours rest before throwing on her still-damp swimsuit and bagging the tools of her beloved trade: premium watercolors and a horse hair paint brush. 

Dawn came while we walked 300 or so yards to the shore, where the sun had already begun beaming its rays. But what took place over the next hour or two defied all of my expectations. Yta drew me out of my artistic process and into hers. 

I thought I would be the artist that day, directing Yta into poses in an effort to capture her vision of her warrior self, and it certainly started that way. But after a quick break to get the sun out of our eyes, the tables turned: Yta took out her paints and started to paint on herself. All of a sudden, my concerns about capturing the “perfect” shot vanished, and I set off to chase Yta’s imagination across the contours of her being. As she drew black and red lines along her body, new possibilities opened in front of my lens. “This is amazing,” I murmured to myself as I continued shooting. I was witnessing magic, tracking her progression from bush to sand to sea as she scrubbed off the paint with sand before rinsing in the waves, in triumph. I looked up, and time had slipped away, as if I’d fallen into a dream. Before I could process what had happened, it was done, and only the images remain.  

This series aims to explore and capture the profound beauty, intense passion and raw power of women. Each volume is a collaboration with a different woman, designed to reveal her vision of her warrior self in her own words. Meet Yta.

"Never, never, never let anyone call you 'crazy.' Especially in front of others (and this includes social media). This is one of the most common ways that men disqualify smart, outspoken women. We work hard, we follow the law, we vote, we pay our bills, we take care of our families. So why do you call us crazy?

"Innovation that comes from diversity can be perceived as a threat to those who hold the power in society. It is what I call 'the looming shadow of the other.' But, in this case, 'the other' has vaginas, breasts and can be your mother or your girlfriend. So calling us 'crazy' is the perfect way to invalidate us without casting us away." 

"In the end, our elections shape us as humans. When we surrender our will to the lure of the darkness to escape moral atonement, we just become tools of the terror, we just 'follow orders.' That is the sad paradox of totalitarianism: the annihilation of humanity within the man." 

"Some skills are tied to memories. I was writing poems at 6 years old. I ventured into short fiction at 7. I won a prize at 18. I did my first journalism gig at 19. I lost my voice at 30." 

"For me, writing is a way to give voice to those who are not with me anymore. But the words on paper become screams in the face of the horror Venezuela is immersed in right now. It is not about the random calls for help on the street overheard during amicable dinners among friends. It is not about your courageous friend being invited to a “talk” inside the basement of a military intelligence facility. Or the endless tales of hunger all around. It is about how useless I feel, unable to make a difference from far away, especially in another language.

Words became pain, and I had to stop writing them. 
I cut that branch off of myself and I prayed.
Then, art found me."

warrior_4_yta_rt_0039.jpg

“‘I like it when you’re silent, for you seem as if you’re gone,
and you hear me from afar, and my voice doesn’t touch you.
It seems as if your eyes had flown away from you —
it seems as if a kiss were sealing shut your mouth.’

“For Pablo Neruda, the author of this poem, and for those assholes who populate mainstream culture, smart women are attractive only when they don’t talk. It’s nonsense. I won’t silence myself for the comfort of others. I support my opinions with facts; I earned the right to voice my ideas and shape the world." 

 
 

"These pictures reflect a beautiful and ruthless version of myself. I see these pictures and I think: “God, who is this gorgeous woman?” At the same time, I feel restless, unable to accept a body that betrays my expectations. “Gosh, where did that belly come from? Why did you let yourself go?” My ego whispers with the voice of my family, my friends, social media, and even strangers who gaze at me with a conviction derived from almost impossible physical standards."

“Body positivity is a hard road. How can I keep preaching about self-acceptance while I feel vulnerable? It is the contradiction of the mirror. There is a discrepancy between what I feel and how I see myself. The fact is that the bumps on the road I traveled and my own choices have left scars upon my physical self." 

"Growth spurts are painful. They come when you do not expect them, on the darkest nights. It feels like someone is pulling your legs, literally. I know what I am talking about, after spending a couple of years in physical rehabilitation because my muscles did not grow at the same pace as my bones. Even now, sometimes my ankle twists at random and I almost fall down." 

"Emotional growth spurts can happen sometimes, too. Like when your sister and your cousin die the same week that you move to a new city with your new husband. The pain squeezes your heart so tight that you want to die alongside them, if only for a minute. Then the tears come and follow you everywhere — when you go to the park, when you buy groceries and even when you have sex." 

"Some scars are invisible, like the laser cuts nested in my womb, which fade with time like a bad dream. I carry the stretch marks on my belly with the pride of a mother warrior who won a war. I hide the hole of a mole removed in my scalp with my hair; when I touch it, it reminds me of the onerous C word. I flaunt my breasts while I can before they lose their war against gravity. I cannot hide my vanity, a silly souvenir of a Venezuela that is no more."

"No quiero que me quieran entender." (I don’t want people to want to understand me.)