Marriage and partnership can mean a host of different things to different people. However, three women have offered a particularly unique perspective on an unexpected partner – themselves.
In June, Woodbridge artist SOPHIE explained how her upcoming exhibition at Aldeburgh’s Courtyard Gallery would have no traditional art hanging on the walls.
Instead, SOPHIE herself was the sole exhibition, putting herself on display to explore the idea of self, and what it means to be selfish.
This is a notion SOPHIE has been exploring for a number of years. In 2020, she had married herself, promising to love and prioritise herself.
In summer, she was ready to help others do the same.
Over the course of her exhibition, SOPHIE married seven people to themselves, each with a personally meaningful ceremony.
For Amy Willis from Ipswich, her wedding day ended in a splash.
“The day SOPHIE was doing it happened to coincide with the day I was leaving my job,” said Amy, 37.
Amy had made the decision to leave secondary school teaching after 15 years.
“I feel like as women in particular, we do a lot of things celebrating other people, but we don’t necessarily do anything to celebrate ourselves,” she explained.
“I thought, what a lovely way to celebrate myself and putting myself first.”
While Amy decided beforehand that she would be wearing a white dress, the rest of her ceremony happened intuitively, with her leading SOPHIE in a meditation and then sharing a piece of writing she had prepared.
The day ended with a celebration with her husband and two children on the beach.
“I actually ended up going for a swim in my dress. That was a bit impromptu!” she said.
Her husband, she said, was very supportive of her decision to commit to herself in this way.
“He can see that I’ve been on a journey these past few years,” she said. “This is a culmination of that journey, of being brave and trying different things.”
For Philippa, a shoe designer from London, the ceremony was about showing herself and others that nobody needs a partner to be complete.
She said: “Women especially are still brainwashed from an early age into thinking they have to get married and there are a lot of rewards – a big party, presents, attention, security and government tax breaks that send the message it’s the right thing to do.
“But I know people who’ve had all that, and the illusion has worn off. If you have resisted that conventional path or just not been lucky enough to meet someone, it can feel like you have failed in some way.”
Philippa was staying with a friend in Aldeburgh when they visited SOPHIE’s exhibition. When she learned about SOPHIE’s project, Philippa impulsively decided that she, too, would marry herself.
“In some ways, I’ve spent a lifetime preparing for the vows which I just made up on the spot,” said Philippa, 49. “I didn’t have any flowers or music so I grabbed a nearby lemon, held it aloft and sang my own wedding march as I processed through the gallery.
“I made a commitment to myself and to self-acceptance and SOPHIE pronounced some sort of blessing.
“I think self-marriage, whilst being a bit of fun performance art, was also a way to verbalise to myself that I am enough on my own and I deserve to live a joyful life regardless.”
For artist and sculptor Hanna Varga, the idea of marrying herself had been one which came to her before she heard about SOPHIE’s project.
Shortly before the pandemic, Hanna moved from London to Leiston. This was an isolating time for Hanna, who had swapped a busy life as an exhibiting artist for a coastal town where she knew very few people.
However, immersing herself in the Suffolk countryside left Hanna feeling that she was reconnecting with herself. She began incorporating plants into her work, weaving baskets and experimenting with texture.
“I made myself a ring from a dandelion stem. At the time, this ring felt like an engagement ring,” she said.
When SOPHIE, a friend of Hanna’s, told her about the self-marriage project, Hanna felt compelled to tell her all about the engagement ring, and decided that she, too, would marry herself.
SOPHIE was present at her ceremony as a witness.
“I asked SOPHIE if she would like to dance, and we danced around this big, empty room in which a sheet was suspended to divide the space,” said Hanna.
“I stopped on one side and she stopped on the other, and we touched hands.
“It felt like confession, a space where I could not see her but I could talk to her and touch her.”
Hanna vowed that she would not stray too far from her authentic self.
“My commitment vow was a promise that I will always return my gaze to the centre, and that will be my compass, the North Star I will navigate by, no matter how far life throws me.”