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Art Baby: girls to the front

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As Art Baby Gallery’s second-ever IRL show opens, the creatives behind the online exhibition platform tell us why physical space is key to challenging art establishment norms

Taken from the winter 2015 issue of Dazed:

“So many people are scared to be labelled a feminist,” says Grace Miceli. “It makes no sense to me.” She’s the forward-thinking curator behind Art Baby Gallery, the glitter-dipped, girls-only online platform that put down real-world roots with a showcase at Alt Space Brooklyn this autumn, Girls at Night on the Internet. Now, just three months later, the curator is bringing her gang back together again for an affordable art show – Take Me Home Tonight, opening at Alt Space today, will offer more than 100 prints between $40-$100. 

“It felt like we were reclaiming a space that is traditionally occupied by those more privileged than us,” says Miceli of the IRL switch-ups, which give artists usually viewed on a five-inch screen the chance to bring their diverse digital creations into the third dimension. For new Art Baby Gallery recruit Sanam Sindhi, who achieved peak Insta-goals when Rihanna put her in the “Bitch Better Have My Money” video earlier this year, exposure from the first exhibition has even inspired her to start her own art collective for POC. “I don’t wanna be a role model but I do want to keep showing other brown girls that it’s OK to be yourself, even if you’re a little fucked up and imperfect,” she says. “I’m excited to take over the world.”

Here, in a digital exclusive from the winter issue, we catch up with some of our favourite Art Baby Girls – Miza Coplin, Ayqa Khan, Sanam Sindhi, Shana Sadeghi-Ray and Miceli herself – to talk discovering art through Tumblr, the importance of showcasing your work in physical spaces, and why young girls need to realise that your appearance can be empowering, but what really matters is what you do and create.

GRACE MICELI

What is the value for you in curating IRL shows at Alt Space? What links the work of artists like Sanam, Ayqa, Miza and Shana?

Grace Miceli: It is so amazing to see all of the work by these people who I admire and are my friends together in one room. (At the last show) there was a definite energy that the work brought to the gallery, having escaped the computer screen. It felt like we were reclaiming a space that is traditionally occupied by those more privileged than us. I chose to include the artists that I did because they operate across a wide variety of mediums and subject matter but are ultimately expressing and communicating with each other through our work online – from DMs to official work emails to Facebook messages, that’s where we found each other. 

Do you discover all of Art Baby Gallery's artists through online platforms?

Grace Miceli: Tumblr is where I first starting connecting with other female artists online, it’s where I met Tavi, Molly Soda, Arvida Byström and so many more. When I first started using Tumblr in 2009, it was the only place I had access to where I could discover other young artists, though over the past year I’ve found Instagram to be the more relevant social media platform. 

From that, what is fascinating about the teenage years and girlhood to you? It seems to play an important role in your work. 

Grace Miceli: Something happens when you become a teenage girl – for many the focus from the outside world, which then becomes internalised, is concentrated solely on your appearance. I’m concerned with ways to encourage young females to understand that your appearance can be important and empowering but there can be just as much significance placed on what you think or do or create. It has become an interest to me now as I’ve gotten older and have the distance to reflect on my own experience of it.

I love that Art Baby Gallery feels like it could exist on a previous, more utopian version of the web before it all became commercialised. The current web has a kind of regimented climate that has lost the spark of the early 2000s, which I would guess is when you started using the internet regularly yourself?

Grace Miceli: Yes! The design of Art Baby Gallery is definitely primitive, which probably has something to do with my limited coding knowledge, but it’s meant to be a platform where you can experience online work away from ads and all of the additional distractions that you find on other sites.

Do you feel the hangover of ‘girl power’ feminism? It seems to me that aesthetics like yours – through the employment and subversion of tropes of traditional girlishness like pink, make up – are articulating a kind of feminism that isn’t so easily reducible.

Grace Miceli: I think that any form of feminism, as long as it’s intersectional and inclusive of non-binary people, however simplified it may be, is useful and important. ‘Girl Power’ feminism is an entrance point for many – it was for me when I was ten years old and the Spice Girls’ #1 fan. Today so many people are scared to be labelled a feminist, it makes no sense to me. 

