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5 kick-ass artists questioning gender normativity you should know in 2019

While today’s art world is now more representative of voices previously left unheard, there is still some serious work to be done to uplift the voices of those who have long been left silent.

In this controversial era it’s important that we are tapped into the culture. Although that might seem easy to do in the age of social media and clout consumerism it’s also easy to miss out on great creatives.

Don’t worry. As always, we got you fam! Here is a list of five dope artists questioning gender normativity and are creating some amazing work.

Salma Olama

Salma Olama is an Egyptian photographer who combines cinematic and worldly inspiration in order to create her work.

Her photographs profile the faces of the old and the young, from Prague to Sri Lanka. Her work has been featured in Vogue Italia for their Photovogue series.


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mother نعناع

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Olama delicately depicts both the faces and the landscapes of the places she travels.

Her work in her home, Cario, is particularly intimate. It illustrates generational gaps between both family members and perfect strangers.


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a church guard watches visitors walk around while frequently giving out facts about the place and its history

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Linder Sterling

As a radical feminist who made her name in the 70s Punk scene, Linder Sterling does not shy away from making her audience uncomfortable.

Her subversive collages create a graphic ven-diagram between homeware magazines and pornography.


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When being interviewed for Simon Reynold’s 2012 book Totally Wired, Sterling explained her thought process behind her photomontages, saying:

“At this point, men’s magazines were either DIY, cars or porn… Women’s magazines were fashion or domestic stuff. So, guess the common denominator – the female body.”

However, an issue does come with the fact that at the end of the day, raw images of complete objectification are still being sold for profit. Her collaboration with the (all male) punk band, The Buzzcocks, is what popularized her work, but it also complicates its message.

It can be said that Sterling’s adept commentary concerning the commercialization of women’s bodies may have fallen upon deaf ears when it came to The Buzzcocks’ audience in regards to Sterling’s cover for their 1977 hit single “Orgasm Addict.”

Fans of The Buzzcocks might have been less interested in contemplating the greater socio-political meaning behind the commodification of the female body, and more interested in seeing a woman’s naked body splayed across the cover of the band’s album.

This brings up a tricky philosophical paradox over whether or not Sterling’s work, and work like it, helps or harms the fight for women’s equality.

While Sterling’s work illustrates the objectification of women in mass media, its reception paradoxically enforces the very same problem she is trying to point out.

Cathleen Lewis

Cathleen Lewis is a New York City-based visual artist. She previously worked as the Vice President of Education at the Museum of Art and Design and has over 10 years of experience as an art administrator.


Lewis works with pen and ink, photography, as well as installation work to provide a narrative of what it means to exist as an African American woman in the United States.

One of her most impressive series of pieces is titled Extensions, Ethnic Signifiers.

Lewis used synthetic hair, horse hair, thread and wire to create multiple canopy-like installation pieces across the country. With this work, Lewis explores the significance of hair and its manipulation in regards to black beauty.

She additionally comments upon wider social constructs concerning the presentation and representation of race in places that have historically excluded black narratives.

Victoria L. (“FEWOCiOUS”)

Victoria L., better known by their handle FEWOCiOUS, is a 16-year-old artist operating out of Las Vegas. Their style is decidedly surreal, incorporating a post-humanist aesthetic as well as vibrant colors to create a  hallucinatory collection of images and text.

Cubists are often most associated with first incorporating text into their paintings. This highlights the visual aesthetic of language itself as an incredibly one-dimensional medium to convey greater meaning. (Most notably illustrated by Magritte’s famous Treachery of Images.)

However, in the mid-20th century, the visual art scene grew and adapted to new audiences. Popular artists such as Basquiat and Barbara Kruger incorporated language as an essential part of their work. FEWOCiOUS is following in the same vein with their dynamic use of both visual and written imagery.

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more hallucinations

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As one looks closer, their incorporation of text with their drawings transforms the work into a type of diary entry. In a shot of a work in progress piece they posted to their Instagram, some of the text reads: “Before Victor Lonely there was Victor Love.”

While some of the text reads as poetic, they also incorporate a more stream of consciousness style of written word within their work as well.


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wat da heck. Wip Posting tomorrow i think . Unless I’m impatient cuz i b impatient

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Victoria told KultureHub:

“I think of my art as one image to display an entire chapter of life/a movie.”

