Zoë Ligon, the self-proclaimed ‘Dildo Duchess,’ is a sex educator and visual artist currently residing in Detroit, Michigan. In addition, she is the founder of her own online sex toy shop, spectrumboutique.com.
Ligon’s art work consists of provocative and erotic scenes one might see in a vintage porn magazine, with one exception – her subjects likeness is completely carved out save for a thin outline of skin, leaving just enough to the imagination. In other pieces, she highlights the very details that entice, arouse and even amuse.
I started collaging when I was a senior in high school because I sucked at all other forms of visual art, and was desperately trying to express myself creatively. Initially, I used my dad’s Nat Geo collection to source material, but once I began toying with pin-up mags, and eventually porn mags, I realized that sexual art was much more exciting to create. Initially, I definitely was looking for attention. I thought, “Oh hey — people will pay attention to THIS because nudity freaks everyone out, right?” I guess I was correct. Attention whoring aside, collaging is also very meditative for me. It comes naturally to me, and I see it as a form of unwinding. Sometimes the pieces I create are like inside jokes with myself. I create a ridiculous story in my mind about what the original shoot that created the image was like, or sometimes I just find an image so odd or beautiful that I become personally fixated on the model as though I know them.
Do you have any formal training?
None. I went to Fordham University for Psychology, and never considered art school at any point. I would love to have more technical skills, however, mostly because I create my art haphazardly, and I’m sure there’s a way to make art with paper in a fortified manner.
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
It depends on a lot of factors; Am I stoned? Do I have a deadline? Am I trying to make ridiculously small and precise cuts in order to flex my X-acto skillz? It ranges from 30 minutes to several hours depending on these factors. What takes more time is selecting and purchasing the magazines I source images from, and then choosing which specific image to use. The process of acquiring materials is one of the most bizarre and enjoyable parts of my process. I mean, just imagine a young woman walking into a used book and magazine store packed to the gills with clutter in the suburbs of Detroit and making a beeline to the porn section. I always have strange interactions with the shop owners and they are often suspicious of my intentions because I spend hours at a time sifting through ancient porn stacks.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The process of exploring older print porn is honestly chock fulla inspiration. Just reading snippets of “sex advice for men” or some really shitty 80s erotica transports me to another time and place. While I often find this type of content problematic and often offensive, learning about the ways the sexuality has previously been depicted is incredibly intriguing for me and gives me a broader concept of the way other people have related to sexuality.
How does sexuality/nudity play a part in your work?
Well, I think a nude body is a work of art in and of itself. It’s not just the visual aspects and features of the body, it’s the way the body is posed and postured. I’ve had a body that’s been many different sizes throughout my lifetime, yet I’ve always felt sensual and beautiful in the nude regardless of whether my body fit the ideal of what a “beautiful” body is supposed to look like. My love of physical bodies certainly influences my art. However, it’s impossible to ignore the societal context of nudity. Nudity is forbidden, and if you’re nude in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can end up in jail or on a sex offenders list without doing anything besides being naked. Clearly our society views sex and nudity as offensive subject matters. So regardless of my specific intentions, I think that all artwork depicting nudity and sexuality is combatting the negative stigma towards those subject matters, even if the piece is a criticism of sex and nudity.
How do you challenge yourself to grow and stay creative?
I like to put myself in situations that make me nervous or uncomfortable, but are for a higher good. I spend a lot of time hanging out one-on-one with people who are nearly strangers to me, and getting to know what they’re all about. I have volunteered at several different places throughout my life where I was doing a very difficult, emotionally challenging, but rewarding, job. Doing things like that reminds me that my experience is just one narrative in a world full of billions of experiences that are quite different from mine. It’s convenient to stay in my little sex-positive bubble, but engaging in conversation with people I wouldn’t organically speak to helps me acknowledge and empathize with other concepts and lifestyles that are entirely foreign to me.
If you could identify with an animal, which would it be and why?
I wouldn’t be an animal, I’d be some form of alien life. I’m reading Octavia Butler’s Xenogenises/Lilith’s Brood series, and I’d love to be an Ooloi. In this series, an alien species with 3 genders rescues humanity from apocalypse, and in doing so, they must change the way humans interact with their planet and each other. The Ooloi are the third genderless “gender” of this alien species, and they have complete control over the physical sensations of humans. Humans are no longer able to have sex with either other, and they must use an Ooloi as a conduit for their sexuality, and essentially use them as a sort of sexual “host”, whether they like it or not.
Do you have any future projects/collaborations in the works that you’re excited about?
I’ll be starring in a short film by Will Rahilly called “Kathleeen” that’s coming out this year. It’s essentially like an episode of Clarissa Explains It All on acid. I’m also working on a TV series and sex education book, but it’s very early on for both of those projects.
Any advice you’d like to give to a fellow creative?
Fall in love with yourself over and over again. There’s a huge difference between being selfish, and just lovin’ the shit out of yourself. Being able to do that while remaining selfless is one of the best ways to take care of yourself and others on every front.