STAYINART Interview: “Cesarine’s Odyssey: The World Of Artist Indira Cesarine”
Featured in STAYINART Print Edition 2020
“Cesarine’s Odyssey: The World Of Artist Indira Cesarine”
Interview and intro By Terry Doe
One mustn’t ever judge a book by its cover. It could be argued that the same should be said of the individuals we encounter in life. Certainly, if one has ever had the good fortune to be a “fly on the wall” in the art world, that statement has never been truer. We are currently inhabitants of such uncertain times, yet one thing that shall never waiver is the innate human need for expression – self or otherwise. And we find ourselves simultaneously in a time of boundless creativity, imagination, and entrepreneurship. Furthermore, we are able to let shine and give praise to the artists not only breaking boundaries with their work, but bolting down doors and paving a path, particularly with female artists. Enter Indira Cesarine.
A statuesque blonde originally born in Iowa who moved to New York in her teens, one might – in some other circumstance or other world – be forgiven for mistaking her as being just a beautiful girl getting by on her looks. No, there is unequivocally no forgiveness here when it comes to addressing Cesarine. And a note of advise… careful not to address her with base or unthoughtful characteristics; for she has no problem scolding you for your narrow mindedness or disinterest in pushing harder, dreaming bigger, or challenging the status quo. Especially when it comes to women’s rights. Oh, and always take care never, ever to entertain yourself in her presence with old world views about who or what anyone should be; for she might smite you with the sharpest wit to have been found since , well… the word itself was invented.
Indeed Indira Cesarine is a leading contemporary female artist. A quick google search will render you an extended photo-book of her pictured either exhibiting at or attending major art events across the country year after year . I mean, why wouldn’t a lucky photographer grab at the chance to snap her; for she is divinity in flesh. But I digress.
Cesarine is without question a tour de force. Though she may be the notable and much lauded artist who’s work’s have been exhibited at “it” galleries, art fairs and museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Watermill Center, Art Basel Miami, SCOPE Art Fair, Sotheby’s, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Rockefeller Center (her famous Fabrége “Egg Of Light” was exhibited on the plaza alongside work by Jeff Koons) and on and on (too many). This is also the self-same Cesarine who owns and runs that buzzed-about and oftentimes controversial (in a good way) gallery known as The Untitled Space, in Manhattan’s chic Tribeca neighborhood. Attending an opening night at her gallery is like coming to the end of a pilgrimage and transcending into a new age of enlightenment, where beautiful people are actually also…wait for it…extremely fucking smart and thoughtful. Exhibitions there are on everyone’s to-do list. And rightly so! Remember her “One Year Of Resistance” show after the Trump inauguration? That show, or rather, that event – a group show featuring works by artist’s of all races, colors, and creeds – became so popular it practically booted Trump himself to second fiddle in the news.
This is the exact characteristic of every Untitled Space exhibit; which by the way, she curates herself. The artist recently opened a solo show and immersive installation which evolved into a virtual exhibition (due to the COVID 19 crisis) – titled “THE LABYRINTH”. The exhibition features photography, sculpture, video art, and mixed media works, created as a maze through which the viewer can experience Cesarine’s contemporary female gaze on Surrealism; a theme she has been exploring throughout her 20 year career, and a testament to her unequaled virtuosic versatility.
Think she stops there? No, Cesarine is not feeble of mind, body, or spirit. A graduate of Columbia University with a triple major in Art History, French, and Women’s Studies, she is the owner and EIC of the publication The Untitled Magazine, which regularly sees celebrities including Brooke Shields, Naomie Harris, Jess Glynne, Charlie XCX, and Lizzy Caplan grace it’s cover. And – especially if you are the kind of mind that went to Columbia University, and studied photography at Parson’s School Of Design, and continued your studies at International Center Of Photography, School Of Visual Arts, The Art Students League, and New York School Of Art) – this year Cesarine added yet career to her list of job titles: that of non-profit founder. Yes, the photographer (whose credits include British Vogue, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, etc), multi-disciplinary artist, gallerist, curator, and magazine editor is also the founder of Art4Equality.
