MEET THE AVANT-GARDE DESIGNER CREATING BESPOKE PIECES FOR YOUR INNER FETISHIST
Like many creatives who are othered for being ‘different’, Bonnie Bakeneko is all about challenging conventional beauty standards – something they do through their handmade bespoke fetish pieces for the face and mouth. Drawing on their struggles with mental health, the non-binary artist’s designs reflect the dark desires that underpin your deepest fantasies. Offering custom pieces to cater your own aesthetic taste, Bakeneko’s extravagant designs vary from bejewelled cheek retractors – formerly confined to the dentist chair and something which Bakeneko’s own fears and anxieties have long been bound up in – to headpieces adorned with beetle wings and taxidermy. Growing up in rural Norwich, Bonnie finds solace in the quiet, seclusion of the countryside. With plans to relocate just outside of Cambridge, the heavily tattooed designer and performance artist revels in the realm of body modification. Having recently undergone surgery to remove their nipples, we chat with Bakeneko about their craft and what body modification means to them.
Have your perceptions of beauty always deviated from the mainstream? Do you remember a particular time or moment where you found yourself othered because of this?
Bonnie Bakeneko: For as long as I can remember I’ve been considered ‘weird’. I didn’t get on with other kids at school and was often ostracised because of it. I’ve always had a fascination with the uglier, darker side of nature, aware from a young age that it can be disgusting yet cruel, but in equal parts beautiful. It’s hard for me to pinpoint an exact time as I’ve always been othered.
What initially drew you to avant-garde fetish design?
Bonnie Bakeneko: I’ve always been interested in fetish aesthetically and psychologically. I have my own share – the cheek retractor being one of them. Like many others, my fetish is an object and stems from trauma. I suffered from tooth enamel hypoplasia as a child, my teeth literally rotted away, it was a horrible experience. People assume fetishes have to be sexual – while sexuality is important in my work it’s not inherent. My work is taking these fetishised objects and transforming them. They become more than an object, they become a piece of wearable art. When creating I process my trauma like a kind of mental alchemy, making something positive from a negative.
Tell us about your creative process.
Bonnie Bakeneko: I normally start with a base concept, more of an abstract feeling, then start to create from that. I don’t tend to have a finalised idea, I like my work to flow organically. It’s a case of building upon my initial idea and then creating until I am happy.
Where did you learn your craft?
Bonnie Bakeneko: I taught myself everything I know, I’m neurodivergent (autism spectrum and dyspraxia) so have always found it hard to learn in conventional ways. No one knows my brain like I do so I’m my own best teacher.
How do you people usually perceive your work?
Bonnie Bakeneko: People say they’ve never seen anything like it before which to me is a huge compliment. I don’t think people realise that I have a very personal connection with my work. I’m not trying to make something shocking that’s purely aesthetic.
When did you first begin to modify your body?
Bonnie Bakeneko: I was petrified of needles for the longest time. When I was 18 I suffered my first nervous breakdown along with psychosis. I discovered that hell was inside of me, in my head, and physical pain was nothing in comparison. I started to modify my body at 19 and realised that it gave me a reassuring feeling of control. I’ve always suffered from body dysmorphia and depersonalisation so I’ve never related to my body or felt it was my own. Modifying it is a way of reclamation.
Can you tell us about your recent surgery to have your nipples removed?
Bonnie Bakeneko: I’ve hated my nipples since I hit puberty at 14. I was anorexic and my breasts didn't form properly so I was very flat chested. At that age I had little access to the internet and I didn’t know much about human biology, I was unaware that mammary glands could even be felt under the skin and that they were hard. I was convinced I had cancer or that there was something severely wrong with me. I identify as non-binary and have no desire to have children so they’ve always felt redundant to me.
Why do you think gender nullification surgery is so vital to non-binary bodies?
Bonnie Bakeneko: I don’t believe it is vital for everyone but it was vital to me. My breasts are not sexual objects. I hate the policing of the female nipple, they are demonised and sexualised. By nullifying them both of these things have been taken away from me. I enjoy them aesthetically now – my body is for me and no one else.
Can you tell us about your frustrations with censorship and social media?
Bonnie Bakeneko: I find it very ironic that strangers can send you unsolicited graphic images but you can’t post a non-sexual photo of a female nipple. There is no recognition for trans or non-binary people either. I wasn’t allowed to post my nipples previously but now they’ve been removed I can? I find that truly bizarre.
What do you think is the future of beauty?
Bonnie Bakeneko: I hope the future of beauty is kinder above all else and I think we are starting to get there. Archaic notions should be put to rest and we should focus on enjoying our bodies instead of battling against them. There needs to be more transparency surrounding what bodies really look like instead of these airbrushed fantasies. People need to stop being marginalised for what makes them different and instead be celebrated for what makes them unique.
Who do you think is really owning it in challenging existing notions of beauty right now?
Bonnie Bakeneko: Currently I think drag queens are. Not just in terms of beauty ideals but notions of gender and sexuality as well. You have the metamorphosing beauty of Hungry and the unsettling horror of Abhora. Both are stunningly beautiful. Drag is becoming more fluid with the rise of more kings and non-binary performers. It’s more focused on self-expression and gender performativity than just female illusion.
What advice do you have for those who don’t relate to mainstream beauty ideals?
Bonnie Bakeneko: Be yourself, be unique. Absolutely no one has the authority to say you are not beautiful. Always stay true to yourself or you will never find self-acceptance. Being comfortable in your own skin is so much more important than what others think.