The performativity of gender and sex positive attitudes emerge at the forefront of Naomi Elena Ramirez’ exhibition-as-book project, Beaver.
Artist Naomi Elena Ramirez leads the charge in Feminist art project “BEAVER”: a book that presents a Feminist exhibition from a range of viewpoints. The publication, which is available via the project’s website, charts a range of perspectives from artists including Keren Moscovitch, Carol-Anne McFarlane, Damali Abrams, Leslie Tucker, Katrina Majkut, Julia Kim Smith, mothertongues, Mirabelle Jones and Ramirez herself, among others. This iteration of “BEAVER” centers intersectional Feminist perspectives on pornography, sexuality and self-expression. Ramirez spent significant time on cultivating and presenting a range of artistic projects intersecting with this powerful theme.
“BEAVER” began as an exhibition taking place in 2014 at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, and three subsequent exhibitions and this inaugural publication interrogate media representations of the female body and sexuality. Artists are asked to respond to the following questions put forth by Ramirez, “How do phenomena like “slut-shaming” and the threat of sexual violence delineate, thwart, or promote female sexual self-expression? What are the different ways that racial and sexual identities are culturally inscribed on the female body?” Participating artist Leslie Tucker reflects, ” Naomi’s BEAVER Project examines the constant messaging around women as a class, which pervades my work as well; how women are treated in the media in terms of sexuality, violence, or just micro-aggressions daily in society. I think it’s critical to ascertain not only how these messages are circulated and perpetuated in Western society and media, but also how they are received by individuals – of all backgrounds.” These and other similar responses to Ramirez’ questions provide a pivotal lens by which artists visually explore how women reclaim agency and power with regard to their identity, sexuality and representation in the public eye.
Something for everyone greets readers of the publication, as representational painting, photography, performance art, sculpture and a range of other artistic practices form the fertile ground through which artists explore themes related to the “BEAVER” prompt. By subverting patriarchal expectations and mining rich expressions of feminist presentations, artists create powerful responses to society’s sexualized expectations for female-identifying artists.
Editor and artist Naomi Elena Ramirez (b. Hermosillo, Mexico) is a mexican-american multidisciplinary conceptual artist and curator whose work encompasses visual art, video art, and contemporary dance, and the process by which the different mediums can inform each other. Naomi has an MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA in Dramatic Art/Dance from the University of California at Berkeley. Her work has been exhibited and presented by A.I.R. Gallery, the Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects, Movement Research at the Judson Church, DoublePlus at Gibney Dance, The Bronx Latin American Art Biennial, and many others in the US and abroad. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
In the immaculate words of feminist and activist Gloria Steinem, “Each individual woman’s body demands to be accepted on its own terms.” This admonishment pervades the transcendental exhibition currently on view through Nov 10 at NYU’s Kimmel Windows exhibit space, “Lilia Ziamou: body politic /bädē päl-tik/”. Featuring works by Lilia Ziamou and curated by Pamela Jean Tinnen, the presentation of this collection of works outwardly facing the various passersby on LaGuardia Place and W. 3rd mounts a powerful, visionary response to how we consider ourselves – and others. It can reflect the ways in which our self-perception can become distorted. Perhaps it ruminates on how society constantly projects women’s bodies as idealized forms in various ads throughout public spaces. The exhibition leaves room for speculation and space to absorb the images – true or distorted – which lie before us. Works from this series by Ziamou question how new technology mediates the way we see ourselves or how others anticipate and perceive our appearance. Perceptions of the body are stacked against the realities of the biological building blocks that determines who we are and how we appear. Ziamou bravely steps forward into an artistic inquiry of what makes us human, playing with preconceived ideas of how we establish our physical identities as a whole from the sum of our parts. “By reimagining and reconstructing body fragments, I am constantly exploring and intrigued by the ways we can challenge existing constraints of form, materials, and processes,” remarks Ziamou.