In their eyes, the incorporation of text and images fully represents different “scenes” combined into one. They explained how they draw most inspiration from life experiences, combining bright colors with dark underlying messages in order to illustrate the complexities of traumatic events experienced during childhood.

In the future, Victoria wants to see FEWOCiOUS expand into a collective gallery space. The goal is for fellow creatives to be able to express themselves freely, including after-school programs to help introduce kids to art. They continued to say that it is important to keep pursuing whatever they are currently pushing.

“The universe doesn’t let our efforts go unnoticed.”

Sydney Shen

Sydney Shen draws inspiration from a cataclysm of internet hypertext,  horror tropes, and pornography. Shen remarked that she appreciates the DIY design stylings of hardcore pornographic publications.

A lot of her sculptures deal with the concept of being bound in one form or another.


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haruspex, cicatrix #plushexoskeleton

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Shen told BOMB magazine:

“Horror encapsulates the contradictions between wonderment, repulsion, the profane, and the pure.”

Her most recent window exhibition at The New Museum, “Onion Master,” is a surreal reimagining of the classic arcade claw machine. It is a part homage to a funeral parlor and part commentary on meaningless, nonsensical drives.

This message is conveyed through the fact that there is no way to actually control the contraption itself. It is on display until September 1st.

Artist John Stango’s ‘The Heavyweight Contender Exhibition’ celebrates the Great Muhammad Ali

John Stango has collaborated with the South-Bronx based gallery The Compound for his first solo exhibition in New York City.

Stango is a student of the pop-art movement of the 50s and 60s.

His work primarily combines the techniques of Andy Warhol and Basquiat with images of contemporary figureheads of today’s culture.

Photo Credit: Lucas Verdier

“I would draw [Peanuts characters] on the blackboard for my teacher,” Stango told KultureHub at the opening of his show Compound Presents: The Heavyweight Contender.

“Then I started to realize… I might have something here.’”

Stango grew up in Philadelphia and comes from a line of artists, including his own mother as well as the famous Norman Rockwell.

Stango draws from a classic Americana aesthetic. He is self-admittedly most inspired by Warhol’s mass-produced artwork that explores the intersections of commercial and celebrity culture.

“I like associating advertising and fashion in the paintings,” Stango said. “I don’t know how deep they are, but they’re clever.”

Photo Credit: Lucas Verdier

In his own biography, Stango’s work is described as “testosterone-fueled.” Stango admits that a lot of that has to do with his origins as an artist drawing muscle cars for fun. “I can’t help it,” Stango said, motioning to a Campbell’s soup can holding a bouquet of tulips.

“Even my flowers are masculine.”

This translates to the rest of his work as well. Stango’s collection could be described as something straight out of Don Draper’s wet dreams.

There seems to be no end to hypersexed pin-up models branded with corporate images–this is namely the case in his Stewardess series, which solely focuses on barely dressed women and vintage airline iconography. Stango has made a name for himself by merging American icons with recognizable name brands.

Examples include a mugshot of a young Sinatra with Jack Daniels, Eminem and Krylon, and a collage of the Fast and Furious franchise, Warhol, General Motors, and Basquiat. Stango assembles these photomontages for purely aesthetic purposes.

Photo Credit: Lucas Verdier

The main focus of The Heavyweight Contender exhibition was Muhammad Ali, probably one of the most recognizable American icons out there.

The installation was organized so that the visitors are greeted by a four panel set of paintings documenting Ali’s beginnings as Cassius Clay, ending with an acrylic reproduction of Neil Leifer’s famous photograph of the Ali vs. Sonny Liston fight. (Arguably the culmination of his career as a boxer.)

“I really associate my childhood [and adolescence] with Muhammad Ali, he was one of my heroes,” said Stango. “He was a very graphic, explosive figure that can be translated well on canvas.”

Photo Credit: Lucas Verdier

Stango continued: “People almost forgot what Ali stood for, he became the man, not just the myth… It was only once boxing become more politically correct… people began to realize how much of a human rights activist he really was.”

“Ali was a real-life superhero,” said Free Richardson, founder of the Compound Gallery.

Growing up between Queens and Philadelphia, Richardson was familiar with Stango’s work from a young age.

He was initially drawn to Stango’s line of superhero paintings and approached Stango to curate a show at The Compound after seeing Stango’s paintings of Muhammad Ali.

