20 Questions with Natalie White
By KURT MCVEY, JUL. 2016
Tonight, at WhiteBox gallery in SoHo, artist, muse and social activist Natalie White will be throwing a private fundraising dinner party and concert to raise money for her sure to be epic march from New York City to Washington DC in protest of the lack of ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Cocktails and a private, twilight tour of White’s earnest, sprawling and confessional two-floor multi-media exhibition, “Natalie White for Equal Rights” will segue into a seated dinner for patrons and generous donators to White’s project and overall great cause, followed by performances by MissAnthropica and @PlatformsPerlman.
In a clearly oversaturated climate of “feminist” themed exhibitions and trending all women group shows, White’s exhibition will stand the test of time, not necessarily as a gallery exhibition that blew the minds of “high-art” lovers and tickled their ostentatious inclinations to full on climax, but as a powerful catalyst for action and real change. The show features several works-prints, video, sculpture, collage-that emphasize White’s penchant for laying herself bare, not only as a conscious participant in her own objectification, but as an artist and human truly looking to change the world for the better. The entire exhibition screams of vulnerability, an apt tone to set for an artist ripe with sexual power and perhaps surprisingly, an almost childlike sense of artistic innocence, all the while looking to protect women across the country from violence, oppression, subjugation and discrimination.
Starting tomorrow at Juan Puntes’ increasingly experimental and always political art-space, White and a growing fellowship of close comrades will embark on a journey that will conclude on the steps of the Capital on July 23rd. There will be some stops and moments of rest along the way, replete with speeches, performances and guerilla art installations. It is a shame this monumental effort is not gaining wider media attention.
While a huge portion of the country debates whether or not to get behind Hillary as anything other than a reasonably responsible act of political consolation, it shouldn’t be difficult at all to come out and proclaim openly, “I’m with Natalie White.” If you’re not one for mid-summer, Tolkien-esque continental treks, there is still time to donate to White’s campaign from the comfort of your air-conditioned home.
The artist was gracious enough to play 20 Questions with Whitehot Magazine while traveling via train to DC for some last minute preparations. Check it out below:
Kurt McVey: Where does your middle name, "Jo," come from? Is there a story behind it?
White: It’s a southern thing. We get cool middle names like Jo, Marie, and Lou that go with our first names. Members of my family still sometimes refer to me as Natalie Jo. It makes me so happy when I hear it.
McVey: What would you like to say to WhiteBox progenitor Juan Puntes that perhaps you haven't had a chance to say to him in person?
White: Take a day off sometimes.
McVey: What's the best advice anyone ever gave to you?
White: I was told to not be afraid because every photographer is secretly an amateur posing as a professional.
McVey: Laura O'Reilly, who curated your recent exhibition at WhiteBox Gallery, just shuddered the doors on her 118 Orchard Wallplay space and in glorious, old school NY fashion. You both seem to be embarking on a new chapter of sorts and at seemingly the same time. Can you briefly touch on your relationship with Laura and where you see it going in the future?
White: For the first time I've found someone who represents my artwork who isn't trying to be a parasite. We truly care about each other on a human level and I'm extremely grateful to have her. Now we're trying to change the constitution. Next, we're going to change the way art is viewed in spaces.
McVey: What is your planned footwear for the long walk from NY to DC?
White: My sister just bought me these shoes yesterday that are white with red strings and blue stars. They were the first pair I tried on; so easy.
McVey: Are there other fine artists currently dealing with women's rights that you admire?
White: Judy Chicago. I think "The Dinner Party" is one of the most important feminist art pieces in history. Carolee Schneemann has always been a major inspiration to me as well.
McVey: Do you feel that "feminism" is currently being commoditized to a degree in the art-world?
White: No, but I can't believe what’s going on at some of the top-level galleries with these all women shows. They get called out for having a history of all male artists then they call up all of the female artists they know and put them in a show together. Why? Because we aren't good enough to show with men? So we must have our own group show? Having an entire history of discriminating against women in your gallery then having a group show of all women is like saying, "I'm not a racist. I know a black person." Women should be on their roster, not thrown into a group show together so the gallery owner can claim forever that he doesn't discriminate against women.
McVey: Have you heard the term "mansplaining?" If so, how do you feel about it?
White: No? Have I been in the dark for the last year while working on this show?
McVey: What were some of the obstacles you faced in creating art work that exists in parallel to an immediate and transparent political cause, meaning; when trying to get a clear message across, do you worry about the work being too literal?
White: There really weren't any obstacles with making the artwork. I just thought of how I felt and I translated it into the mediums. I had a clear vision when creating this work so translating it to people was easy. Plus- why can't the artwork be super literal?
McVey: What needs to happen to pass the Equal Rights Amendment?
White: There are two Senate Judiciary Resolutions that correspond with two House Judiciary Resolutions. The first is to abolish the deadline set on the ERA that failed in 1982; the second is to start all over again. The Resolutions are currently in subcommittees. The problem with things like this is that they usually die in subcommittees and never even get brought to the floor for a vote. The ERA has been reintroduced into congress every year since 1982 and has NEVER been brought to the floor for a vote. It needs 2/3rds majority to vote "yes" in both the house and the senate then it will go to the states for ratification. This is an election year; we need all of the candidates running for Senate, Congress, and President to take a stance on the ERA. We need to let them know that if they won't vote “yes” for us, we won't vote for them. If they take no stance at all, we will assume that they are going to vote against the ERA. I can't imagine why any self-respecting woman would want to support a candidate that doesn't support them.
McVey: What immediate changes will go into effect if the E.R.A. is in fact passed/amended?
White: Women will have a legal remedy against discrimination.
McVey: Do you feel like Hillary Clinton is doing enough to champion Equal Rights for women? Is potentially being the first female president enough?
White: She hasn't spoken about the Equal Rights Amendment. She got close to it in her victory speech when she spoke about Seneca Falls and how it was the first place where the idea that women might have equal rights. What she failed to say was that in 2016, 168 years after Seneca Falls, while she shattered the glass ceiling being the first woman as a major party nominee, women still do not have Equal Rights in the United States Constitution.
McVey: Are you openly "For Her," so to speak?
White: I think women can make their own decisions on who they vote for based on the issues.
McVey: Have you received any criticism-from men or women-for openly celebrating your sexuality and pushing the envelope as a dynamic physical being and muse, while simultaneously championing equal rights for women? If so, how do you respond to this criticism?
White: Yes, I just say that women choose to live their lives in many different ways. No one has to agree with my lifestyle or like my work to agree with my message, which is that women deserve equal rights in the constitution.
McVey: What's the best direction you ever received from a photographer?
White: To do whatever I feel.
McVey: When you finally get to D.C., what's the next step?
White: Pass the ERA.
McVey: After your long journey from NYC to the Capital, if you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?
White: In a bed
McVey: What advice would you give to the young women of the world?
White: Live for yourself. Don't do things because your future partner or future children might not approve when they find out.
McVey: What advice would you give to the young men of the world?
White: The same.
McVey: Who's your biggest inspiration?
White: I read this Sojourner Truth quote, "If women want any rights more than they's got, why don't they just take them, and not be talking about it." I thought, yeah I can do that. WM
Kurt McVey is a writer based in New York City.
photo by Monet Luckiview all articles from this author