UNUM: Can you tell us a little about yourself and the inspiration behind Skin on Sundays? How did it begin?
JL: I studied a Master’s in Poetry when I was in my 20s – I’m 33 now – and that’s really when I began to consider myself a writer, that writing was not just a hobby. After that, I started moving around the world, working freelance jobs, and three years ago, when I lived in Barcelona, Skin on Sundays just happened. I was trying to figure out how to create a kind of poetry that is relevant outside of its niche community. It occurred to me to write my poetry on people’s skin, using the human form as a canvas for my words, since society has become so visually based. It quickly evolved, within a matter of about a month, into writing poems inspired by the canvases themselves, which created this special connection between the words and their canvases, tying everything together. In the process of all this, I — out of necessity — became a photographer. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too late to learn something new. I started Skin on Sundays when I was 30, with no photography skills whatsoever.
UNUM: Can you tell about some of the people you’ve worked with?
JL: When I began, I was writing on anyone who would let me; now that the project has grown, I have had the amazing opportunity to work with other creators of all kinds – activists, entrepreneurs, you name it. In October, I released a collab with Dr. Jessica Zucker, who began a powerful campaign on Instagram called @ihadamiscarriage to end the silencing of women who have gone through pregnancy loss. I wrote poems for and on 10 women about their experiences, and it opened my eyes to how prevalent this issue is, how suppressed, and how traumatic it can be. I didn’t know that before. Since this event took place in Los Angeles, we found a spectacular LA-based photographer @rebeccacoursey_photosandfilm to take all the pictures.
I also recently worked with several women in Houston – including @queenplusx, @bellamkay, and @curvy_glamazon – who are mainly plus-size models using their platforms to lift people up and end fat shaming. It was inspiring to be around women who are so supportive and strong and confident, not just online, but in person. That spirit is felt simply being around them, and it is contagious.
I live in Mexico City now, and I do lots of collabs with Mexico City photographer and videographer @eder_cz. His work spans from artistic to special effects to documentary, and he has taught me so much. I did an episode with the owner of a lingerie boutique here, @amorami_mx, and Eder shot that, and made a beautiful little video. He also helped me create an episode and video from a poem in my upcoming book, which I wrote on a local influencer here, @bubuslubus.
And I had the pleasure of writing for and on Latin pop sensation @raquelsofia. She’s from Puerto Rico, and she’s nominated for a Latin Grammy this year. All that power you hear in her voice when she sings – she’s got that powerful spirit just hanging out with her, too.
I’ve done so many collabs, and I love it. I’m excited to keep this momentum going. I’ve got some in the works with musicians, illustrators and other body artists.
UNUM: How has this project affected you personally and the people you’ve worked with?
JL: Poetry is generally a super personal art form. You write about yourself, for the most part. Or at least that’s what I’ve seen and done. Now, with Skin on Sundays, I write for other people. It’s also for me, but the poems are gifts to them.
It’s been an interesting and meaningful journey learning how to write with someone else’s soul in mind. The project has made me acutely aware of the way we never know what is going on in someone’s world. You look at someone, and maybe you think, oh wow, you’re beautiful, you’re successful, and then they tell you something they hate about their body, or don’t want in the photo. Or people tell you about mental illnesses that plague them, and from the outside, it’s not visible. The project is so up-close-and-personal, I have to get all up in people’s business both physically and metaphysically, to write their poems.
I’ve always considered myself an extravert, but this has pushed me even further in that direction. There can’t really be shyness in Skin on Sundays. The point is being vulnerable, and vulnerability creating love and connection. My work is making people feel comfortable in their own skin, to make them feel beautiful and worthy of being in front of a camera, a piece of art, no matter who they are, no matter their size or color. I know they feel it, because many have told me, and expressed a kind of gratitude that has made me cry. I never would have imagined when I started this project to have that kind of impact. It’s beautiful and invigorating.
UNUM: What has been one of your proudest moments of this project?
JL: One of my canvases used to have an eating disorder for many years. She asked me to write on her to help in her effort of loving her body the way it is. She’s been one of my subjects many times now, and seeing how comfortable she is with her body now versus when I first wrote on her years ago is crazy. She told me Skin on Sundays has helped her so much with her body image, and I think about that often. It’s like the poetry has reached way outside of poetry into another part of the psyche. I’m so proud that this project can do that.
UNUM: What do you hope this project accomplishes? Is it the same thing now as it was in the beginning?
JL: At the beginning there was no plan. I was just a girl with an idea. Now, I use my voice to speak about things beyond the personal. While I think it is important to also create personal narratives, in that, there are larger narratives, issues that I can use the project to raise awareness about. Gender and racial inequality are fights that won’t be over until they’re over, and those are huge causes I will use my voice for indefinitely. Another one is the stigma around mental illness, which is a destructive force in society. There are so many things to speak up about, and words can be quite powerful. I will be fighting with poetry in this project as it continues. It’s funny that I never imagined there would be such a social element in this when I began. What a perfect evolution.
UNUM: You have a book coming out next month; what words of wisdom do you have for anyone wanting to take the leap into their own projects?
JL: The book is not particularly based in Skin on Sundays, though the idea was a result of this mixed media life I’ve been leading since the project began. I collaborated with a brilliant artist from Barcelona, @claudiasahuquillo. The book is full of poems that are illustrated by Claudia, and it’s a coloring book for adults. I wanted it to be a source of calm. I wanted it to be interactive. I wanted to find another way my poetry could connect deeper with readers, but without me physically having to be there writing on their skin. I’m hoping the coloring creates that connection between my poems and their souls.
I would say, in terms of advice, just jump in. There are no rules except the ones you make for yourself. That’s the greatest part of creating your own project. The hardest part is starting, but you just figure it out as you go. And the direction, you don’t need to know where it’s going. You just have to go with it. This coloring book is a far branch off of Skin on Sundays, but they’re still related somehow. Claudia is also a body artist like me; she paints on people. There are all these little connections, and since I’m the one making the rules, I can do that, a side project that is as related or not related as I want it to be. It’s called Seasons of Yourself, and it will be out in early December.
UNUM: How can others contact you or get involved?
JL: Just write to me on Instagram! I travel a lot, so it’s not impossible that I could come to you. Or if you come to Mexico City, definitely reach out. I love meeting new people and involving them with Skin on Sundays. It’s a big part of the joy in this project, the human connection that it creates.
Jessica is the creator of the multimedia project Skin on Sundays, where poetry meets the human body as its canvas. Jessica loves the sea, hammocks strangers, and folktronic music billowing into her ears. She is based in Mexico City with her dog Luna, who has been her soulmate and travel partner for 11 years.
This interview has been edited for clarity