Photo Credit: Lucas Verdier

In an interview with the New York Times, Richardson made it clear that The Compound was a space made to represent the undeniable importance of figures who have long been excluded from the art world.

Richardson, along with the gallery’s partner Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), namely set forth to show how Hip Hop and street art could (and should) be an accepted part of the gallery world.

Stango’s aesthetic attraction to Warholian pop-art fits perfectly into The Compound’s initiative, as an essential part of this easily reproduced style is about challenging both what art is and who art is for.

Pop-art was considered an essential turn in Postmodernism due to its complete rejection of the previous Abstract Expressionist movement. Pop-artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein used silk screening techniques to produce recognizable and easily reproduce imagery.

Photo Credit: Lucas Verdier

This is definitely comparable to today’s street artists who use stencils and spray paint to quickly install artwork at a moment’s notice. Stango told KultureHub that he draws a lot of inspiration from artists like Banksy as well.

Stango’s approach to representing Ali as both the man and the myth draws upon historical and contemporary figures for inspiration. The Heavyweight Contender is an ode to a legend, as well as a sample of Stango’s larger body of work.

The Heavyweight Contender is showing at The Compound from May 8th to June 5.

Only in NYC: The Shed’s impressive architecture is bridging artsy boundaries

The Shed serves as a new cultural hub for the New York City arts scene.

Located where Hudson Yard meets the end of the High Line, this new architectural wonder — designed by the interdisciplinary studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro with the collaborative help of the Rockwell Group — The Shed is situated in a newly bustling center of the city.

The Shed’s core structural principle is its ability to morph to the desires of the artists being showcased within it.

According to the Hudson Yard’s website, the Shed’s Bloomberg Building has two large gallery spaces, a theater, a rehearsal space, an event space, as well as an artist’s lab.

However, the most remarkable aspect of The Shed’s architectural capabilities can be clearly seen with its removable outer shell, called The McCourt.

The structure of The McCourt is optimal for harsh New York weather as well as movability due to its inflatable shell being made out of a Teflon fabric.

This isn’t the first time architects have experimented with inflatability — the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida opened in 1980 and has a roof made from a similar design strategy.

Most notably, however, is the McCourt’s ability to move away from the original building to serve as an additional performance space, effectively melding the visual and performing art worlds.

The Shed’s adaptability allows it to transform into a space to accommodate a multitude of different artists no matter what medium they use.

Chairman Daniel Doctoroff told Town and Country Magazine,

“The idea was, ‘Let’s create the world’s most flexible cultural institution, both programmatically and physically.’”

As of April 22, The Shed’s program already consists of the Anne Caron play production Norma Jeane Baker of Troy as well as two visual/performative art exhibitions.

One exhibition, Reich Richter Pärt, focuses on the interactions between visual art and music through two live performances. Included in the exhibition are live performances by composers Arvo Part and Steve Reich as well as similar works of visual art by the German painter Gerhard Ritcher.

The second exhibition is a free showcase of the work of the conceptual artist Trisha Donnelly. Make sure you make time to pull up you don’t want to miss out on NYC latest architectural and artsy feat.

What is provenance? Here’s the reason why art grows in value

In his essay “Brief Notes On Staying // No One Is Making Their Best Work When They Want To Die,” Hanif Abdurraqib wrote, “Everything sounds good when you know it was the last thing a person would ever make. All the words sit more perfect on the page when they are the last words.”

Here, Abdurraqib is describing a phenomenon well known in the art world–an artist with a tragic past dies, and suddenly their work skyrockets in value. Examples of this are abundant: Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Basquiat are just among the most notable.

This phenomenon, called the “Death Effect,” albeit problematic with its ability to fetishize trauma, is one important factor in why art can grow exponentially in value. The second and arguably more important factor is a piece’s provenance.

Provenance is the official documentation tracing the actual ownership of a piece of art. If a “work” is said to have “solid provenance,” that means it is sure to not be forgery or fraud.

Recently, the art world has been struck by multiple instances in which a lack of complete provenance has deeply affected the value of some artists’ most popular works.

One of the most shocking instances came in 2017 when the International Foundation for Art Research discovered the existence of four fake Pollocks. It was their connection to a collector by the name of James Brennerman, now suspected to be a false identity, that caused IFAR to investigate.

