New Bushwick Exhibit 'Teen Dream' Addresses The Dated Teen Girl Stereotype
This weekend, Wayfarers, the Brooklyn based studio program and exhibition space, held a two-day exhibition entitled “Teen Dream.” On display were works by female artists, poets, writers, photographers, and editors—all ranging from 15 to 21 years old—that effectively reject the outdated stereotype of the teenage girl. This includes the innocent damsel in distress trope, as well as the manifold other double standards that girls are subjected to.
Walking around the exhibit, it was hard not to feel a tad nervous; these were the cool girls I had always wanted to be in high school—which made my mispronunciation of the word “zine” particularly scarring. But not only did they represent the type of feminist, activist, young girls I wish I had been back in high school, they’re the new generation of teens that women need.
Brittany Natale, the curator of the Teen Dream art show, found all of these girls through Instagram, hashtags, and online zines. I talked to Natale and a few of the artists about the root of the teen girl stereotype, cat callers, the Spice Girls, and girlhood.
Brittany Natale, Curator
What does girl power mean to you today, compared to when you were a teen?
When I was in high school—I’m 25 now—we didn’t have Instagram. Twitter didn’t come about until like—what, 2008? It wasn’t a thing. There was no outlet to really connect with other girls who weren’t in my immediate environment. Now you can go on Instagram and that’s [actually] how I found some of these girls. I don’t even think Rookie Mag was around when I was in high school.
Tavi Gevinson would’ve been, like, six?
Yeah, seriously, she was like two? I remember being a freshman in high school and being really quiet about a lot of things and self-conscious about a lot of things. Because of that, I have a lot of anxiety. Sophomore year I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to be quiet about anything anymore. I was going to be outspoken. I started honing in on that female strength and standing up for myself. Now it’s so much easier to make connections with other girls all over the country, and [to] make [this idea of female strength] more of a movement and not so autonomous.
How did you end up choosing the artists for this show?
It happened really organically, actually. I was collaborating with Zine Club Mag and Cry Baby Zine. I was really interested in what they were doing. So I reached out to a few of the girls and then, over time, I just kept finding more and more. It just sort of came together. So, we have Cry Baby Zine girls, Zine Club Mag girls, the Durable Girls Collective, Coalition Zine, [and] Arthoe Collective.
You’ve worked on another big project recently, too. Tell me about the Weekend with Bernie Show for the Bernie Sanders campaign that you helped put on.
It was really awesome. Matt [Starr] and I had this space available and we were trying to think of a show to collaborate on, but weren’t really feeling passionate about anything. Then Matt called me the second week of January and he said, “Let’s do a Bernie show.” And I said, “Okay!” and we did the whole thing in six weeks. We had a marching band play. We had Bernie’s bodega in the corner with all the sponsored products. All the product donations were from smaller, privately owned, non-GMO type companies to show the importance of supporting small business[es]. It was really cool. We had a nurse’s station set up for free healthcare. It was great. We also had different speakers come and the giant Bernie head with the [student] loan shredder.
Giant Bernie head? Student loan shredder? What’s that?
Oh my god. Matt’s friend, Clio Sage, is an architect [and] they collaborated on the design for it. She constructed it and then Liberty Leben, who does Dirty Grl Soap, painted it. It was huge. Matt also brought it to Union Square during Super Tuesday.
Where’s the big head now?
It’s somewhere in Clinton Hill in a studio not doing too well.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about teenage girls?
The biggest misconception is that young women are perceived as weak, and therefore, they are seen as controllable. I feel like [this is] the root of a lot of issues that are going on in the world. It’s not even a contained thing or hyper-local. It’s happening in communities all over at varying degrees. From congress trying to control women’s bodies, to [the] sex trafficking of young women in Thailand, to China where [you’re deemed] “leftovers” if you’re in your late 20s and you’re not married yet. In India, [even] menstruation is [seen as] taboo.
