When I first met Laurence Sessou, aka Moniasse, the artist’s muse, I was immediately struck by her natural, African magnificence. She has a unique sensuous, self-assuredness and to be honest, it’s kind of hard to look away from her.
Currently the ambassador for the Moroccan Nights Nubian Skin Lingerie range, Moniasse’s arresting persona is set against a back drop of some fairly distinctive body markings, called ‘Scarification’ on her chest and back. We caught up with Moniasse to ask her about her body art and what they mean to her.
Born in France, 38 years ago, Moniasse’s roots hail from The Republic of Benin (West Africa). She describes always having a fascination for the human body and that is probably the reason why she embarked on a career that centres around just that. She works as a Neuromuscular therapist and bodyworker in a private clinic in Waterloo. But she also has an exciting second calling, as a professional model, a vocation which she started five years ago.
Exposed to body art from a young age, her mum had tribal marks and it is a historical practice among people from the Republic of Benin, as she witnessed herself in some of her older relatives on her dad’s side of the family.
Moniasse began experimenting with body modification at 21, when she got two little tattoos (Anks) on her wrists. She followed through with further tattoos on her arms a few years later, but it wasn’t until 2012 that she got her first scars, carried out by popular scarification artist, Lestyn Flye.
Moniasse describes Scarification as:
“One of the most ancient ways of marking our skin, it has multiple meanings depending on which tribe you come from.”
She didn’t arrive at her chosen designs lightly. A spiritually deep person, Moniasse sees each mark as a form of expressing herself and her ancestry. With each pattern having specific significance.
Of her chest scar she say: “The symbol on my chest has been inspired by the female reproductive system, the middle represents our beautiful clitoris.”
And her back scar? “It is a map of my spiritual journey, my Vision Quest, my dream… The sacred cross in the middle is the ‘Chakana’ this is the place where we keep the fire of life. The four harrows represent the four nations and corners of the Earth. The flowers represent the medicine plant teachers. The spirals represent the infinity of possibilities. So I feel like I am carrying a dream on my back: seeing the four nations of this world enjoying the fire of life in harmony with nature under the care of Mother Earth.”
While the scars look fascinating, there is no doubt that it would have been a painful process. We asked Moniasse what the process involved?
“The technique used for my scars was ‘cutting’ with a scalpel. Lestyn did my scarification, a first cut without anaesthetic was quite superficial, then a second deeper cut was performed after anaesthetic, the dotted spirals and flowers had some skin removed.”
“The work on my back took over 10 hours in total and the chest six hours and the healing process took eight months to one year.”
Obviously not for the faint-hearted, Moniasse is a woman very comfortable within her own skin, sensuality and womanhood, and we were keen to learn where she gained these qualities.
“From my life experiences and meeting like-minded women that enjoy and appreciate themselves fully. I’ve met wonderful teachers that encouraged women to connect with their Yoni, one of the most powerful part of a woman.”
Moniasse is keen to stress that her scarification was a deeply personal choice and that getting scars is not for everyone. We live in a very judgey world and we wondered how people react when they see her markings?
“It depends, sometimes shock, sometimes disgust but most of the time admiration and curiosity.”
It will come as no surprise that Moniasse’s inspirational heroes are two women who certainly pushed the boundaries as far as they could – the late great south African musician Brenda Fassie and no holds barred pop icon Grace Jones.
THROWBACK WAY BACK… Photography by @scottchappellphotography ‘We are never through with the requirement for acceptance. This isn’t a curse limited to the inadequate and the weak. Insecurity may even be a peculiar sign of well-being. It means we haven’t allowed ourselves to take other people for granted, that we remain realistic enough to see that things could genuinely turn out badly and that we invested enough to care.’ From The Course of Love by Alain de Botton #scarification #tattoos #headwrap #blackwoman #bodyart #face #westafrican #beninroots #muse
It was refreshing to meet with Moniasse, a woman who understands who she is and makes no apologies for living her life, exactly as she wants to.