Taraka On The Nature Of Self-Portraits

Her new album 'Welcome To Paradise Lost' comes with a visual element...

The freshly mononymous Taraka should be no stranger to long-time readers.

Full name Taraka Larson, she headed up righteous dance punk types Prince Rama for a slew of red-hot releases, before focussing on solo endeavours.

New album 'Welcome To Paradise Lost' caused a stir on its release during the final embers of 2021, a work of ritualistic therapy and endless self-discovery.

Out now, the record found Taraka dealing with differing aspects of her life and art, aiming to include visual elements alongside her fantastic songwriting.

In addition to its standard release, 'Welcome To Paradise Lost' came equipped with 100 hand-drawn self-portrait records, released in conjunction with the Wassaic Project to raise money for Taraka's new label, Rage Peace.

The sliding scale of pricing aims to encourage inclusivity, while also offering an alternative to the hopelessly broken streaming marketplace for musicians.

Here, Taraka muses on the nature of the self-portrait, while revealing some uncomfortable truths.

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I used to be obsessed with extreme sports. I jumped out of an airplane. Twice. I skied off cliffs. I lit swords on fire and waved them around crowded amphitheaters whooping like a wild banshee. The last album my old band (Prince Rama) did was all about extreme sports. Something about confronting fear in the face and learning how to dance with death felt addictively freeing.

When Prince Rama broke up though, instead of feeling like a badass, I felt empty. No matter how bombastic all these feats seemed, I felt like I was missing the point. I could jump off a plane, but I still couldn’t look at myself in a mirror. At the end of the day, all my flirtations with death felt like a distraction from the ultimate extreme sport – knowing myself.

Ok ok – some of you might think this is a set up for a heart-warming woo woo piece about self-love. Hate to break it to you that this is the last thing I’d want to bore you with.

Contrary to popular belief, the path to “knowing thyself” is a far cry from rose-petaled bathtubs, candles, tik tok shamans, and rose quartz yoni eggs. It’s like going to war. A war in which your cozy familiar reality turns totally alien as you realize the life you’ve been living is one relentless lie and you stumble around like a bad actor caught in a botched dress rehearsal larping around in your own clothes with no idea who the fuck you are or what you’re doing here. The more honest you get with yourself, the more bloody the battle becomes.

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But does it have to be this way?

((Cue the existential violin music))

When did I get so far removed from my natural state?

In the spirit of Rainer Maria Rilke, instead of looking for answers I decided to just “live the questions” by diving deep into the dark recesses of my inner teenager.

I’m gonna tell you a little secret.

When I was 13, I had a bad eating disorder. Like, really bad. I had just gotten my period and the idea of womanhood and everything that went along with it scared the shit out of me. Call it “Extreme Peter Pan Syndrome”, but I declared war on my body and wanted to turn back time. I would hide food in napkins and put rubber bands around my clothes to keep them from falling off.

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I dropped out of school cuz all my classmates made fun of me and called me an Auschwitz victim. At my low point, I weighed 67lbs and had to be hospitalized because my heart started freezing up and I almost died. Luckily I got some therapy and recovered and to this day I have never once relapsed. However, for years afterwards, I still had a hard time looking in a mirror for fear of falling back into old patterns. Jumping out of a plane was easier I guess. Or having others take pictures of me. At least that way I didn’t have to own my body or be responsible for it. I could stay safely disassociated, in a way.

I don’t think I am unique in these feelings. In fact, the more I open up to other women, the more I realise we’ve all been fractured in some shape or form along our sexual awakening. Drawing self-portraits for me became a radical act of reconnecting with my body, my face, my sexuality, my spirit. A way of smashing illusions and making love with the splinters. Of gazing into the mirror portal and whispering to my 13 year old self that everything’s gonna be ok. I got you. You can trust me.

When I first started drawing, it felt like torture. I had never really made any self portraits before. I was hit with the harsh realization of just how distorted my perception of myself was from day to day. Drawing is a magical process of making distortions visible though and helping you to pay attention to things in a way you normally don’t in day to day life. And luckily it did get easier with time.

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I decided to do 100 self portrait records (not just because it seemed like a terrifying prospect) but because I was curious to see the changes over time. At first I was tackling the oil pastels like a gladiator trying to slay some rabid lion, but as time went on I became the lion licking the gladiator’s hand. It became less of a task and more of a journey. The more I sat with them, the more I learned to be present and gentle with myself. I am still learning. I’m not saying I’m any closer to knowing who I am, but at least I feel like I’ve dropped my sword and surrendered the battle.

Now when I go to do a self portrait, it just feels like hanging out with an old friend. We can sit and have a glass of wine, listen to Nirvana, and have a laugh with each other. When I look into my eyes in the mirror, I can see into the past, the future. I see myself as an old woman. As a baby. A demon. An angel. A man. A corpse. A constellation of stars.

I heard a quote once that everything you make is a self portrait. This whole record is a self portrait. Me writing this is a self portrait. And maybe the deeper you go the concept of “self” dissolves altogether and there is no difference between you or I. It’s just a portrait of us.

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