Whitehot Magazine

December 2013: Jennifer Delilah: How the JFK Assassination Inspired a Lifelong Love Affair with Social Critique


Jennifer Delilah and her father.


by Christopher Caplan

The JFK Assassination had always been a bizarre elephant-in-the-room during Brooklyn artist Jennifer Delilah’s upbringing. Before she was born, her father was a resident pathologist at Parkland Hospital in Dallas the day JFK’s body was brought in. Whatever it was her father saw that day didn’t correspond with the official story. The psychological trauma her father experienced set a dark precedent that inspired a lifelong love affair with social critique. “[My father] also had a close friend who was one year senior to him in his residency at Parkland who was there that day as well, and my father would talk about how that guy had a spare room in his apartment just to store all of the television sets that he had put a sledgehammer through in order to serve as a kind of therapy to cope with what he referred as ‘The Lies.’ Jennifer distrusted most forms of media, and she was more skeptical of the underlying motives beneath popular narratives. “I think that this may be the way that a lot of narrative authors and artists have started out, with a childhood event in which they got a front row seat of some kind of hypocrisy, followed by a need to create an archetypal world in which good and evil are clearly defined.”

 Jennifer Delilah, The New York Cock Exchange, oil on canvas

“The New York Cock Exchange” is probably her most infamous piece. It’s a monumental metaphor for the kinds of misbehavior that take place in business and humanity in general when people put their moral compass on hold because they have a goal in mind. Partly inspired by the Occupy Movement, the realistic cocks are being lauded by their animalistic counterparts with a clear contempt for life in the pursuit of profit. The painting has ironically attracted stockbrokers and master of the universe type financial executives.

Jennifer toys with the brutal naivete of the ruling class in her “Empire Series.” Her wicked sense of humor becomes especially present in this series. “The Hunt” and “Water” features Louis the 19th, the last recognized dauphin of France, and his “playthings.”

Her first piece in the series, titled “Empire” is set in the throne room of the Palace of Versailles. Large-scale paintings and frescoes line the ceiling, mostly depicting the aristocracy as gods and goddesses. Jennifer developed an obsession with metaphorically capturing the function of government that creates one type of ideology with a whole other mechanism going on behind the scenes. In an act of grandiose mockery she replaced these hyperbolic images of the mythic aristocrats with baroque pornography and Caribbean slave life on sugar cane plantations.

Jennifer Delilah, Unfamiliar Kingdoms #1, oil on canvas

Bondage plays a peculiar role in Jennifer’s “Unfamiliar Kingdom Series.” The birds in bondage represent a form a consensual domination and victimization. As as a society silently gives up its rights, its citizens participate in collaborative subjugation. The Unfamiliar Kingdom explores the ways in which we are both tied up and cut off from one another. In a time when consent is manufactured, and the masses are spoon fed selective narratives, Jennifer flips our fetish with escapism and masochism on its head with a bold display of magical realism.





Christopher Caplan

Christopher Caplan is a writer based in New York City.

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