Launched in 2019, Art4Equality supports the creation of empowering, gender equality themed exhibitions and public art. It’s mission is to impact social change, raise awareness, and inspire community, whilst also facilitating opportunities and providing mentorship to female identifying artists, as well as the marginalized and underrepresented.
We caught up with Cesarine to learn more about what she has been up to of late:
Your recent installation & exhibition “THE LABYRINTH“ was unfortunately closed due to our COVID-19 pandemic, focuses heavily on Surrealism. Can you tell us about the exhibit?
For “THE LABYRINTH” I created an immersive installation featuring photography, sculpture, video art, and several mixed media neon artworks. I transformed the gallery into a maze as a framework for the exhibition, which is a concept I have had on my mind for several years. THE LABYRINTH is inspired by the maze of life, the power of human connection, emotion and experience – combined with the surreal nature of the unknown. Surrealism is a theme I has been exploring through a variety of mediums over the past several decades with my artwork and photography. Explorations of female identity, sexuality, dreams, and desires have equally been returning themes in my artwork since I first started creating. Having my new series presented through a maze really resonated with me as life is constantly changing, we never know what is going to happen next, and there is that component of surprise and discovery with a maze that I felt really suited the exhibit. THE LABYRINTH explores the juxtaposition of contrasting opposites, dimension, distortion, and the power of light to engage and reflect on our own stream of subconscious. In several of my recent works featured in the exhibit I explore Surreal techniques of “light painting” that were invented by Man Ray in 1937, which I have juxtaposed with dramatic chiaroscurist portraits of women in order to evoke an ethereal universe of light and energy. I also find myself returning to the visual language of flowers – as a representation of women’s sexuality, as well as emotional expression of love, forgiveness, sorrow, and hope. It has been inspiring to bring together multiple aspects of my creative process into one exhibition. It was rather unfortunate that the gallery has to close the day after the opening, but at least some people were able to experience it and I am hoping it will re-open once all of this calms down.
Why is the idea of yin and yang so crucial to you in the show? The juxtaposition of opposites?
I think life is full of opposites! We are constantly addressing situations that are a push and pull, full of contradictions and extremes. Yin and yang is a concept of dualism, depicting how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world. It’s like the concept of opposites attracting each other, like magnets… without hate would there be love? I have always found this concept very interesting, although I wanted to explore it with my own meaning, with the female gaze of Surrealism.
In your opinion, can the maze of ones mind and the subconscious have a direct effect or impact on reality?
Reality is very difficult to define – what is one person’s reality might not be another’s. I think as an artist there is something very cathartic about creating and materializing what we see in our conscious or subconscious mind into a reality. In the act of creating artwork that is from the “maze of ones mind” it becomes a reality that has an impact on other people when they see it. So in that regard yes, it can have an impact on reality, but I think it needs to transcend merely being a dream or idea into something physical. That reality didn’t exist until the artwork is created or at least consciously thought about by the artist.
You utilize various mediums for this exhibition. Why was it so important to include all forms in order to drive the message home?
I really wanted to create an exhibition where I brought together a variety of mediums as I have always been inspired to work with different materials. I can’t help myself, I just love exploring new mediums and as I get more experienced with one I like to explore others and see how they can work together to bring new meaning to an idea. My work can be so varied depending on the medium I work with and I have been trying to find a way for it to all make it make sense as a cohesive body of work. I think through the component of the installation and the maze, it allowed me to be very creative with different mediums but for it to still makes sense to an outside viewer. Many artists only work in 1 medium – like painting or photography for example, but I just get bored only creating things one way. I feel like it was really important for my work as an artist to be able to grow and for people to be able to see the multifaceted nature of my inspiration.
You have also created an online virtual exhibition since the show closed? Is this your first virtual exhibition? What spurred the idea? and do you see the future of the art gallery moving in this direction?
