Momo Okabe, Life Beyond Gender Boundaries

Asexual, and now a mother: in the series 'Ilmatar', the photographer offers a glimpse into her world beyond the binary.


WordsHenri Robert

Momo Okabe, “Ilmatar” © MANDARAKE

‘I sometimes become a man, and sometimes a woman, and used a womb as a tool to give birth.’ These words written by Momo Okabe in the afterword to the book presenting her series Ilmatar (2020) give a first indication, a glimpse, of the voyage on which the photographer invites the reader. In it, the artist, whose asexuality is central to her work, offers a raw testimony of a period in her life that was marked by a significant shift.

Born in 1981, Momo Okabe has spent several years—while keeping her distance from the art scene—producing a body of work addressing the subject of gender transition. Her first publications Dildo (2013) and Bible (2014) document the transition undergone by two friends in their most raw, crude aspects, and reveal the consequences this has on their social life. They received the prestigious Foam Paul Huf Award.


Psychological landscape

In Finnish mythology, Ilmatar (which can be translated as ‘daughter of the air’) is a semi-androgynous goddess; the relevance of this reference is obvious. In this series comprising 147 photographs, Momo Okabe functions in an environment composed of blue, yellow, purple, and red tones, in which the codes associated with colours are challenged. Although the artist captures a period of her life here during which she gave birth to her daughter, the photographs taken between 2014 and 2019 offer a broader testimony. They capture moments, visions, emotions, allegories; a personal account composed of photographs of landscapes, animals, and her friends.

Through its singular nature, this portrait of emotions and perceptions, which she describes as a ‘psychological landscape’ in an interview with Dazed, offers an artistic look at the question of one’s relationship with one’s body and its connection with intimacy, which form the basis of the pregnancy and motherhood process.


Ilmatar (2020), a series by Momo Okabe, is published by Mandarake.

Momo Okabe, 'Ilmatar' © MANDARAKE

Momo Okabe, 'Ilmatar' © MANDARAKE

Momo Okabe, 'Ilmatar' © MANDARAKE

Momo Okabe, 'Ilmatar' © MANDARAKE