Brennerman’s collection also consisted of multiple de Koonings, Monets, Hoppers, and Renoirs–this puts the legitimacy of all of these works under harsh speculation.

More recently, a newly discovered Da Vinci was sold for a record-breaking $450.3 million.

The piece, titled “Salvator Mundi,” disappeared from the historical record in the late 1700s and was only rediscovered as a Da Vinci in 2005 when a man named Robert Simon stumbled upon the painting during a Louisiana art auction.

Simon and two business partners carefully researched the work’s provenance. Eventually, director of the National Gallery, Nicholas Penny, helped Simon confirm that Salvator Mundi was an original Da Vinci.

The discovery of Salvator Mundi was astonishing as only 20 known works by Da Vinci still survive.

Issues with provenance become even more tricky when it comes to the work of fraudsters. This development has most recently started to target contemporary African-American artists.

With the recent rise in demand for art by African American artists has come a wave of subsequent forgeries. However, caution on the side of art dealers also has the dangerous potential to let legitimate works go unrecognized.

Other contemporary artists that also were hit by fraudsters include Damien Hirst, who is most famous for his work “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.

In a more usual turn of events, the South Korean artist Lee Ufan claimed 13 expected forgeries as his own work even though both the forger and the gallerist who was selling them admitted to them being fakes.

Obviously, the unstable nature of provenance proves to be a problem for artists and buyers even today.

Clipped from the movie "Breathless" (1960)

‘Breathless’ proves the greater significance of French New Wave cinema

In 1969, an American reporter told acclaimed French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, “You’re attacking culture now the way people used to attack religion.” Godard responded, “Yes, it’s the same thing.”

Quentin Tarantino has looked to Godard as one of his main artistic influences while he established his style as a director. Many have equated Tarantino as Godard’s modern-day equivalent.

Writing for SLANT, critic Kenji Fujishima coupled the pair as two parts of a whole. She said,

“If Godard is a reflection of a politically-conflicted, self-aware, industrializing society, Tarantino is perhaps an example of Godard’s convictions taken to a perversely logical conclusion.”

While Tarantino and Godard now have an infamously tense relationship, the larger significance and potent commentary of Godard’s early work have gone unremembered in modern cinema.

Godard, along with his contemporaries, pioneered a revolutionary style of filmmaking. A kind of filmmaking that strove to redefine the director as an intrusive presence in the experience of their audiences.

To do so, Godard introduced revolutionary concepts of filmmaking. He was the jump-cut trendsetter and the 180-degree rule purposeful violator. All were techniques that made his audience conscious of the fact that they were watching a film.

After the liberation of France from Nazi control, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes and a representative for the French government, Leon Blum, organized a deal to wipe away France’s war debt by opening American markets to French consumers.

This agreement was called the Blum-Byrnes Accords. It shaped French culture at unprecedented rates and included a kick-start of French New Wave, one of the most influential movements in the history of cinema.

Godard’s films were born from the intellectual community of young New Wave cinephiles who were united by Andre Bazin’s journal Cahiers du cinéma.

The Cahiers critics embraced mise-en-scène aesthetics and highlighted the idea of breaking all conventions to the point where the audience becomes hyper-aware of the fact that they are watching a film.

In the eyes of French filmmakers, Hollywood producers were seen as “cultural colonizers” whose power over European markets directly related to a pointed manipulation of the film distribution.

Godard’s quintessential film, Breathless, both emerged from and responded to the cultural implications of the Blum-Byrnes Accords.

Breathless was an extended investigation of French cinema being pushed into the shadow of Hollywood dominance. It essentially asked the question if an identity informed by another nation’s culture can exist at all?

Godard comes to the conclusion that to be able to do so would be impossible.

The film follows Michel Poiccard, a wandering criminal who shoots a policeman after stealing a car. While on the run from authorities, Michel develops an intimate relationship with an American woman, Patricia.

At the end of the film, Patricia betrays Michel to the police, an event that eventually leads to his death.

In making Breathless, Godard followed Bazin’s basic principle of a complete rejection of the traditional, American, montage aesthetic, in which the style continuity and editing were supposed to be absolutely invisible to the audience.

Both Godard and Bazin believed in the revolutionary concept: la politique des auteurs, a philosophy that dictated that exemplary films should have the distinct signature of the director who created it.

