By Alyssa Shapiro
When Texas native Deun Ivory won a grant from VSCO in 2018, it offered her a runway into a whole world of good. The interview and portrait project she began transformed into a 501c3 organization—now The Body: A Home for Love—through which she champions the celebration of Black women, encouraging them to heal from trauma through joy. "I believe that everything is working out in my favor," says Ivory. "And having that in the back of my mind allows me to navigate the world with so much confidence and boldness and assuredness, and I'm able to give other people permission to navigate the same way."
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How would you describe yourself?
I like to describe myself as God's daughter first, because that's what grounds me. And it's my foundation. And it's the driving force behind how I'm in the position I'm in right now, and why I do what I do. I would also consider myself to be a creative visionary. That's who I am at heart. I feel like God is always downloading ideas and visions to me around how to lead people, how to inspire people, and how to empower people. And I do that through art. I'm most known as a photographer, as an illustrator, as an art director, a designer… girl, just all the things. It's truly centered around serving marginalized communities, and creating beautiful spaces that affirm people who look like me and share my narratives and experiences.
Would you tell the story of the beginning of The Body: A Home for Love?
The Body: A Home for Love started as a visual storytelling series with a grant program that I had with VSCO in 2018—I was one of the first black women to receive a grant, which is amazing. I traveled the world for six months and interviewed black women who dealt with sexual trauma. And it was such a transformative experience, and it morphed into this beautiful 501c3 nonprofit organization that is truly shaping culture around how black women heal from sexual trauma. And we're committed to helping them heal through joy.
In another interview, you said, “As a woman of color, I feel that it is my responsibility to create a space where black women feel valued, affirmed and celebrated.” Can you speak about the community and the space that you've built through The Body?
It is important for me to create work that empowers and celebrates women who share my narrative and experiences, and through The Body, I've been able to channel that energy into something that's more purposeful because it's targeting something that we don't talk about, which is sexual abuse, sexual trauma, and the hyper-sexualization of black women. A lot of times when we talk about sexual trauma, it's very isolating, and we feel like we're guilty. And through The Body, I'm able to empower these women around their bodies and invalidate the belief that sexual trauma or sexual abuse is their fault.
Is there an aspect of community that you found through The Body that you find really helpful or special?
I kind of describe The Body: a Home for Love as the body of Christ; where you have this community of people who come together for the purpose of serving one another. I found the community that I didn't even know I needed. These women help me in so many different ways.
I'm sure it's tough to speak about so you can decline to answer, but if you’re open, what personal experiences led you to create The Body: A Home for Love? Some people shut down after trauma. What made you channel your energy into something positive?
Wow. I do feel like God led me to this point in my life. And it's wild because I deal with dissociation. And I am a survivor. My story, I guess goes way back...I'm very emotional when I talk about it because that part is just so gross...
it's not controlling my life anymore. And by the grace of God, I'm able to make more joy-filled decisions as opposed to trauma-informed decisions. So yeah, that's what I'm here. It was a need for women to know that those things are part of your story, but they're not your identity.
Thank you for sharing. Was there someone in your life or an experience that you had spiritually that led you to channel it positively?
I spent a lot of my childhood kind of isolated. I mean, yes, I had friends, but I carried all that and I didn't want to tell anyone what I was going through. It's my relationship with God truly, like that is my source of freedom and source of peace. And so having that relationship has been so transformative. I guess I became more spiritual. I realized that I didn't have to allow my past to control my future. I could reclaim my narrative, you know, reclaim my body, reclaim my story, and play, my joy, and help other women do the same.
Black women are often victim-blamed for their own assault. What false societal beliefs might we be unaware of?
A false narrative that I believe is being perpetuated within the black community is the fact that young black girls are bringing this unwanted attention to themselves from grown men. One of the issues that we have is hypersexualization because we're curvy. It's led to a lot of self-blame, to a lot of confusion, and just black girls kind of internalizing this idea that our bodies aren't ours.
My whole purpose with The Body: A Home for Love to kind of bring you back to an awareness that this is your safe space.
What power do you find in positive energy?
All of my power. Energy drives everything you do in life. For me, positivity is associated with faith. I believe wholeheartedly that everything is working out in my favor. And having that in the back of my mind allows me to navigate the world with so much confidence and boldness and assuredness, and I'm able to give other people permission to navigate the same way.
What are the most beautiful things about being a black woman?
I would say our resilience is just unparalleled. When you think about all the things we've gone through. We’ve been considered to be in last place in a lot of people's eyes, and we rise above that every single day.
I would say our sense of style, which is like effortless. The different hair. We just have so much confidence and this very divine feminine energy that's just inherent in just black women's DNA.
Imagery and visibility and seeing others like you in a space has such a big impact on how we view what's possible in the world. Do you think about that when making photos?
So when I'm documenting black women, it's a very intentional process because essentially you are tethering yourself to someone else's spirit. And you have the ability to reprogram the way they think about themselves. I have the power to do that through my lens, which I feel is extremely restorative. When I'm shooting with black women, I want them to know that they are absolutely brilliant, they're beautiful, they're purposeful, and that they're magical.
I make it about them, you know, and it's, it's also like this beautiful exchange of sisterhood. And there's a level of trust that I feel like is needed when you're going that intimate with another black woman and be like, oh, but being a black woman and shooting another black woman. To me, that's like the most insane thing ever.
What do you want to say through your photography?
I want to communicate that black women deserve to have beautiful experiences. We deserve to be at the forefront of a gorgeous aesthetic. And we deserve to feel celebrated and honored because we've gone through a lot. We're just as regal as everyone else.
It's so funny: I don't use the word models when I'm shooting them, I think because it adds on pressure around what they should look like, how small they should be. I like to call them muses. So with my muses, I just want them to walk away feeling just restored like having a breath of fresh air and feeling just a different way about how they perceive themselves. I feel like a lot of us are looking for permission to be who we are to feel beautiful.
What does it mean to you to be a beautiful person in how you live, in your energy, and your thoughts and actions?
I think that having the patience to sit with people and listen is how to be a beautiful person. Talking about trauma can be very triggering. I'm very mindful of creating a safe space for the other person. And that's not an easy thing to do. You can try to be as nice as possible and you still get it wrong. Listening to people and not meeting them with judgment, but offering just love and just a listening ear. That's been so instrumental and The Body: A Home for Love and how we're able to create space for women feel comfortable with sharing their stories, and also being vulnerable yourself. I mean, like I said, people are looking for permission and representation. So that started out by me sharing my story.
What advice would you give to someone who's trying to be there for someone who's experienced trauma?
Accept the fact that you may not have the answers, and just be willing to sit in that uncomfortable moment when they're sharing their story and you don't know what to say, because it's not about you. It's about them. And you just being there is enough. And a lot of times people don't feel like, you know, that's a generous offer, but it is because people need support. And it comes in different ways and being there as one of them.