This exhibition at the Kimmel Windows is curated by NYU’s own Pamela Jean Tinnen. The curator notes that she was drawn initially to Ziamou’s examination and recreation of human bones, re-contextualizing them as artworks. In the art canon of portraiture, it can be argued that Ziamou’s hip-bone 3-D scan recreations are a continuation of a centuries-long tradition of figurative art. Tinnen also reflects on other areas where these works draw parallel lines to long-existing or contemporary traditions. “What’s very interesting about Lilia’s work is how it plays on the abject, but through her ability to refine the subject through various media-processes, she creates visual distance while maintaining conceptual resonance.” Tinnen continues, “I’ve always been intrigued by Julia Kristiva’s writings on Abjection which discusses human reactions to encountering, as a primary example, a corpse. These encounters elicit horror but also a certain fascination. A corpse, or in the case of Lilia’s work, the human bone, puts us in the presence of ‘signified death.’ Kristiva suggests our horror-reaction results from a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or between self and other.” This breakdown that occurs when the body perceives another body, yet recognizes this fragment of bone also depicts an invisible portion of one’s own self, causes a ripple of self-awareness. It can be argued that this exhibit also sparks empathy for others and an intimate acceptance of our own appearance – an appearance that can shift over time due to factors such as time and environment.
The environment of the exhibition itself, facing outward from the Kimmel Center, has shifted over time as the ground zero for artists in bohemian Greenwich Village in the mid-20th century to a haven for NYU students today. This public-facing exhibit – which some students can pass several times a day, along with other members of the community – offers a repeating opportunity for reflection and deeper engagement with how we can intrinsically seek deeper meaning in the very things we take for granted: the architecture of our physical selves and the urban planning and architecture defining our immediate presence in a larger cityscape. By keeping the vestibules in which Ziamou’s transcendental works are exhibited stark, almost clinical, those encountering the work can focus their attention on the prints and sculptures facing them from the Kimmel. “The exhibit’s design, simple and starkly white, contributes to a certain visual sterilization, which works well to present the artwork,” notes Tinnen. This simple structuring can be seen as a skeleton in itself: supporting works on view and allowing for immediate access of each fragment of the perpendicular exhibition along LaGuardia and Third.
Ziamou here has considered not only the internal structure of the body, but also how we decorate and define ourselves as members of a society. Her bone sculpture informs the installation referencing a garment she has presented in this same exhibit: an installation that servse as a recreation of our bodies as presented through our fashion choices. Her work speaks a subtle message about the inner psychology that determines our outward appearances: we can knowingly or unknowingly select garments that flatter and project aspects of our anatomy that we take pride in. The artist considers and puts forth artistic hypotheses about how various aspects of our countenance can be mistaken or recreated, creating subtle provocations for the audience. What effect do photo filters on apps have on our psychology? How can our appearances be manipulated for those who consume them? When is the last time we considered that the majority of who we are is not visible to the naked eye? Ziamou deftly plays with these questions, and more, in this impactful solo exhibition.
Curated by Pamela Jean Tinnen, don’t miss “Lilia Ziamou: body politic /bädē päl-tik/” – on view through Nov 10 at NYU’s Kimmel Windows exhibit space on LaGuardia Place and West Third at New York University.
IT is rare indeed to chance upon that hybrid artist/activist/community organizer: that gem of a person who not only successfully runs their own practice, developing thgeir work as a formidable artist, but also finds time to initiate and organize community meetings and projects on the side, supporting scores of other creative types on the up-and-up in the process. Olivia Huffman is a gem: one of this singular breed of dexterous creative folk.
An artist working across mixed media, performance and new media, Huffman has spearheaded efforts to increase visibility and opportunities for marginalized artists. In this vein they have led the creation of artist community Art Folx Nation, an intersectional feminist collective engaging with non-binary / women-identifying artists. In addition, they are a co-founder of Susie Mag, presenting cutting-edge interdisciplinary artworks with an eye toward gender equality in the arts.