While la politique des auteurs was not meant to lambast American directors, Godard’s filmmaking tactics purposely pushed the boundaries of what, at the time, was considered “acceptable” filmmaking–a field of practice that was largely defined by Hollywood itself.

Michel models himself off the film persona of the famous Hollywood actor Humphrey Bogart in a similar manner by which Breathless both models and parodies itself as a classic American Noir movie.

Therefore, to follow the progression of Michel’s character is to examine the argument concerning the negative effects of the Blum-Byrnes Accords that Godard is suggesting.

The film opens with a shot of Michel dressed like a parody of an American gangster–a trilby pulled low over his face, massive cigarette, and an obnoxiously patterned suit–while mimicking a move attributed to Bogart.

Michel steals an American car from an American military officer and then proceeds to find the American’s gun in the glove compartment.

This final action not only completes Michel’s character as a criminal but also triggers the inciting incident of the film whereby Michel shoots the police officer that chases him, setting the rest of the events in the film in motion.

In the middle of the film, the connection between Michel and Bogart becomes even more overt. Michel examines a larger-than-life poster of Bogart for his final film The Harder They Fall (1956): in this shot, Michel’s reflection is literally dwarfed in Bogart’s shadow.

This shot is reflecting the fact that Michel’s lack of identity cannot be supplemented by just mimicking a symbol of classic Hollywood.

Film critic Dennis Turner says that this moment is an example of Lacan’s mirror stage, which describes the milestone in a child’s development in which they are able to recognize themselves in the mirror.

While the infant recognizes a unity with its reflected image, this image of a unified body and mind does not correspond with the infant’s weak state. The infant aspires to that unity by projecting itself into the place of the “other.”

This reflects an interaction between the identities of Michel and Bogart, in which the audience is clued into Michel’s lack of identity without the reflection of the Hollywood star.

Movie critic A.O. Scott agrees with this analysis, writing that with this scene, Godard tells his audience that Michel a cinematic construct, unknowingly utterly incapable of achieving the ideal he projected onto an emblem of American culture.

This directly translates into an adept criticism by Godard concerning the French trying to emulate and adopt American culture.

The finale of the film drives home Godard’s message that the unity between Patricia, Michel’s American girlfriend, and Michel–which mirrors the unity between France and America both during and after the Blum-Byrnes Accords–is inherently exploitative.

Patricia, betraying Michel to the cops, watches as Michel is gunned down.

This scene, which became a cultural touchstone after the film’s release, is one long, relatively unbroken shot as Michel stumbles down the street, pressing his hand against his bullet wound until he collapses.

The soundtrack here is loud and intrusive. It sounds like something that would be at the climax of an action scene in a Bond movie. Not the music one would expect to accompany the tragic death of the main character.

The symbolism here is clear: the union between Patricia and Michel was never going to work. Patricia violates Michel’s love in the same way that Hollywood, with the help of the American government, violated French theaters.

By 1948, barely two years after the Blum-Byrnes Accords, 222 American films populated French cinemas. This number, compared to the 89 French films, and only 8 films from other countries released that year, understandably shocking for French filmmakers.

This final sequence clearly illustrates how Godard viewed the only possible outcome for the French film’s cultural identity if they attempted to move with–as opposed to against–the grain of the American culture forced upon them.

In an adept and incredibly “meta” twist, Breathless itself, with its purposeful break from all traditional conventions, the use of jump cuts, and breaking of the fourth wall is the solution to the problem Godard sees.

It successfully goes against the grain of the American cinematic precedent.

American economic dominance over French culture produced a cognitive dissonance for the identity of French filmmakers. Breathless wants to identify with the Hollywood filmmaking it admires.

However, Godard is conscious of the fact that such an identification is utterly impossible.

The RapCaviar Pantheon is a transformative cultural force full of drip

Spotify’s RapCaviar is one of the most influential hip-hop playlists on the platform, sporting almost 11.5 million followers.

The playlist was created in order to highlight popular artists and uplift the voices of rising stars to the forefront of cultural conversation.

Now, the curators of the playlist have introduced four figures – Cardi B, Juice WRLD, Gunna, and Jaden Smith – into the “RapCaviar Pantheon.” The Pantheon is on display at the Brooklyn Museum from April 3-7.

