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Jessie Askinazi, Los Angeles-based photographer, curator, and overall riot grrrl will hold the first #YESALLWOMEN art fundraiser September 19 at Dilettante in Downtown Los Angeles. The silent auction, exhibition, and fundraiser will showcase established and emerging artists who champion women from diverse backgrounds and intersectional experiences. Proceeds from the grassroots art fundraiser will go to the East Los Angeles Women’s Center whose mission is to ensure women, girls, and their families a place of safety, health and person well-being free from violence and abuse, equal access to necessary health services, and social support. Whitewall had the chance to speak with Askinazi about the event and project.
WHITEWALL: You have mentioned that the name of the project was inspired by the #YESALLWOMEN hashtag on Twitter in response to the 2014 Isla Vista killings. Did any particular tweets or themes of stories make you want to have an auction like this one?
JESSIE ASKINAZI: I collected over 600 #YESALLWOMEN tweets from around the world. Each one was a fragment of the monster that is our reality. There are so many different elements to this story that all seemed to be derived from the same source: culturally ingrained misogyny/discrimination, and an epidemic of acceptance for the way we are treated. It’s always “teach your girls to protect themselves” rather than “teach your boys not to cause harm.”
WW: Can you tell us more about the planning of this event and what you hope will come from it?
JA: Originally, I wanted to do an installation in public, industrial spaces, like factories or government offices. But my idea was a bit difficult to take on alone and I didn’t have money for the resources I needed to complete the vision. I decided it would be more satisfying to create an actual world where women who dedicate their lives to the arts and social issues can unite. It’s a kind of protest with that sense of urgency, but it’s also very inclusive. We’ve become so accustomed to passive activism through social media, which is certainly noteworthy and does indeed impact peoples lives, but I wanted to highlight a bit of Le Tigre‘s song that goes: “Get off the Internet! I’ll meet you in the street.” I think that song was a big motivator; it’s always in the back of my mind. Actually, the first person I asked to get on board was Kathleen Hanna– because she had responded to me about an essay I had written regarding the subject of #YESALLWOMEN. Curating really is about creating a universe, and I knew I could easily facilitate that because I live inside my own idealized universe in my head, probably to a fault.
What I hope will come out of this endeavor is some relief. That it’s apparent and understood that an army of people, both women and men alike, are no longer standing for this abuse. That this undertaking is real and in forward motion. Rose McGowan, who is a good friend and one of the artists in this program recently said, “It’s about retraining the mind, and that can be done really quickly.” I hope more women will speak up when there’s damage being done in the moment, and not fear being slammed for administering their right to be who they are wholly. I hope more girls and women become more comfortable living for themselves in their utmost authenticity, and not in reaction to ideas that have been instilled in us. I hope to grate down some of the brainwashing.
WW: You also work with the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and the proceeds of this auction are going to the organization. Do you think that this will bring more attention to this cause? Do you think that there needs to be more of bridge between art and social activism?
JA: It’s important to me that localized, independent, community-oriented organizations receive attention and help. I’m very grassroots, and that’s at the core of ELAWC. As a volunteer for this non-profit myself, the learning process about just how much marginalized groups suffer social disadvantages at the hands of violence, poverty, and abuse is something that needs to be looked at, addressed, and most importantly worked on. I do think that progressive minds are making greater strides and efforts to look at the lifestyles of intersectional experiences, but by no means are we there yet.
I absolutely believe that art and social activism need to be more integrated. There’s this sort of pop feminism (which I think does great things as far as awareness goes) and people like Tavi Gevinson, Lena Dunham, Beyoncé, and Amy Schumer are trying their best to use their fame to open up the floor for important conversations, but I think a lot of people, especially youth, think that feminist activism ends there. It doesn’t. Entertainment is great, but we need to recognize, honor and embrace the women who are fighting tooth and nail every day that aren’t models with It girl clans taking selfies in their underwear, or on television, but they should be held to the same standard and pedestal. Where are their stories? They’re cleaning up messes. The art world is extremely discriminating, waving an exclusionary wand, generally over those with economic, nepotistic, or status/beauty privileges. The cliquish mentality detracts from the power of art and distills the experience into something undrinkable.
WHITEWALL: When you were growing up, were there any women artists that you admired?
JA: To be perfectly honest, growing up, I was mostly exposed to male artists. I lived in a small suburb in Florida, not a cultural mecca. It is my observation that most children and adolescents are taught that compelling artists are predominately male. Thinking back now, all of the field trips to museums that I went on and the art classes I took during school educated us about the men. We are, as a majority, mostly exposed to men in power; look at the history books. It wasn’t until I began learning more about the under-representation of women in art that I broadened my scope. I was obsessed with Francesa Woodman‘s photos for as long as I can remember, though, and she inspired me to make art through photography. And Barbara Kruger is a hero: I basically told her that I don’t want to do this project without her. I was very serious! She believed me, apparently.
WW: Do you plan to curate other auctions such as #YESALLWOMEN in different cities or in the future?
JA: I’m hoping that this project will return annually, and I absolutely hope it can be a traveling, international project; because the grief and weight of #YESALLWOMEN effects different cultures in specific ways. I want to benefit the Northern Indian organization Gulabi Gang in the next extension of this project. I mean, as if their activism isn’t profound enough, they are literally a PINK GANG and wear bright pink saris! Even though social media stories die out quickly, the issues at hand do not, and I will continue voicing these truths, hoping to cause a dent in the infrastructure.
To donate to East Los Angeles Center for women, go to https://www.gofundme.com/elawc.