Susie Mag has partnered with HERE, an arts center in Lower Manhattan, for the exhibition Susie IRL featuring mixed media works created by participating artists from the Susie Mag family. The exhibition, which is free to the public, is on view Jan 25 – Mar 28 with a public opening/artist’s reception on Thursday, February 22nd from 5-7 pm.
We sat down with Huffman to discuss their process as an artist in-depth and to hear more about how their works come to fruition.
AM. Thanks for speaking with us today, Olivia. I’d like to start with themes latent throughout your practice. Your work often incorporates references to the body, though most of your practice isn’t figurative per se. Can you explain why your work incorporates what you refer to as “remains” of the body and mind vis-a-vis “found material” and how this feature is crucial to your practice as a whole?
OH. I collect debris from everyday life. These items share a story about daily rituals, preferences, and aesthetics. To me, referencing the body without figurative elements enables the viewer’s imagination, linking their memories with mine. I use found materials because everyone has a memory tied to a color, texture, or scent. These slight signals trigger subconscious imagery that can connect the viewer to my work on a more personal level. My work focuses on the mystery and varying paths of personal development and growth, not the outward appearance of a person. I have used the figure in the past, but it was always very minimal and abstract.
AM.The artwork you create has a potent sense of materiality tied specifically the lived history embedded within that material. Can you talk about how the lived histories of material are important within the context of individual artworks you create?
OH. In my current series, Domesticity, each piece represents a different facet of household duties.
“Mystic” references gardening and interior decorating. The materials used are embossed wallpaper, a plastic bag handle, and sliced bark adhered to drywall. I collected the wallpaper from my first roommate in New York and I found the bark with one of my dear friends when we went on a road trip to Mystic, Connecticut.
“Consent” references sexual duties of the household. There comes in an entitlement over a woman’s body once they are wed, it wasn’t that long ago that raping your wife was legal. The piece consists of fishnet stockings, silver tacks, and clear buttons on drywall. The buttons fill up the fishnet stockings creating sags and lumps to mimic flesh.
“Dedication” references office work and the surmounting to-do tasks in home/work life. Each post-it note consists of tasks that are coded with shorthand text that without context are nonsensical. This work includes a gratuitous amount of notes, a lock of hair, and faux wood contact paper on drywall.
AM.In this series [Domesticity], industrial objects and materials are used to create relatively small works. Can you talk about scale and size in relation to this series, and about how you approach a sense of balance when incorporating disparate elements (tree bark,fabric, fishnets, etc) juxtaposed within these works?
OH. I draw a lot from the minimal abstract movement is the 60’s— inspired greatly by Louise Bourgeois, Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse, and Agnes Martin. All of these creatives had specific guidelines pertaining to their material uses and size. Agnes Martin worked in multiples of threes, as do I. In Domesticity I decided to work in small formats, on drywall, and only use three materials (outside of adhesive).
AM. You’ve lived and worked in New York, NY and Las Vegas, NV, where you are from originally. How have these different locations impacted your work? Has your work evolved or new concepts been introduced in your migration east?
OH. Las Vegas is one hell of a city. There is so much going on but you can easily slip into your own bubble (similar to NYC). There are so many great and valuable artists in my hometown who inspire me daily while out here in New York. I think when I lived in Las Vegas I was driven more by my emotions, the industry when I was out there was motivated purely by sexualizing women. Many of my jobs treated me very differently than cis men (wear skirts, make-up, act bubbly). In New York people are more raw: we all know what a pain in the ass it is to get from one place to another, do grocery shopping, or wash your clothes.
I think when I moved here I started working in a way that was more coded — smarter, if you will. My commute to work was roughly an hour each way for three years of my life, which is a lot of time. I used this to analyze my materials, my thoughts about constructing a piece, and deciphered ways to communicate angst, love, or habits in a non-literal form.