What’s your advice for breaking into the art world? You went about it a different way than many, it’s pretty inspiring. 

Grace Miceli: Work really hard and be really nice. I’ve found it’s so valuable to develop a community. Encouragement from your friends and peers is necessary if you ever hit that point where you want to give up. It’s important to be transparent and share what you make, it’s the only way to get feedback and to progress. I’ve been really lucky to have people with large audiences publicly support me, so I’m going to make sure that to always do the same if I have the chance. 

“I’m concerned with ways to encourage young females to understand that your appearance can be important and empowering but there can be just as much significance placed on what you think or do or create” – Grace Miceli

SANAM SINDHI

Could you describe what you’re up to at the moment?

Sanam Sindhi: Right now I’m laying in bed, procrastinating, packing for New York and FaceTiming this dude across the country who I’m in love with. He’s making sure I finish answering these questions and send them in, ’cos otherwise I’d be napping. 

How long have you been making art?

Sanam Sindhi: I started drawing and painting as a teenager cause I wasn’t going to school and didn’t have anything else to do. High school was shitty for me so I’d take photos or stay home and watch Jean-Luc Godard movies and do terrible watercolour paintings of all the characters. I got married when I was 18 and was in a really bad marriage for a few years and didn’t make any art for a long time. I started again last year but it’s still kind of hard to be consistent and productive.

I know you’re not there all the time, but I was wondering about how you feel about the NY cultural scene for young people? Is it inclusive and diverse, or are Art Baby Gallery’s exhibitions a positive exception in this regard? 

Sanam Sindhi: The art world in general isn’t inclusive and diverse at all. I think there’s more of a space for young people in New York, especially young people of colour. But New York, along with everywhere else, has a long way to go in terms of accommodating and embracing anyone who isn’t a white man. 

What do you have coming up that you are excited about? Tell me what 2016 holds for you.

Sanam Sindhi: Umm, 2016... I’m excited to make a lot of money and do a lot of cool shit. I’m writing a book. I wanna start taking photos again. I’m starting a POC-only collective, a space to showcase their creative work. I’m gonna have clothing out at some point. I’m excited to do what I've already been doing but on a larger scale. I don’t wanna be a role model but I do wanna keep showing other brown girls that it’s OK to be yourself, even if you’re a little fucked up and imperfect. I’m excited to take over the world.

“I don’t wanna be a role model but I do wanna keep showing other brown girls that it’s OK to be yourself, even if you’re a little fucked up and imperfect. I’m excited to take over the world” – Sanam Sindhi

AYQA KHAN

Could you describe what you're up to at the moment?

Ayqa Khan: Right now I’m finishing up my second year of college at the Fashion Institute of Technology, which is proving to be quite difficult. I am a business major but my true passions lie in mediums very far away from business. I spend so much time daydreaming about ideas in most of my classes but I’m just trying to be practical. It’s all a bunch of BS anyway! More importantly, I’m working on a photo series revolving around the juxtaposition of today’s American culture versus south Asian culture. I just want to attain a good balance of it all.

What are the primary inspirations of your work?

Ayqa Khan: I find inspiration in so many things and people I come across on a daily basis. I am intrigued by youth culture and interactions – on a psychological level. I am very inspired by my own south Asian culture along with the meshing of today’s American culture in regards to lifestyles. My goal is to combine all of these aspects to project a bigger picture as to what I experience being a first-generation south Asian American, and also just a young female trying to understand where my place is in this world.

How do you see the scene in NY for young female artists who have been brought up on the internet? What do you find most positive about it?

Ayqa Khan: The internet will always be here for us. I know the internet and social media can bring about a lot of negative stress but when you are an artist, it’s a great place to receive feedback and acknowledgement for your work. We are given an audience that is helping us potentially transition and understand how our work can do IRL.

What is the value for you in showing in physical gallery spaces, but within exhibitions that build so much on online space?

