Queer illustrator Hilde Atalanta from THE VULVA GALLERY // Interview

Hilde Atalanta is an illustrator and painter, living and working in Amsterdam. They love making portraits and working in different styles. They mainly work with watercolour, gouache, acrylic paint and recently Hilde started working with oil paint too.

Hilde’s work revolves around gender identity, sexuality and inclusivity. In their work they like to play with gender expression, many of the androgynous characters they paint are based on female models and their appearance tends to have a softness and vulnerability in it.

Besides making portraits, Hilde runs on two other projects. With The Vulva Gallery (@the.vulva.gallery) they focus on body positivity and sexual health education. With You’ re Welcome Club (@yourewelcomeclub) they focus on body diversity, positivity and inclusivity. 

When did you first decided you wanted to create queer art?

I started working as an illustrator a little over four years ago. It was never a conscious choice to create queer art; I guess it just happened automatically. For me being a queer and non binary illustrator does inspire my work, and my work is partly autobiographical and based on the queer community I’m surrounded with. 

You’re Welcome Club is an illustrational project in which I’m celebrating diversity by showing individuals with different kinds of backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities and body shapes. I’m aiming to make a series of illustrations in which people recognise themselves, and I’m putting an emphasis on individuals that aren’t often portrayed.

I want people to feel welcome, included, and to know that they belong in our society just as much as everybody else.

With your projects and your illustrations, you spread positivity and self love, but are there any topics that really piss you off and you find hard to talk about in a “positive” way?

I guess all topics related to stigma can be challenging; although these are the topics I do like talking about in my work. For me a negative or explicit critical tone doesn’t usually work well, it doesn’t match the way I think. Even with the difficult topics I’m touching upon I like using a positive and encouraging tone, it’s just a way of approaching that works well for me.

Positive affirmations have always helped me grow and develop, so I guess that’s a tone of voice that just comes naturally. 

When you first began to envision how you were going to put together The Vulva Gallery, did you know that you wanted to include personal stories along with your illustrations?

When I first started The Vulva Gallery I based the illustrations on what I knew about vulva anatomy, and created variations on that. I soon realised that I needed more inspiration, so I started looking for imagery online.

About a year after I started The Vulva Gallery I started receiving messages from individuals who wanted to have their vulva portrait painted and share some words about how they relate to their vulva.

I realised that this was actually a really good idea; after all, seeing a vulva portrait (of a vulva similar to yours) by a real person and hearing how they came to accept their vulva can be immensely inspiring and comforting. So I started sharing personal portraits and stories and the response has been amazing. I’m receiving dozens of messages every week from individuals from all around the world who want to become part of the gallery and share their story with the community.

I’m painting all portraits based on photos, shared with me by individuals from all around the world.

Just like labia, penises come in all shapes and sizes. Why did you not choose to create a “penis gallery”?

You’re right, there’s as much variety in penis shape and size as there is in vulvas. And around the topic of penis diversity there’s a lot of stigma too; I think people would definitely benefit from a Penis Gallery too.

I chose to dedicate myself to creating a vulva gallery as the vulva has been historically shamed and stigmatised, and for centuries people with vulvas have been told to hide their genitalia, not explore their sexuality and save themselves for men. Until recently, vulva-related topics have been rarely spoken about, and vulvar and clitoral anatomy still isn’t included in many text books.

I want to create a space where we can work together to break this taboo, learn about this important part of our bodies and speak freely about our vulva-related experiences. 

How can you be so accurate in the captions of your posts? Do you do a lot of research by yourself on the issue or did you study anatomy, psychology, gynecology?

I studied psychology at the university of Amsterdam, and followed a sexology course. I’ve always been very interested in topics around sexuality, so I’ve done a lot of research by myself too. And when I was writing my book, A Celebration of Vulva Diversity, I’ve spoken to a lot of sexual health professionals who shared their experiences with me. 

Hilde Atalanta