Raji Kelley Simpson is a storyteller, self portrait artist and teacher, and dancer. She has a book (or two) in the works and she recently launched Selfie Love~Self Portrait Workshops as a character development program for middle schools. She just celebrated 20 years with the love of her life (and co-facilitator of Selfie Love) Jeffrey Simpson, and they were recently recognized internationally for some collaborative self portraits. The next round of Selfie Love~Virtual Self Portrait Workshop beginning soon and if you’re interested in joining you can find more information at (www.selfielove.com).
Q: Can you tell me what led you to start Selfie Love (http://selfielove.com)? What has surprised you about the way that people portray/want to portray themselves?
RKS: Selfie Love~Virtual Self Portrait Workshops and Selfielove.com began as all of my endeavors do; out of the desire to show up fully to me, my expression, and life & and in turn share that experience with others.
On the surface, my work is about self-portraits and photography, but ultimately all of my work is about guiding others to radical self love, creative expression, and the freedom to be themselves.
I took my first self portrait the day I was diagnosed with disease. A lifelong conversation between my thyroid and I manifested physically in the form of disease and self portraiting became my most potent medicine. Self love to quell self attacking autoimmune aspect of disease & creative expression to celebrate all aspects of voice.
For twenty years, I had been ‘doing my work’ as a seeker, yogi, lightworker, miracle maker. My first response to physical health crisis was to FIX IT. Oh, I had all the tools, mantras, postures, and miraculous juju to cure myself of this disease.
When I began to explore with self-portraits, I was delightfully shocked that I was receiving instant, powerful, insightful information about myself and situation; in a totally new way. It was like stepping into ‘witness’ mode, in order to see myself, literally!, and then from there; create desired expression and explore possibilities for myself from there.
Guiding others in the process of self portraiture with others is what makes this process alive for me. It’s like chocolate, it’s way more fun to share it with others. What surprises me most about the way people portray themselves is their capacity and willingness to want to dive in so deep, so fast, and show so much of themselves. There is so little held back in our virtual self-portrait workshops. Their desire and courage to be so real with themselves and share that with the group is astounding. It has a ripple effect that fuels us all to go to our edges. I have become acutely aware of the basic need that we as humans have to be seen, heard, and share our stories.
Q: How has being an artist changed the way you look at the world?
RKS: As a lifelong gymnast, dancer, and storyteller; my art has always been process art, it’s a fleeting expression of a moment and then it’s done. My self portrait work is also completely process oriented; as satisfying as it is to create visual tangible pieces of art and have that proof in form; for me, it’s all about the underlying expression and capturing a feeling or a moment.
And…I have finally declared myself an artist!
This has shifted the way I look at the world and furthermore how I am in the world, because I’ve made it a conscious choice to be guided by how I want my art and life to feel (full of self love and creative expression). I’ve opened to the truth that my life and my expression are the art. Stepping into this has relieved a lot pressure and past notions regarding things I need to ‘do’ in my life. I am also noticing and finding great joy in making art out of all of life’s little moments. This has led to an even greater level of presence in my life versus constantly looking for the big AHA moments.
Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?
RKS: Oh, without skipping a beat, I would tell myself to have fun, that it’s okay if it’s easy, drop the perfection mentality, to stop following someone else’s map, that I am perfectly too much, that I don’t have to do a fucking thing in order to be living my potential.
Pardon the f bomb, I’m a little passionate about that subject.
Q: Tell me about one incredible moment in your life. What did you learn in that instant?
RKS: There was definitely an instant. October 31, 2003. My newborn son, Finn woke up from a 6 day coma post birth. In that moment, I had the experience of truly knowing the absolute preciousness and privilege it is to be alive. I mean, really alive. Sure, I always ‘knew‘ that, but to have an actual experience of it is a whole new level of understanding.
I go through the natural cycle of forgetting and it is amazing to have those now almost 11-year-old brown eyes live to constantly remind me. Thank you, Finn!
Q: Life is beauty and pain. Tell me about pain in your life.
RKS: I’m an eternal optimist and at this stage of life, I love to find the beauty within the pain.
Growing up as a gymnast and dancer, I learned as a young child to use those as my outlets to transform pain into art.
In later years, my relationship with pain became more about learning to embrace it and learn to hear its messages before transforming it/making it ‘go away’. I love to acknowledge the presence of pain and ask questions like, ‘why are you here, what is your message for me?’ before trying to ‘get out of’ the pain. Disease has been my biggest teacher in the last few years and I’m thrilled to come to a place where giving pain some voice has led me to a place of ease within it all. (and I’m feeling great!).