Have you ever been strolling around an art gallery and seen a female nude with tattoos, or wearing lingerie? Probably not, but search the corners of the internet and you'll find plenty of images of women reclining in poses not that dissimilar from those on the gallery walls. The only difference is one is heralded as fine art and the other would be removed from Instagram faster than you could say 'selfie'.

Digital artist Vanessa Omoregie's CamGirls project explores the tensions between what's considered art and what's considered pornography when it comes to the representation of the female body. Originally conceived on Tumblr, CamGirls is a series of digital collages where self-submitted webcam images are imposed on top of classical works of art.

With CamGirls 2.0 launching this International Women's Day, I spoke to Vanessa about the new project, why the internet is the perfect platform for art, and her plans for the future.


Tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up in South London, I've been here my whole life, I studied fashion promotion at University of the Creative Arts and I did a fashion diploma at London College of Fashion. I've always been interested in digital presence, or digital culture and how technology works, that's how I started creating collages and platforms online.

You initially started the CamGirls project on Tumblr in 2013 and then you stopped for a while. Why relaunch now?

I was still at school when I launched CamGirls 1.0, I hadn't even gone to university yet so I was still very much learning about art practise and how to use things like Photoshop and InDesign. People kept asking me where it was going and I didn't even know the answers myself at that point. With this relaunch I've thought about new ways that this could work - now that I've had the space to grow my craft and think a bit more about digital art I can approach it with more clarity and direction. I've also taken it off Tumblr and built its own platform so that it's not just a Tumblr project anymore.

How did you come up with the idea?

There's all these pictures of women on the internet that are being made fun of, and women in general on the internet get made fun of all the time especially for taking selfies, and then there's hundreds of old paintings in museums and galleries that people put in such high regard, so I just wanted to explore that tension. The project started on Tumblr with this community of young girls and women that like taking selfies and expressing themselves on the internet, and it was a space for them to celebrate their bodies and not be made fun of. A lot of them were like 'my selfies are art now' and I was like 'yeah they are actually, they can be'! It's really growing now into a space where it's even more about the community of people involved. Something I want to investigate further is women on the internet and how we exist online and how the internet can skew self-image and skew how we're seen.

So building a community is a big part of the project?

Yes, definitely. I don't want it to be about me as a voyeur making art out of these women - I want them to be involved in the project. The website will have a feature where people can subscribe and get updates on the project and reply to calls for submissions, it's very much an 'us' rather than a 'me' situation.

Would you say that it's more politicised now?

Definitely, everything I do is kind of political either by accident or on purpose, especially as this project seems to speak to women and people that are marginalised, so I definitely want to take that on board and have fun with it. I like making art, I like visual art, but at the same time I don't want to ignore the people that the art effects.

So why did you choose Renaissance art specifically?

It all started with a painting of Botticelli's Birth of Venus because it's a really strong image that everyone knows. She's just this fictional woman that all these men have fawned over for decades and I found that kind of fascinating. I wanted to take on something that was that poignant and that classical and just ruin it with this new media. I think it just felt like it was more effective that way, there's loads of amazing nude paintings from the 1900s but those were just the paintings that most interested me.

What is it about the internet that makes a good medium for art?

Art is so expensive, even just buying paint and materials and studio space, so the internet is a great space for someone like me who wants to make art and has loads of ideas but no where to put them. It's just so accessible. If you want to learn how to build a website you can just Google it and teach yourself or you can just set up a Tumblr page.

CamGirls is obviously a loaded term, why did you choose that term?

I just think it was a clear and simple way to talk about girls on the internet, I didn't want to separate it from what it was and create it into this conceptualised art project that people would feel disconnected from. I wanted to give it a name that everyone knew and people were familiar with, and people who are familiar with the word will feel like it's a space for them.

What was the response like when you first did a call for submissions?

A lot of people got it straight away and wanted to get involved and have fun with it, but it was also really scary because it was my first major art project and of course like anything that's public online it had a lot of criticism. I wasn't really the face of the project in that I didn't want to make it about me, so I think some people thought I was a guy taking all these pictures off the internet, stealing them, but it was actually just photos that people had submitted themselves and that was a core part of the project. At some point you just have to let it go, because I could spend all day responding to hate mail but I guess that would be a project in itself!

I can't believe you got hate mail!

Yeah, I think... I knew that men in feminist spaces can be obnoxious but I'd never felt it first hand. One guy messaged me multiple times asking me why he couldn't submit a picture of his girlfriend, and I told him if your girlfriend wants to submit her own picture then she can, but I can't accept it when I don't know where you got it from or if she had consented or whatever. It's just weird how guys want to be involved in absolutely everything even when it's not about them. They have the entire art world to explore but as soon as you create a space for women they want to take that as well.

So, what's in store for the future?

I'm starting with this website which will be an entire platform, with interviews and a video element. I want to move into doing video because I think some of the most magic moments are when you're trying to get the right angle on a selfie and it's awkward and funny and cute - that's what's fun about selfies, and that's why they're art because there's this weird moment between you and the computer - it's not even a person, but in that moment you treat it like a person. I also want to get immersed into the community and build the website into a public space, a platform to take this concept of women on the internet and just run with it.

CAMGIRLS 2.0 launches today (8th March) at The Alibi in London. It's free entry, so you've got no excuses. For more information, head here.