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Writing (MA)

Rosie Penny

Rosie Penny is a writer, image maker and thinker based in London.

Often essayistic in form, I build on the canon of feminist writing, saving files like: psycho_sexual_hungry_lusting_hair_tying_bonding_breaking.pdf

My work sits in the grey area between critical theory and personal experience, drawing on art and literature to bridge the gap between the two. I scrutinise the delineation of bodies through (perceived) authority, gender and reality, with the critical lens of feminist, queer, crip and decolonial theory. Over the course of the last year I have, amongst other things, interviewed a gay priest, sold my zine Art Sex Knowledge Power in Good Press and done A LOT of reading.

Before studying at the RCA I graduated from the University of Brighton with a first in BA Illustration.

A grainy black and white open mouth

Be it physical or psychological, encountering discomfort indicates that something is not quite right. This is felt more acutely when it comes to sex. A slight pain can be alarming, inhibiting or embarrassing. It is soon pushed aside and stored away until it becomes a problem. Yet if you peer underneath the rug you’ll find the problem is already there. 

I have made a list picking at facets of my sexuality which give me a sense of unease. They are by no means flaws but things which are difficult to sit with. Nonetheless I have sat down.


My final major project Psychosexual: A Taxonomy of Discomfort is an attempt to understand the tension I encounter when writing about sex. It follows a series of interlinked essays, which are each attached to a photograph, painting, sculpture or object, traversing subjects including the clinic, BDSM, chronic pain and Sinéad O'Connor. As I cycle through different forms of discomfort I find there is a radical need for it.

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A scan of the zine before construction with passport images of author laid on top.
The Woman Who Reminded Me How To LiveThis is a zine about Gabi, about being connected, being fallible and connecting with others because we're fallible. It's a short and sweet 16 pages, featuring 35mm B&W film photography I took in Berlin last summer.
A process shot of a table with lots of zine on before they were bound.
I designed, RISO printed and hand bound them myself. Before this MA I completed a BA in Illustration at the University of Brighton. I enjoy making things when I get the chance and relish the tactility of print!
A scan of the final spread in the zine.
Love is an important theme in the work I make. When writing about pain, oppression and bodies it is vital to return to acts of care. Making this zine in itself was a gentle reminder to honour the people who inhabit the body and not get lost in the murky depths of theory.
Picture of a necklace with a Christian cross pendant edited in a blue and green film
Andrew Foreshew CainI gave him a hand. A week later I had a phone call and visit telling me the bishops heard that I touched the chalice, the sacred vessel, with my filthy gay hands. My filthy gay married hands. And that this was unacceptable and I would never be allowed to do it again. There was no need for that whatsoever. I offered to help, the priest accepted, I gave communion. Then I got a visit in my house from someone telling me that even touching a chalice was unacceptable. They'll never apologise for that.
Blue text saying extending family on a sorbet yellow background
As a cohort we each wrote a text for the Foundling Museum's current exhibition Finding Family. These pieces are collated in the book Extending Family, with an introduction by Olivia Laing. I took a fragmented approach to writing about multiple works in the show, using different kinds of holds as a metaphor for family. Some supportive, others suffocating. I am interested in list making as a methodology which has fed into my final major project.

A List of Holds

  1. Three girls hold Bibles. The smallest holds her finger to her mouth.
  2. Two girls hold hands. The butterfly evades the grasp of the girl in blue, a hand that could crush it, should she try to caress it.
  3. The child is held within the lap of the adult. Engulfed, encompassed, at its mercy.
  4. Paintings like this fail to hold my attention. The girl holds out her dress and I wonder if she has ever felt cloth that is rough, with stains cemented in it or holes eaten out of it. 
  5. An apron holds the bellows of the dress in, fluting out over the hips. Like the people in uniform, the oil painting is a commodity to be displayed.
  6. The young ones hold each other's gaze, hands held in their laps in a foetal scrunch. The dragon looks ahead with one red eye. Paint holds onto the cardboard puckered with dimples. To bond is not to smooth things over but to strengthen a connection with the uneven. 
  7. Someone holds a camera, points it at the mirror getting a clear shot of Uncle on the arm chair. Uncle props himself up with an elbow to bash out a tune on the small plastic keyboard. He grips the counter and leans towards the microwave like a cat outstretched waiting to be fed.
  8. Pockets hold his hands flush against his pelvis. The belt holds his jeans up and his shirt in. The text holds the image accountable for the heartbreak encountered. The pretence of family keeps me from something I am yet to find, an experience of relationships free from obligation.
  9. A hand wraps around the child’s shoulder. The hand attempts what the sofa does without question. The sofa holds, the cat, the family, them together, the fabric of day to day life.
  10. One girl holds a jug, the boy a knife against the bread. I behold another girl in the background. Pushed into the dark yet still relevant enough to paint. To be seen but not heard, that’s what they used to say.
  11. The paint holds secrets, blurred facial features, the anonymity of those beloved. Hands grace the face of the table. The table holds them there - something to gather around, sit under and talk over. 
  12. The woman holds my eye contact, she looks like an alien. Rounded and smoothed over in all the right places, which makes them look like the wrong places. The hair holds tight curls, glued to the scalp in precision, precise like the dagger collar which has been ironed to prudish formality.
  13. The mother holds her baby, the son is slumped against her. The daughter stands alone, supported only by the pavement. Flowers jut out of their fists.
  14. I can’t imagine looking at a baby, knowing it was inside of me, and is now outside of me, living off of me. Filling my chest with milk to spill over into an open mouth. Holding all that responsibility and storing it up like a cabinet. Would I be mahogany or oak or something less sturdy, an Ikea flat pack? Something rigid and unyielding, a not good enough mother. 
  15. My genes are held in the double helix of my DNA. Twisted into shape, wringing out my traits forcing them to dribble down the generations. I have my grandmother's depression, my mother’s and brother's too. I have been spared from the wires, the loud buzz and the zap of my humanity being taken. But not perhaps from the chokehold of generational trauma; the throat left bruised and aching even when the hands are prised off.
  16. The title holds me captive as I grapple with the idea of an absent presence. If the present is here, and I am here, how can it be gone, lost or forgotten. I am absent, and the presence of I contradicts my being. It only pains me to hold onto something that is not there.