I still talk about gender constructs, but I’m less angry and transparent. My connection to feminism has evolved, I came out as Non-Binary while making this series which revealed Domesticity is about deconstructing the confinement of womanhood. I use materials from the home, sometimes my cat even helps me shred fabrics. Although the topics of each piece may not be peaceful, while I am making work it’s about building stability, safety, and love within myself. In Las Vegas, my work more stemmed from anger, resentment, and confusion. There was some love, but I was a very self-destructive being in my late teens and early twenties.
AM.In addition to your 2- and 3-D works you’ve also created performance works, such as Subconscious: The Weapon of Choice. In what ways do you approach performance and sound works the same as your physical artworks and what conceptual overlap do you find between these practices?
OH. Being diagnosed bipolar at 13, I have always worked with psychological elements. There are so many ideas, motives, or actions that happen within ourselves that we aren’t readily privy too. “Subconscious: The Weapon of Choice” explored the three levels of the human psyche; The Physical Self (audience/voyeurs), The Subconscious (attendees who join the performance), and The Imagined Self (performed by me). The performance ended up being a banishment of the ill will that I held against myself and others. I worked in near silence, with little movement, as a helpless confused person that was led into the light of self-acceptance. Towards the end of the performance, a participant cleaned off my nude body and held me in their arms like a newborn. There were participants that whispered encouraging sentiments and really proved to me that I am worth love in a moment in time that I had felt the most unloved in my entire life. But until that performance and those moments, I had no idea that these things were happening inside of me.
In the sound piece, Bedwomb, that I constructed with my partner’s music project, warmcanopy, we wanted to highlight the ignored sounds of the bedroom. In it you’ll hear a cat purring, change being dropped in a piggy bank, coughing, the sound of putting things away. We set aside a time to record ourselves cleaning our room, another domestic task, and submitted it to Yasmina Chavez‘s project, The Helen Keller Experience.
All of my work is cathartic and relates to personal growth and experiences.
AM.As Founder of Susie Magazine you’ve put an emphasis on creating a platform for cis women, trans, and non-binary voices. What aspects of Susie do you find particularly exciting, and what does the zine have to share with the world that other mags or outlets just aren’t providing?
OH. Our zine formed in a secret Facebook group. We wanted to curate a platform to highlight and empower voices that aren’t regularly featured in mainstream outlets and turn the focus to the everyday person. Susie strives to be inclusive in print and at events. We are very conscious of curating with a balance of people from many different socio-economic backgrounds and creeds. Our first Issue themed P O W E R, was when Hillary Clinton was running and we were high off of having a non-cis man as a presidential candidate. There is a piece by Tanika Goudeau Hochhauser titled “Today I Vote”, that we placed as the first editorial piece because it pointedly and poetically outlines our country’s history of systemic oppression. It was interesting to see how the context of the piece changed, as we finished the layout of before the election was finalized.
Our most recent issue, B U I L D, had a very different vibe. It was post-presidential election. It’s after many of us in marginalized communities cried out, some in disbelief and some affirmed of how racist and misogynistic our country still is. This issue is all about building yourself back up. There are stories of heartache, suicide, loving your mother, learning to love yourself, loss of a grandfather, and silly moments of “What are hands for?”
I personally think it is invaluable to have all of these voices and artworks featured under one binding! You giggle, cry, and get a cute playlist to dance around in front of the mirror to. Visitors can check us out at our online shop and on our Instagram.
AM.You’re also a Founder of Art Folx Nation. Can you speak a bit about the aims of that collective as a whole and your progress so far?
OH. Art Folx Nation began in 2014 and was originally titled Lady Art NYC. The group’s focus is to bring together a bunch of non-cis men creatives in an online space so we could share events, ask art questions, and support each other. The group itself is only for cis women, trans, and non-binary people, but our events are gender-expansive. I wanted to cultivate a space free of objectification that thrived on being supportive and safe. When I moved to New York I went to a lot of events thinking I would meet like-minded people, but every time I went to these events people had a buddy or weren’t necessarily open to making a new friend. I was in the big secret feminist Facebook group and realized that we were getting to know details about each other and building really dependable long-term bonds online without having met IRL. I figured that would work just as well in an art-focused space, and it has!