The Naked Issue – ‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’

With almost 25,000 likes on Facebook and a recent exhibition at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art in New York it’s hard to miss ‘The ‘I’m  Tired’ Project’.

A series of striking black and white photographs tell human stories that are far from skin deep. The resounding scrawls, ‘I’m tired of…’ physically depict the burden of prejudices faced in our daily lives that continuously go undocumented and ignored.

Whether it is race, gender, sexuality or body issues – anything and everything is represented in the uplifting project envisaged by creators Paula Akpan and Harriet Evans. Simply put on the projects Facebook and Tumblr pages as ‘a project aiming to highlight the significance and lasting impact of everyday micro-aggressions and stereotypes’, ‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’ is  a concept that shines in its complete sincerity.

Both just out of university, it’s hard to believe that Akpan and Evans have created a platform that is so brilliantly inclusive and accessible, a place where people from all walks of life can compassionately share their feelings void of judgment.

Only launching last June with ‘photo days’ with friends, the project has received over a hundred photo submissions, and attracted the attention of  the likes of The Metro, Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue.  Speaking to the Huffington Post, Akpan likened the project to creating ‘camaraderie’ – a network of strangers who feel like family.

The project is a feel-good testament to humanity – we’re all in this together. The message being that whether the struggle seems big or small, it’s always valid and should never be silenced. We all need our voices to be heard and ‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’ will never be tired of listening.

We caught up with one half of ‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’ Paula Akpan to hear just what makes the project so remarkable and what it’s got in store for the future.

So, firstly who is Paula Akpan?

I’m a 22 year old, sociology graduate from Nottingham. I graduated in July which was emotional and tragic. I’m currently working in PR as a junior account executive at Redbrook Communications and I also previously interned at a social media agency, Shake Social.

‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’ is buzzing on social media right now, but how would you describe it for a newbie?

It’s a photo project that incorporates the use of words and explanations. Each person that approaches us starts with a statement, ‘I’m tired of…’ to tackle the discriminations, stereotypes and assumptions of any part of their identity – whether it be gender, religion, race – anything basically.

We started out by inviting people to photo sessions but we soon started to get submissions from people all over the world – it was ridiculous! I’d even say that the majority of photos we now post are taken by people themselves at home who’ve just followed our guidelines.

 And what inspired Harriet and yourself to start the project together?

I was struggling with feminism at university and basically asked Harriet for help. I identified as a feminist but with so many different factures, I just became so confused.

We started with a movement based on ‘Free the Nipple’ but obviously, as enthusiastic as people are, there’s also the fear of judgement from family, friends and potential employers. It was difficult to get it rolling.

We just wanted something that could provide anonymity whilst being inclusive.

So this issue for Typical Girls is ‘The Naked Issue’ – looking at bearing all of ourselves in the face of the constraints (normalized bullshit) of institutional structures – representing ourselves honestly and on our own terms.

The animosity you’ve created with only the backs of people shown encourages mutual openness. I feel like it eliminates all sense of preconceptions. Although, race through the colour of skin can be seen, there are no hints at people’s personalities, daily style or occupation etc.

 What did you aim with that?

You have no idea about that person – simply what they have allowed you to know about them. Each person thus holds a sense of power over their issues, even whilst exposing themselves to vulnerability.

The concept seems very similar to Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York – did that inspire you?

Yes. But ‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’ emphasizes anonymity.  Also with only the backs of people shown, it allows you simultaneously empathize and sympathize as you slot yourself into their positions.

So have you experienced any of the same issues raised?

Yes – there are submissions that articulate my own problems in ways I could never express. It just shows us all how intelligent and educated our world is. I am proud to post their words and create a discussion.

Have you received personal messages about how the project has helped people in their own lives?

Yes, definitely. One of the most memorable was when some-one messaged us saying that the project had encouraged them to seek counselling. Their psychiatrist found the project to be similar to a support network that allowed them to see that they weren’t alone with their troubles. It was incredibly touching – I almost started crying at work!

Another post about miscarriages was extraordinary. A community of women who had lost their children or had had still births was instantly created by that one submission. As each comment rolled in it became emotional to see the reactions of the public.

‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’ had really become a forum for people to express themselves.

And have you received any negativity?

Oh yes! It’s expected when we’re posting something controversial that goes against the norms – there will always be people that criticize you. But, the positivity completely outweighs the trolls. We rather aim to spark up debate.

It’s fine if you disagree – at least you’re talking about issues and struggles are getting noticed.  

Needless to say, ‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’ has been incredibly successful so far. How did all the media attention start?

We approached the digital brand, Women You Should Know and they wrote an article on the project. It was a whirlwind after that. It was insane to know that publications that I love and respect were interested in us. I still struggle to comprehend everything- it’s on my CV!

We occasionally search the ‘I’m Tired’ hashtag on twitter and are always astounded to see the amount of reposts and tweets – there’s always something new. We’re so grateful to those who support us and even more so those who contributed their stories.

The recent exhibition at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art must have been amazing!

It was incredible. The gallery got in touch with us to feature for an exhibition called WORD (with mediums ranging from photography to spoken word). They then invited us out to take photographs with New York locals and do workshops with local high schools. We were there from the 19th – 26th February and then the exhibition begun on the 27th. Every moment was truly captivating.

So, what have you learnt since starting ‘The ‘I’m Tired’ Project’?

I’ve learnt that there are so many levels to each person’s identity. You can’t just bundle everyone into one category, saying for example, ‘oh black women – you all face the same problems!’

Harriet and I learn so much everyday with each submission, it’s fascinating to see and read the different things people have experienced.

We’re constantly being educated as the project continues. It’s a massive learning curve for us as well as the projects followers.

So, what has ‘The ‘I’m Tired Project’ got in store for the future?

We’re hoping to hold our own exhibition in London or Brighton where Harriet’s from. But to be honest, we haven’t got a solid plan- this went so much further than we ever thought it would! As far as I know, as the project continues to progress we’d like to move towards an educative stance with workshops and talks in schools and universities.

We need to educate people across the UK about the power of assumptions and just how much micro-aggressions can affect people in everyday life.

We wish you all the best!

 Printed in Typical Girls Mag Volume 2 – http://typicalgirlsmagzine.bigcartel.com/

 

 

 

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