Ruth Torres is Making Art for Fucked-up Church Kids
In coordination with Level Ground, we’re profiling the artists who are presenting groundbreaking art at the Level Ground Festival in October.
Below, Maylin Tu writes about the painful inspiration behind Ruth Torres’s new show, Tainted Truth.
The Instagram caption reads:
Steps on how to embrace your jiggle:
Step 1: remind yourself that you are beautiful.
Step 2: accept the changes in your body as you age.
Step 3: Stop comparing YOUR BODY TO OTHERS & LIVE YOUR TRUTH
The woman in the video stands in ankle deep water underneath a pier, wearing a black button-down shirt tied above her waist and black bikini bottoms. She sashays toward the camera, then breaks into dance.
It’s as good an introduction as any to Los Angeles artist Ruth Torres, also known as Ruthintruth. She doesn’t just talk about living authentically, she dances it out, wholeheartedly. “I’m not your curvy Latina and the culture tells me there’s something wrong with me if you’re not,” she says. “I’m a fat, queer artist. I embrace my jiggle. It’s part of my liberation. I’m free.”
I talked to Ruth about her upcoming show Tainted Truth, about spiritual trauma and leaving faith. The show incorporates photography, film, performance and interactive elements to explore shame, abuse and grief within the context of the queer experience.
Ruth grew up in LA county but only started connecting with the local art scene after she moved back post-college: “I’m so lucky to have grown up here. I became more aware of how privileged I was to live in this city. I knew my parents’ LA, but not my LA.”
While in college, she embarked on a body positivity project and asked for volunteers on Facebook. Eight people responded almost immediately. Ruth has a talent for pulling together people and resources, for making things happen. Everything that she envisions, she creates. “I’m finally leaning into the creative eye that I’ve always had,” she says.
After college she travelled the world, backpacking through Europe and coming into her own identity. She laughs describing the giddiness of her first woman crush while traveling in Europe and thinking, “How gay is that? Oh my god, I am gay as fuck.”
It’s no mistake that despite her effervescent personality, Ruth is using her very first show to go to some dark places. Tainted Truth represents the most painful parts of her experiences growing up in church. As an art piece, it combines the spiritual and the physical, making explicit the effects of spiritual trauma on the body. Although she feels ready to share her story, she’s also leaning into vulnerability and risk: “I’m freaking out because I feel like I’m putting myself out there to the world.”
Fuck people hurting you, but you have a choice to heal and move forward. Check your motives. Check your power. Especially leaders.
– RUTH TORRES
I asked her about the twin themes of purity culture and the rapture that she mentions in the show notes. “That shit fucks you up. I remember the first time I masturbated I felt so dirty. The closer I was to being pure, the dirtier I felt. Any sexual thing was from hell,” she said.
Purity culture was a huge part of Ruth’s youth group experience. “We had a purity ball, the youth leader prayed for all of us and prayed for our husbands. It’s really, really intense.” And it wasn’t just about a particular set of beliefs, it was about finding a sense of belonging: “In purity culture, I found my girl gang—‘I’ve never been kissed and I’m 18.’” Like purity culture, the rapture represented a sense of being special and removed from the world: “We were the generation, we were the chosen ones, we are it—the world is at its worse.” Ruth struggled in school, but in church, she excelled.
“I’m still healing from growing up in church and [believing] that my body wasn’t enough, that I would be validated by the man that I married and waiting to have sex,” she reflects. “It’s so gross. It’s so hetero.”
There was one spiritual leader in particular who shaped her church experience. But Ruth is very clear that these traumatic experiences came from the leader’s own personal trauma. The idea is to heal our own trauma without passing it on to other people: “Fuck people hurting you, but you have a choice to heal and move forward. Check your motives. Check your power. Especially leaders.”
As part of her project, she asked for permission to shoot in a church, just her and a tripod. “I cried a lot,” she admits. Her work explores trauma and pain, but is ultimately meant to bring hope.
While there are unique elements to Ruth’s experience, the goal is to connect to a broader audience of people who grew up in church culture. She’s doing this for a very specific audience, “fucked-up church kids." She wants them to know that “there’s space to heal, to take your time and not feel ashamed.”
Ruth Torres is making art for fucked-up church kids like me: “You don’t get to do this alone. There are stories just like yours.”