While the RapCaviar Pantheon was clearly labeled as a “campaign” on behalf of Spotify, as opposed to an official installation, its display at the Brooklyn Museum, marks an important intersection between the musical and visual art worlds.

This is the second campaign created to honor the top artists of Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist. In 2017, the Brooklyn Museum hit off their partnership with Spotify to honor the breakthrough artists of that year: SZA, Metro Boomin, and 21 Savage.

Spotify described the inductees as “cultural disruptors” who were being memorialized for the undeniable impact they have had over the past year on the hip-hop scene.

Each sculpture of the Pantheon serves as a portrayal of the artists and their impact on the world beyond their music. Cardi B is displayed holding a phone in one hand to represent her pervasive presence on social media.

Juice WRLD is modeled after the Greek figure Atlas, a Titan who was forced to carry the world on his shoulders in order to symbolize the exposed nature of his music.

Gunna is depicted holding the snake that is frequently featured alongside the rapper’s image. Lastly, Jaden Smith’s sculpture is holding a second head in order to represent the duality of Smith’s music.

Department Head of Classical Studies at Brandeis University, Joel Christensen Ph.D., noted the historical importance of presenting these artists in the form of a Pantheon. He said,

“The Greek Pantheon, is, in a way, a transformative cultural force–a collection of symbols expressing values that simultaneously belong to no one and everyone.”

This is not the first time the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Museum, Anne Pasternak, has supported the efforts of black artists of both the musical and visual fields.

During her time at the non-profit Arts organization Real Art Ways, Pasternak curated the groundbreaking exhibition “Hip Hop Nation” in 1991.

More recently, her stint as the Executive Director at Creative Time helped produce Kara Walker’s 2014 installation “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” in the historic Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

Walker’s piece gained international attention not only for its enormous scale but also for its carefully crafted message concerning the history of African-American oppression displayed through the 75-foot tall sculpture.

Pasternak is less interested in persevering a type of cannon and more interested in creating a conversation concerning who art is for and what even constitutes as art itself.

With her work at the Brooklyn Museum, Pasternak has created a direct dialogue between the museum and community surrounding the space–setting her directorial program worlds apart from the likes of MoMA and its neighbors.

Project #ShowUs is a collective effort to shatter beauty stereotypes

#ShowUs seems to be yet another case in which “Hashtag Activism” produces real-world solutions.

Dove, who has a rich history diversifying the images of women portrayed in commercial media, has paired up with Getty Images and the Los Angeles based company Girlgaze in order to create the largest stock photo library by and for those who identify as female or non-binary.

As one of the leading stock photo image companies in the world, Getty Images has pioneered this project in order to help other brands broaden their range of representation with the stock images they use.

This collection has more than 5,000 photographs of 179 subjects from more than 39 countries. What’s most important? Each photographed individual was able to specifically define what they wanted their search descriptions and tags to be.

This level of sensitivity is crucial. #ShowUs fully ensured that each person a part of the campaign was defined in the way that they themselves wish to be seen.

Additionally, Getty is proving yet again the importance of a diverse range of photographers in shooting subject matter that has to deal with broadening the lenses of representation: Every one of the 116 photographers represented the broad global range of female identifying or non-binary folk.

In a world in which models like Barbara Palvin are considered “plus size,” movements like #ShowUs are not only revolutionary but necessary.

Professor Phillipa Diedrichs told Getty Images,

“When women and girls experience body dissatisfaction, they experience negative consequences across key areas of their lives, including their health and well-being, their relationships, and their aspirations in education and work settings.”

According to research conducted by Dove, 70 percent of women do not feel represented in the media they encounter on a day to day basis. Seventy-one percent of the women apart of this statistic want to see these companies broaden their representation to include more realistic standards of beauty.

Photo Cred: Bhumika Bhatia | #ShowUs | Getty Images

Major brands have heard this call to action with search terms such as “women leaders,” “real people,” and “diverse women” on Getty Images increasing over 100 percent.

Getty Images’ goal of this collaboration was to answer the call for more inclusive representation through the diversification of stock image platforms.

Dove has been working on campaigns to inspire a diverse representation and body positivity, beginning with their #RealBeauty pledge in 2017. Massive brands pushing campaigns such as these legitimize universal representation–from race to body type–in popular media.

