Giving pain a Purpose: Two female creatives speak to the creative Process

An editorial exploration of health, happiness and the bigger picture for Canadian artists Kestra Illiatovitch-Goldman and Christine MacGibbon.

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This year has marked the beginning of a reckoning within the most public of our professional industries. What started as a handful of strong women speaking out has bloomed into entire sectors in Fashion, Film and Television lifting the thin, chain-metal veil that has long protected powerful predators in various acts of mistreatment.

What comes from this, then? Rolling off the back of 2017, this year has the potential to set the table for a massive, generations-wide turnover of preconceived norms, truths and power dynamics. It creates opportunity for predators to apologize, listen, and step down. And perhaps most crucially, it lends a chance for compassionate discussion, resurrection and equity; for victims to be believed, women to be respected, and men to be emotional, and, believe it or not, sensitive.

In short? It’s about damn time. 

Growth in 2018 will exist in the allowance for more people to tell their story; in finding the right tools and seeking out the support of platforms that empower such narratives.

An extension of this makes itself known in creative expression. Growth in 2018 will exist in the allowance for more people to tell their story; in finding the right tools and seeking out the support of platforms that empower such narratives. We have the chance to ensure that click bait does not degrade us, that people can be fierce without instilling fear. We have the opportunity to let women lead, to show more sides, to lend more softness. All of this, despite everything...has me hopeful.

In Canada, I met with makeup artist Kestra Illiatovitch-Goldman, who called me in hopes of publishing her all-female, all-Canadian story that runs along the same vein. The piece was conceptualized and spearheaded by model Christine MacGibbon - which is something else we should be seeing more of; models making their own media. “We kept it close to home,” Kestra says of the concept. “We were very clear about wanting an all-Canadian team. The person who styled and coloured the wig is Canadian...and the farm is right outside of Toronto.”

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Christine MacGibbon is a dear friend of Kestra’s; her story, too, is not without struggle. Both Kestra and Christine have been plagued by what many cite as strings of “invisible illness;” Kestra with diabetes, rumination syndrome and various other motility disorders, Christine with diabetes and gastroparesis, to name merely a few. “My health has made it extremely difficult to travel for work," says Christine. "Although I've had many wonderful opportunities abroad, I've often felt like a failure because my body couldn't keep up with the demand of the industry. This has always left me feeling depressed and that I'll never be able to live up to my full potential (in both my modeling career and life in general). This shoot for me represents our past, present and our future. Life isn't about what happens [to us]. It’s about our actions, what we learn from our experiences, the relationships we make and how we grow as humans from that point on. I wanted Kestra to be by my side (as she always is and has been) so we could share our journey. I wanted to keep things as organic as possible. Beauty is all around us, but like everything there’s always a darker truth. I’m very happy to have done this with my best friend.” 

At four years old, Kestra “was diagnosed [with diabetes], and to hear the word diabetes - with the word die in it - was so scary to me at that time. I remember when I got home from the hospital I told my parents I wanted to do my own needle injections, because it was my body and I wanted to take responsibility for it. Even thought a lot of [my health problems] have been completely unpredictable, I felt that the one thing I could control was how responsible and responsive I was.” 

Even thought a lot of [my health problems] have been completely unpredictable, I felt that the one thing I could control was how responsible and responsive I was.
— Kestra Illiatovitch-Goldman

That said, the choice of having horses on set was a deliberate one for Kestra. “How we interact with nature, how we treat it...it’s really a reflection of ourselves. From the people I’ve met...the people who are kind of shoulder shrugging and lax about the environment and how it’s treated, I feel they’re like that in their own lives, too. We wanted to mirror that with the person and the animal so close to each other…[the message that] we really are all connected, that we depend on each other.”

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While talking to Kestra, I could feel both the respect she held for her colleueges and the depth in which she thought about her own life. This is the thing nobody talks about with struggle - if we let it, struggle can become a catalyst for reflection, depth and compassion in those that hard times touch. We reach out to books, brains and bodies for some kind of clarity and a reminder that we are not alone. And as much as it feels impossible, we grow, and we melt, and we make, and pretty soon we’ve built a whole new structure from those broken pieces we once held in our hands. 

“I think the both of us, expecially due to our health issues, have turned into dreamers even more than we already were destined to. This means that, if we decide on doing a crazy, unrealiztic fantasty-esque photoshoot, we are gong to see it through. I also think that in a way, escaping to a fantasy world has played such a part in what has saved our lives. And seeing the magic in day-to-day life, too, has helped us get through so much.” 

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I next asked Kestra about her vision for Canadian creatives, and her response was on the nose. “I really think that there needs to be a stronger community of people that say 'maybe what we want to see here, we need to create for ourselves,' instead of going out and finding it elsewhere,” she mused.

Too long, it has been the case that to make it here, you must make it elsewhere, first. As Canadian pride starts taking an increasingly global stage, we have the exciting opportunity to begin embracing our talent first, without conditions. As Kestra states: “For others to take us seriously, we need to take ourselves seriously, first.” 

Oftentimes, we scroll past images without understanding the depths of where they came from. We don't work to identify the motivations of the faces we stare at, or zoom beyond the confines of the screen. All of these elements, however ignored they may be, contribute to the very essence of a good photograph, and of, frankly, moving art. I’m grateful to each and every person who works with this caliber of intention daily, and to Kestra, Christine and her team for trusting me with their stories. 



Photographer: Allysandra Cervantes
Makeup/ On set hair stylist/creative consultant: Kestra Illiatovitch-Goldman
Wig styling: Rob Pizzuti
Stylist/creative direction/model: Christine MacGibbon
A deep thank you to Narces and Anastassia Selez for all of the gowns and jewelry respectively; both brilliant, Canadian born and bred brands.