Across the Atlantic, stripped bare and slapped with paint, three women are holding up a mirror to society’s blemished side.
Taken from the Fame Issue of Wonderland.
From left to right: India Salvor Menuez, Alexandra Marzella and Claire Christerson
“We are not a collective,” states artist India Salvor Menuez firmly.“We are just a patch in this big beautiful creative community – imagine it is a blanket – and we are just this patch that is woven extra tight. Our individual work can be quite different from one another, but so often deals with the same issues.” And just who is “we”? Meet New York- based collaborators Claire Christerson, Alexandra Marzella and India Salvor Menuez, an overlapping troupe of artists, muses and models.
“We might as well be a collective,” Marzella breezes. “But ultimately, right now, we’re looser than that.” The three girls may not know exactly what they are, but then any Gen Y 20-something who says they do is a liar. Anyway, what self-respecting artist would limit themselves with a definition? Try as you might to label them performance artists, nothing about the girls is clear-cut.
One of the trio’s communal works entitled Gushing Plea — which showed at Miami’s Art Basel last year — was a stripped and uncensored commentary on the commodification of the female body, intertwined with the continual fight for reproductive rights in the United States. Sure, it’s a stark, hard-hitting piece concerned entirely with issues that directly affect all women in the U.S., but don’t reduce their creative connection to the fact they all happen to possess a vagina. And don’t close your mind if you’re part of that half of the world that doesn’t have one, either. “My and Alexandra’s left breast were exposed, we wore skirts and heels, and femme make-up that was later deconstructed,” Menuez explains of Gushing Plea. “So ok, we are working from our cis-white female bodies, but feminism affects everyone, as much as abortion, and artists should be able to make work about these things beyond their gender. When I look at all the pieces we have made together as a trio, I see work that is much less about exploring the ‘female experience’ and rather investigating the way humans connect.”
“Generally, I try not to use the word ‘female’ in my vocabulary,” Marzella adds. “I completely work alongside men, we all do… heavily. However, if you mean why have we, as women artists, decided to work together repeatedly, often with the absence of men… I’d say it’s because we just click. Claire and India are extremely open.We share everything. There’s also this whole body-posi thing we’ve got going on.When we get together to work it feels like all societal pressures just fade away. The love and safety that our collaborations provide is what keeps me wanting more.”
If you don’t know Menuez’s name, you’ll recognise her face from a part in Steven Meisel’s SS16 campaign for Miu Miu, or perhaps from an appearance in the award-winning Amazon series, Transparent. Wait for Meneuz’s role in White Girl this year, too – a graphic, hedonistic love story aired at Sundance Film Festival that is already dividing critics.
Marzella might have once existed on the fringes of Internet culture but her candid, daring and often Insta-censored online presence led Calvin Klein to feature her alongside Dev Hynes, Kelela and close friends Petra Collins and photographer Michael Bailey-Gates in the CK One 20th Anniversary campaign last year.
Christerson, meanwhile, is Bailey-Gates’ full-time video and performance collaborator and their unabashed, unrestricted work raked in headlines from the outset.
“We have ideas for future collaborative work that is pretty hush right now,” Menuez tells me with a secretive air. I’d hazard a guess that there will be more paint, more nakedness and plenty more political ponderings, but who knows? What’s the best thing about being a woman in 2016, I ask? “Privilege and independence compared to women in history,” says Marzella. Three forces to be reckoned with.
Photography: Michael Bailey Gates
Words: Lily Walker