This collaboration marks an important step in the right direction. The collaboration between everyday people and brands to create an equitable representation in a world that is more interconnected than ever is incredibly admirable.


Murakami and Eilish collab proves creatives should always work together

In preparation for her second studio album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish has partnered with Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami to release a secondary music video for her song “you should see me in a crown.”

Since her debut 2015 song “Ocean Eyes,” Eilish has hit the ground running. At only 17 years of age, she has risen as one of the most influential artists on the scene.

The teaser shows a cartoon version of Eilish in Murakami’s signature Superflat form. The video quickly switches from shots of Murakami’s iconic flowers to Eilish’s horrific transformation into a spider–a nod to the original music video for the song which features live spiders crawling both onto and out of Eilish.

This disturbing use of body horror is developed from the pervasive violence that comes from Murakami’s greatest influence: Japanese manga and anime.

Murakami, one of the most significant artists to have emerged from post-war Japan, is known for founding the post-Modernist “Superflat” movement. Superflat draws upon the artistic influences of manga and anime, developing a still version of “animetic” effects achieved through camera’s motion without adjusting images to keep them in scale with the movement.

Murakami’s signature does not eliminate layers of perception but rather removes their hierarchy, making the viewers organize the information given to them themselves.

This is not the first time Murakami has collaborated with musical artists. He has provided visuals for Kanye West–most notably for his 2007 album Graduation–as well as the more recent cover for West and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts.

West originally contacted Murakami with interest in viewing the Japanese artist’s sculpture Hiropon, a pornographic female figure study often partnered with a similar statue, My Lonesome Cowboy.  These works are often said to both mimic and parody a historical perspective of the human figure, from the Paleolithic Venus figurines to the pin-up girls of the 1950s.

After this studio visit, their relationship blossomed and West contacted Murakami months after to design the cover of his groundbreaking album Graduation.

Murakami is an expert at blurring the lines between the elitist concepts of “high art” and commercial consumption, most clearly seen by his collaboration with “high fashion” brands such as Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton.

Murakami introduces the joyous iconography of pop-culture reproducibility (continually recycling the images of his rainbow-petaled flowers and jellyfish eyes) but also dirtying the very images he puts forth with gruesome figures sometimes hidden within the rainbow chaos of his larger pieces.

With this teaser, it is clear that Murakami is treading on the darker side of his work to match with the ghostly vibration of Eilish’s song. The lyrics, inspired by a line from Jim Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, are just as haunting as the moody, nearly whispered vocals. While the full music video is exclusively on Apple Music, the teaser trailer has garnered a great deal of hype with the collaboration between the two artists.

Murakami and Eilish have not been the first to collaborate in this way. Probably one of the earliest and more influential meldings of the modern studio art and musical worlds was with the mentorship between Andy Warhol and the rock band The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Warhol helped produce, record, and provide art for their most recognized self-titled album. The Velvet Underground was one of the first bands to write songs completely centered around the seedy underbelly of New York City.

It is crucial, of course, to acknowledge that The Velvet Underground got every cue they ever had from the jazz musicians of their time–from their music to their performative aesthetics.

Warhol was an incredibly successful commercial artist who used his network to mentor younger artists. His fourth-floor loft on East 47th street, The Factory, quickly became the epicenter of New York City pop culture from the 60s into the late 80s.

Warhol, as a gay man in the 1960s, was a mirror for those abandoned in the margins to be reflected back into the center of pop culture.

This collaboration demarcated the end of modernism. In a very strange way, this was the bottom falling out of the Beatnik generation, marking a transformation into the era of OG hipster culture.

More recent examples of these collaborations transcend genre.

Will Cotton is a contemporary American painter known for his hyperrealistic paintings of women and candy. In 2010, he paired with Katy Perry to create the album art for her album Teenage Dream.

This piece, formed as a modern take on a cherubic nude, was one portrait of many Cotton painted of Perry.

Three years later, the artist Jeff Koons, famous for his massive, chrome balloon sculptures, created the cover art for Lady Gaga’s 2013 album ARTPOP. The cover features Gaga and one of Koons’s iconic “gazing balls” with a backdrop of fragmented paintings of Greek myth: from The Birth of Venus to Apollo and Daphne.

This was the first time Gaga brushed up against the art world in 2013: the famous performance artist Marina Abramovic described Gaga as her “daughter” in an interview with MTV. Abramovic has also collaborated with Jay-Z–a relationship that quickly went sour.