Ayqa Khan: Being able to showcase my work along with other artists gave me a strong sense of support and validation. Online, you can have hundreds of people ‘liking’ your work, but what does that mean if it doesn’t give you any opportunities? Having people physically come into a space and look at your hard work and vision is kind of amazing. The reason we were able to physically be in a gallery is because we were discovered on the internet. Our work was brought to life.

“Online, you can have hundreds of people ‘liking’ your work, but what does that mean if it doesn’t give you any opportunities? Having people physically come into a space and look at your hard work and vision is kind of amazing” – Ayqa Khan

MIZA COPLIN

Could you describe what you’re up to at the moment?

Miza Coplin: Smoking too many cigs, manically trying to balance school, work and personal projects (*sings the Blink 182 song, ‘Well I guess this is growing up...’*). No, but seriously – I just re-entered college as a 24-year-old freshman and the struggle is real. I’m getting ready for some shows and trying to chill/get good grades/stay sane.

What are the primary inspirations of your work?

Miza Coplin: I’m forever influenced by the cartoons, video games and comic books I grew up voraciously consuming. My work is a subconscious curation of everything I find beautiful or interesting. It is a collage of the little things that stay in my brain, things I carry around in my thoughts. I’m very influenced by my own emotions as well as the emotions I perceive from others. I typically single out one emotion in particular that has stuck with me and then try to sort through it by illustrating images that correspond to and reflect that feeling. 

What is the value for you in showing in physical gallery spaces, but within exhibitions that build so much on online space?

Miza Coplin: The value of showing in an IRL space is that it forces you to see an image or collection of images from a different perspective. Things are now tangible. You are confronted by the livelihood of a piece in a space that is alive (more alive than the internet, IMHO). Also, you get to meet the other artists that have been lurking online, which is tight. 

SHANA SADEGHI RAY

Could you describe what you’re up to at the moment?

Shana Sadeghi-Ray: Currently I’m hand-embroidering the ‘~’ on my new hat that is supposed to read ‘KAÑE WEST’. The shop that makes my hats does not have the symbol supported in their text database. I’m also working on my own prayer pamphlet in the style of those given out for free at various subway stations in NYC, offering options to get saved from the eternal damnation of hell.

What are the primary inspirations of your work?

Shana Sadeghi-Ray: The absurdity of celebrity culture, 99¢ shops, contemporary rap music, chain texts, high times and hangouts. 

How do you see the art scene for young female artists who have been brought up on the internet? What do you find most positive about it?

Shana Sadeghi-Ray: I’ve been on the internet since I was 13 years old, and I’m about to turn 28, so it has been a relevant part of over half my life. Growing up sheltered and overly protected, the internet provided an outlet for me to make friends and connect with people at any time of the day, anywhere in the world. Whatever your insecurities are, you can find someone who can relate and even suggest positive relief. It is a support system for those in need. 

What is the value for you in showing in physical gallery spaces, but within exhibitions that build so much on online space?

Shana Sadeghi-Ray: To see tangible objects as opposed to those on a flat screen makes everything seem more ‘real’. Being offered this opportunity, I decided to create sculptures, still referencing and adding a layer of depth to my collage work. My piece entitled ‘Dream Come True’ features a digital print of Rihanna that I physically pierced to thread a 14k gold ‘Drake’ nameplate necklace through on to her neck falling in line among her printed jewellery. 

Take Me Home Tonight opens tonight at Brooklyn’s Alt Space and runs till December 31

Miza wears parka Diesel, cotton shirt stylist’s own, flannel shirt worn as skirt Levi’s, bra and earrings Miza’s own. Sanam wears archive hoodie Raf Simons photographer’s own, trousers Carharrt WIP. Ayqa wears blazer Versus Versace, dress Topshop, necklace and fishnet tights Ayqa’s own. Grace wears leopard print jacket and mesh tank top Topshop. Shana wears suede jacket Topshop, t-shirt American Apparel, wool skirt Versus Versace, necklace and glasses Shana’s own

Hair Jawara at MAM-NYC using Oribe Hair Care, make-up Ingeborg using Chanel Les Beiges, nails Dawn Sterling at MAM-NYC using Dior Vernis, styling assistant Kenny Paul, hair assistant Motome Yamashita, nails assistant Christine Marshall

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