Yeah, even in the Bible it says a man cannot sit on a chair that a woman with her period has sat on. They call it a menstrual impurity.
Exactly! So, this misconception that young women are weak is the root of all of this. That’s why there’s gender inequality, gender wage gap—that’s why it all exists.
Happy belated Equal Pay Day by the way!
Also, I don’t know if I told you [what the show is based on], but my mom went to Parsons in the ’80s and she could never do art full-time because it was just a male-dominated field. She had her portfolio ripped up once during an interview and cried on the subway home. She always had to work these jobs that she was never super passionate about, and then on the weekends or the evenings she’d come home from work and paint with watercolor or wood burn. It was really sad to see that because my mom is so talented. When she was 13 she had her work shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was just so good and it always stuck with me. And then my parents separated when I was 13 and she was raising four kids. I was watching all of these really talented women in my life get treated really badly by society, or whatever else. It got me really angry, so it was like a culmination. I was like, “No. We’re going to celebrate women because we’re awesome.”
“Teen Dream” is an idea I’ve had for the last two years. This is a general overview show that stresses a bunch of other topics, but I eventually want to do more “Teen Dream” shows. Maybe one [will focus] on mental health in young women, reproductive rights, etc.
Lee Phillips, Photographer and Founder of Girl Power Meet Ups
Tell me a little bit about your work. It fits really well with the “Teen Dream” theme.
That was a coincidence. I really loved stuffed animals as a kid. I kept stuffed animals to cope with my home life, so I like to incorporate stuffed animals into my shoots.
You have such a great collection.
I brought out bins and bins. [These photos are] about letting go of material objects from your childhood. The girl that I shot was moving and she had to pack up all of her stuff and paint her pink walls white. It was really sad for her, letting go of her girlhood.
Do you dabble in any other areas of art?
Right now I’m just doing poetry and working on a short film, which is a comedy about how teens cope with gentrification in D.C. It’s called Bonnie and Dink Find Paradise, but in the end they don’t find paradise because there is no paradise [in that city] for children. It’s like ironic satire.
Fabiola Ching, Editor of Coalition Zine and Siddisse Negero, Social Media Director of Coalition Zine
Which piece is yours?
Ching: There [was] a trailer [playing on the TV at the exhibit] for a show [Tam-anh Nguyen, who is shooting and editing the series, and I] are working on. It’s called Work Space and it focuses on women of color in their creative spaces, like in the studios. It’s about women who get shit done and we talk about the creative process and what they do, you know.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about teenage girls?
Ching: That we’re not very powerful, which is funny because I feel like you’re the most powerful when you’re a teenager. That’s when the match is lit. You’re just ready to fuck shit up, but you don’t know that yet. No one’s empowering girls. We’re really underestimated.
How do you respond to catcalls?
Ching: It’s so bad that I’m used to it. I don’t really get scared anymore unless someone gets really close and I’m like ready to fight him. I just roll my eyes and speed walk away.
Negero: Sometimes you feel like you’re in danger. [I try] to ignore it and be quiet.
What Spice Girl do you identity with the most?
Negero: I would probably be Sporty and Baby.
Ching: I really want to say Posh because I identify as standoffish actually, but—wait, is it Crazy Spice?
Oh, Scary Spice. She was actually the coolest one.
She’s getting her props now. Everyone was not into her. [Whispers] Because she was black.
Abbey Gilbert |Street Photographer, Durable Girls Collective
How old are you?
18, but I’m turning 19 in May.
Your photographs on display—were they taken specifically for the show?
Some of these are two years old. They’re more of my recent photos. I’ve only been doing this for about six years now. I’m more of a street photographer, which I feel isn’t as common nowadays especially with teenagers and even more with girls. I feel like street photography is kind of a male-dominated art. I’m inspired by Vivian Maier and Mary Ellen Mark. I watched a documentary recently about Vivian Maier and I was like, this is what I want to do.
Stay tuned to Milk for more art world happenings.
Images courtesy of Brittany Natale.