As artists are forced to adapt to their surroundings, there will always a continuous melding of both visual and musical forms. These collaborations only enhance the work produced and give an added layer of depth behind its meaning for their audiences to unpack.


Why Marsha P. Johnson should be on your list of iconic activists

Marsha P. Johnson was one of the first drag queens to set foot in the Stonewall Inn. Known for her cornucopia-like headpieces, sequined robes, undying kindness, and red plastic heels, Johnson became a known figure advocating for the rights of gay and trans youth from 1969 to 1992.

Despite her tireless work, Johnson initially went unrecognized when it came to conversations about the gay liberation movement’s progression. However, recently, and especially through the medium of film and social media, Johnson’s name is being represented as a powerful but forgotten figure to be thankful for.

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Johnson’s narrative brings to light an important phenomenon as to how communities pick their idols and importance being reclaimed by communities repressed within its own subculture: Johnson’s name has been reassigned importance due to the visibility of and persistent violence against trans communities across America.

Johnson could not be recognized as a figurehead of the LGBT community in life because she was a black, trans woman; her initial erasure from the greater gay liberation narrative made the gay liberation movement digestible for white, straight, middle-class allies.

As a homeless, black, trans woman, Johnson was forced to fight from the ground up. In 1973, Johnson was banned from participating in the gay pride parade by the committee who organized the event on the ground that the presence of drag queens at the marches were “giving them a bad name.”

Johnson’s initial erasure from accounts of the Stonewall riots was due to similar sentiments.

The constant exclusion Johnson faced paints a very clear picture as to how many orchestrators of the gay liberation movement wanted the movement to look as assimilative as possible to possible white/straight allies.

Johnson was unable to gain recognition for her activism during her life as she was barred from being represented due to her minority status as a trans woman of color.

It was only due to the development of social media and newfound accessibility of information due to corporations such as Twitter, Netflix, and YouTube that Johnson’s legacy was able to be recognized.

This can best be seen by the two documentaries Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson (2012), directed by Michael Kasino and David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017).

These two documentaries gave Johnson recognition on a national scale and were both accessible for casual consumption from your personal device: Kasino published Pay It No Mind on YouTube and France’s work is a Netflix Original Documentary.

These directors brought to light a narrative of Johnson’s life story that did not solely rely upon her involvement in Stonewall or her mysterious death; by interviewing Johnson’s friends and family, both directors were able to uplift the image of Johnson as the women who started the first advocacy group for trans youth and fought for the rights of sex workers and those most effected by the AIDs epidemic.

Johnson’s rise to fame on social media platforms should come to no surprise as social media has become one of the most viable options for minority voices to be heard the loudest.

This fact can be clearly seen in a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center which juxtaposes the higher importance black social media users place on social media to express/get involved with political issues versus their white counterparts.

Therefore, social-media based activism and accessible platforms of entertainment, namely YouTube and Netflix, were crucial in forming Johnson as a new figurehead for trans rights in America.

Johnson’s narrative perfectly fits into a cultural movement to recognize the trans community in a way that wasn’t possible before, as the tragedy of Johnson’s story is something that can relatable for a majority of trans-Americans.

“I think we read tales of terrible events not to see what happens to people but to find out who they are,” writes essayist Scott Berg.

“Tragedy uncovers character, in the sense that it introduces new people to the historical record and also provides a greater, keener, and more complex understanding of their lives.”

That does, in essence, illustrate the general tone of Pay It No Mind and The Death and Life–the tragic nature of her life mirrors the abuses of her larger community.

France employs the tactic of concurrently investigating the death of Johnson while including the narrative of the progress of the 2016 court case of Islan Nettles, a trans woman who was beaten to death in 2013, to illustrate exactly this.

Trans activists such as Mariah Lopez and Victoria Cruz look at Johnson’s story and see their friends, partners, and even themselves.

As of Nov. 2018, 22 trans women of color have been violently murdered in America alone.

Further studies have shown that 55 percent of trans youth have been violently assaulted, 20 percent are homeless, and 41 percent deal with mental illnesses such as depression and suicidal ideation.

Johnson’s story is a reminder that trans women of color especially need to have more support and safe spaces that they have, historically, been excluded from.

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