Is your art political?
Sometimes. Much of my work is about gender equity and feminism. I am interested in drawing attention to the ways in which female identifying and non-cis, nonbinary bodies continue to be oppressed and underrepresented. I use my art to draw attention to these inequities, offer commentaries on how absurd they are, and encourage work towards possible solutions. I think the notion of ‘political’ can be considered in several ways. Etymologically, “political” is ‘about people’. In a more contemporary, quotidian sense, it’s about the management and negotiation of people – bodies, citizens, communities. As a feminist social practice artist who often also works performatively with their body – there is much about my work that is political. When I think of “political”, I think in terms of the feminist dictum ‘the personal is political’. And these days, I believe this to be particularly true. In the US, in a time of political strife, and deep, ongoing, extreme sexism and racism, topped off with an obsession with individualism, the personal is indeed more political than ever.
I see the individual performance work that I do as being about the body politic – about advocating for gender equity and autonomy. It is about being able to speak my truth, especially with regard to the body that I live in, with the hopes that I can contribute to the normalization of speaking and hearing our truths (about sexism, racism, body trauma, illness, abuse, sexuality, civil liberties). My Male Nipple Pasty initiative on social media seems at first to be frivolous (after all, we can’t help but think of nipples as being a little funny and silly). But I see it as a gateway to discussions about the radical inequities with regard to how bodies are legislated. In 2014 I created a digital pasty of a white male nipple which can be used to cover up the ‘offending’ female nipples that Facebook and Instagram censors indiscriminately and randomly. My intention and hope, however, is that the Male Nipple Pasty will serve as a means of opening up conversations about how the cis white male body is still THE body of ultimate privilege. The Facebook and Instagram policies that police and censor images of bodies online are reinforcing longstanding patriarchal paradigms, reminding us that female, trans, nonbinary, queer, and black and brown bodies still do not have autonomy and authority. But those white male bodies always do. Advocating for equity and autonomy for all bodies does seem like a political act to me. Incidentally, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified, and technically, the constitution only protects men. The word ‘sex’ (referring to biological identity) is only mentioned one time in the constitution. And that document was written by all white men. The UN Council on women has shown repeatedly that if women were to participate equally in the workplace, global GDP would increase by 26%. But the benefits of gender equity and parity are not just economic. Studies have also shown that
The collaborative projects that I do are more of a civic politic—employing strategies of engagement and collaboration, trying to model a collective investment in bettering society. With Gallery Tally, hundreds of volunteers helped me collect data and make visualizations of the ratios of male and female artists that were represented in contemporary art galleries around the world. We revealed that overall, 70% of the artists who had representation in top commercial art galleries were men. With the Feminist Summer Camp programs that I do with Cara Despain, I bring people together to rethink feminist pedagogies and truth-telling. In my weekly Feminist Friday conversations, I model the structure after the consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s, and aim to engage people (of all genders) in conversations about how issues of inequity and sexism affect their daily lives.
During quarantine I took to making stickers, and conducting give-aways on social media which I would then send via snail mail, around the world. I was thinking about how to make art that was more portable, more sustainable, could be done in quarantine, and would help support the post office! Plus, give-aways are fun! If readers would like some stickers, check me out on Instagram (@unicornkiller1), and look for give-aways or DM me for images of which designs are still available. They are always free.
Your favorite political artwork?
There are so many!
Currently, I’m really loving ALL the work by Hank Willis Thomas (including The Wide Awakes), Cassils, Rafa Esparza, and Nancy Baker Cahill. I think Titus Kaphar’s paintings are brilliant.
I love Regina Jose Galindo’s performances.
Andrea Fraser’s exposé of the connections between art, money, politics, and prisons in her book “Museums, Money, and Politics.”
Femen stealing the baby Jesus from the Vatican, with “God is Woman” painted on her chest, 2014.
Sojourner Truth, in 1858, at age 60, bared her chest to rebut hecklers during a speech she was giving.
Hans Haacke’s “Germania” pavilion for the 1993 Venice Biennale.
Daniel Martinez’s “I can’t imagine ever wanting to be white” for the 1993 Whitney Biennial.
The Yes men, posing as a Dow chemical representative and doing TV interviews in which they apologize for a chemical plant explosion and vow to commit millions of dollars to address damages.
Everything that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee did! Sit-ins, Kneel-ins, Boycotts
Black Panther’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program
Allora Y Calzadilla’s piece, “Track and Field,” at the Venice Biennale in 2011
The Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Lisette Norman)
Aaron Schwartz hacking into Jstor.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ about labor – maintenance art.
Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski’s “Conflict Kitchen.“
How do we move forward?
Humans have really outdone themselves with consumption and individualism. We need to find a way to consume less, take up less space (on the planet), work more collaboratively and harmoniously with all other life forms and systems. I don’t see the Anthropocene working out in a positive way. We need to let go of our speciesism a bit, knock it down several notches, and start engaging in a more horizontal value-structure when it comes to life on this planet.
I think we need to keep working, keep speaking, keep articulating our truths, keep asking others to listen to our truths. We are increasingly divided and polarized, politically – abandoning even the pretense that our ‘democracy’ is a multi-party system. Partisan politics has become only about a binaristic opposition, and not even about issues or ideology.
We need to refocus on education (David Attenborough at the end of his most recent documentary cites educating girls worldwide as one of the first steps toward saving the planet – and I agree!)
We are in an empathy deficit. We need to find ways to build and grow empathy.
We need to be able to trust each other, to communicate our fears, wants, desires. The issue with the Trump voter base is that they are scared and angry (and racist and sexist) and stuck in a self-affirming feedback loop. We have to find a way to break the cycles of toxic thinking and living. Someone (such as Trump) who validates and champions their ignorance enables them to stay where they are, and to stay in their rage and their racism. I have really admired and been inspired people like you (Teka Lo), Kimberly Drew, Soraya Chemaly, Sarah Ahmed, bell hooks -who have been making educational, activist books for younger readers. We need a radical overhaul of our education system, we need free education through college, universal health care, a universal living wage, a maximum wage, campaign finance reform, more vegetarianism. Love more, consume less.
Your inspiring plans for 2020?
To stay alive, and not get sicker; to stay employed; to find new ways forward.
I would like to find a way to feel useful and not wasteful, to be impactful but not obtrusive. I’d like to return to joy and humor. Quarantine has meant that I have basically forgotten how to be social/human – so I’m working on relearning that! And I’ve been working on re-learning to rollerskate (since February).
Micol Hebron is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice includes studio work, curating, writing, social media, crowd-sourcing, teaching, public-speaking, and both individual and collaborative projects. She has been engaged in individual and collaborative projects in Los Angeles since 1992. Hebron is an Associate Professor of Art at Chapman University; the founder/director of The Situation Room resource space for the creative community; the Gallery Tally Poster Project about gender equity in contemporary galleries; and the Digital Pasty/Gender Equity initiative for the internet. In the past she has been the visiting Chief Curator at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art; the director of the UCLA Summer Art Institute; an editorial board member at X-Tra magazine; an independent curator; a conservator at LACMA, and the co-founder of Gallery B-12 in Hollywood in the 90s. She has served on advisory boards at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Birch Creek Ranch Residency (Utah), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, UCLA., and the Centre Pompadour in France. She is the founder of the LA Art Girls, the Co-Founder of Fontbron Academy, and the founder of Feminist Summer Camp, in Ephraim, Utah, and Ercourt, France. She employs strategies of consciousness-raising, collaboration, generosity, play, and participation to support and further feminist dialogues in art and life. Hebron has presented exhibitions, performances, and lectures at numerous international institutions. The best way to reach her is through social media.
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