The Artist Outpost Exhibition: Empowering Women in The Me Too Era
The Me Too Movement has evolved from giving women a platform for sexual harassment and sexual assault to the many perspectives of feminism—including an empowering outlook on exotic dancing, adult entertainment, sex work, and not following suit to societal gender roles. The Artist Outpost located in East Harlem is a women’s owned bi-level multipurpose space that showcases up-and-coming apparel and jewelry designers in addition to their downstairs gallery. Curators Michela Tebano and Stacey Van Gorder-Leung are featuring 10 artists in The Artist Outpost’s current exhibition titled Erotic Feminism in the Me Too Era, encouraging women artists to unify and express their take on the “Me Too Era” through various mediums such as photography, oil paintings, and skateboard art, with one designer who creates one-of-a-kind pieces of art in wearable form.
Los Angeles born photographer Yasmina Safi featured five prints that illustrate women smashing the patriarchy and in control of their sexuality. Influenced by fetish artists Irving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe, and fashion photography icon Steve Klein, Safi portrays women powerful, mysterious, and peculiar. Her work along with the other hand selected artists will be on display at The Artist Outpost until Sunday, May 26th. Before attending Erotic Feminism in the Me Too Era check out our interview with the rising photographer Yasmina Safi.
Tell us about your journey into photography.
Magazines and books were always my thing when I was a kid—I love imagery and storytelling. I chose photography electives in high school and got really into portraits and street photos. Developing film in the dark room was the coolest thing to me. I bought my first SLR after I graduated, used it for a while, and then for a long time, I didn’t shoot at all. I dabbled in different things, got a marketing degree, realized that wasn’t the path for me, and decided on more creative pursuits. I really started shooting again when I was traveling because I wanted to remember everything. I lived in Greece one summer and shot non-stop. Those photos bring up strong feelings and associations for me, which is what I think photos are supposed to do for the viewer. That’s the power. When I came back to New York I was really inspired, so I started doing more styled shoots and organizing my portfolio. Being surrounded by artistic friends is also amazing motivation. I use Canon for film & digital, but I love how instantly gratifying polaroids are as well.
How would you describe your photography style?
I am still developing my style, every time I shoot I narrow down what I like and what speaks to me. Some of my influences are Steven Klein, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Klaw. I’m into the merging of fetish with fashion, and I mostly prefer shooting women of color in that type of aesthetic because I think showing our variety is important. I am less and less interested in portraying women as soft and demure or just pretty. I want the women in my images to be powerful, mysterious, a little uncommon maybe. In general, I gravitate towards contrast, elements of light and dark, a mystic quality. Architecture is my other favorite subject—for that, I like minimalism and clean lines.
Will you tell us about The Artist Outpost and how your work was selected to be shown at Erotic Feminism in the Me Too Era?
The owner, Michela Tebano, originally reached out to me to help her with some of the imagery and branding for the space, which is a combination of a boutique and a gallery—very open and new. Instead, she asked me to be a part of this show, which I was really happy about. I love the idea of showcasing all female artists with a similar message.
What was your creative process for preparing for this exhibition?
I chose some of the pieces from a shoot I had already conceptualized and shot. I wanted to have a complementary color palette and keep a consistent visual message. I shot the character wearing a full body suit to be part of the show and it ended up being one of my favorite shoots I’ve done. Sometimes I make mood boards, but for that shoot, I asked my friend to model and we experimented. On the first day she was camera shy, but being anonymous made her more open. I think that in itself is part of the message. One of the things that inspired me to shoot that was to depict the different faces we present to the outside world. I also wanted to speak about the power dynamics between men and women.
Who are some of your female influences? How do they impact your work?
I love how Cindy Sherman’s portraits of women are beautiful but also strange and kind of unsettling. Nadia Lee Cohen has the same element of subtle conflict in her photography, which is something I’d like to incorporate into my work. I’m also really into the sculptures Louise Bourgeois created. I admire how she showed a more radical, less romanticized and limiting form of femininity. I’ve been influenced heavily by my grandmother Joy Totah Hilden, who is a talented artist and former art teacher. Her paintings convey a lot of depth and emotion, sometimes a haunting quality. I hope to emulate her in that way. I think being able to evoke those types of feelings is what makes any piece of art meaningful.
What does Erotic Feminism in the Me Too Era mean to you?
It’s nothing new that eroticism is considered risqué and taboo. In this social climate, I think there seems to be more ownership about what that actually means. Women are viewed in extremes, so by being more vocal about the female experience, we may be seen in a negative light. On the other hand, if we embrace the idea of being beautiful and sensual, the less we are taken seriously. This is a societal conflict that has existed since forever. So I think it means that in modern times we can finally get over the idea that a woman must be one certain thing. We can be all things.
Are you working on anything currently? What should we expect next for Yasmina Safi?
My next series will be kind of eerie and dystopian—basically reflecting my feelings about the current state of affairs in the world. It will speak on assumptions and discrimination based on race & gender. I’m going to continue with the theme of anonymity and adaptive personas as well.
Images courtesy of Diane Allford
Stay tuned for more female empowering art.