I was inspired to create a virtual “viewing room” of the exhibition so that viewers could experience the exhibit even with the gallery closed. I definitely think we will be doing more viewing rooms in the future and incorporating them with our programming, We are actually planning some virtual online only exhibits coming up over the next few months due to the COVID-19 shutdown, as it’s not clear when we will be able to re-open and have events at the gallery again. I think this is definitely the way forward, and we are planning to launch more online initiatives in the near future.
Tell us about your public art billboard series with SAVEARTSPACE this fall for Art4Equality?
I’m currently working on plans for a fall public art billboard series that will take place in NYC supporting my initiative Art4Equality in collaboration with non-profit SaveArtSpace. I’m really excited to get our first major public art project for Art4Equality off the ground and there is a lot of planning to do. Its a very innovative exciting way to display art and that can reach millions of people every day so that will be an incredible project to develop. There will be 10 billboards all together, 5 that we will be creating with artists I am currently working with and another 5 that will be confirmed via an open call so artists can submit their work for the project. I’m really looking forward to getting very creative with that series! With social distancing likely also extending into fall, a public art billboard series also seems very timely as it is accessible to many people without having to gather in a gallery.
What spurred in you an interest to transcend your work as a professional artist to offer a platform for empowerment, creativity, and feminist art?
My artwork has always been versed in some level of activism as the very basis of my inspiration stems from my interest in feminism and women’s history. I did a degree at Columbia University with a triple major in Art History, French, and Women’s Studies before focusing on visual art professionally. Empowering feminist themes, as well as the female gaze, has always a point of departure for my artwork and photography. My artwork is often influenced by my own life as well as women’s history at large. I launched The Untitled Space gallery in 2015. Very few art galleries focus on exhibiting feminist-themed artwork, so I decided to launch my own. My new initiative, Art4Equality, has been a natural extension of my artwork and curatorials. Through my exhibitions and artwork, I often challenge the status quo, tackling stereotypes and double standards. I draw from historical narratives in an effort to create empowering artwork that can have an impact on the viewer, be a catalyst for change or provide insight into history which may have been overlooked.
I have always been very inspired by feminism, from a very young age. My mother is a human rights attorney, and growing up I was always very disturbed by the double standards I saw. I think my interest in feminism is very personal and deeply rooted in my own experiences. I often have felt like the system just isn’t fair, we aren’t on an equal playing ground. I think a lot of people have been in denial of the issues revolving around women’s equality insisting that we are all equal etc – yet there are massive disparities in a variety of sectors, particularly the creative industries, such as art, film, photography etc. I think with all the protests for women’s rights we have seen in the last few years as well as #metoo and #timesup movements, people are finally waking up to realize there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed regarding equality. As an artist I channel my passion and my experiences into my artwork as well as creative platforms that can empower progress. I think it’s extremely important for there to be initiatives right now promoting gender parity in the art world and other creative sectors that have low female representation.
Why was it important to you that female artists like yourself have a place to express themselves wholly? Did you yourself ever encounter any difficulty?
I personally have had many challenges thrown my way throughout my career… one of them was being taken seriously as a female photographer and artist. When I first started in the early 90s there were literally almost no women working as photographers and few top female artists. I was faced with a lot of gender discrimination and had to work 10 times harder than my male counterparts – but I was very persistent and didn’t take no for an answer. The photography (and art world) were totally male dominated industries and women were completely sidelined. Most agents and galleries in New York didn’t represent any women at all, and if they did it was 1 token female. I found that in Europe and the UK they were a lot more open to working with women, so I spent a lot of time overseas. No one should have to get on an airplane and travel to foreign countries to get work because of their gender… But that’s what I went through, and I did it for 15 years.
These experiences made me determined to fight for change, for female empowerment, and gender equality. When I first launched The Untitled Space gallery back in 2015 and talked about our feminist program I think a lot of people didn’t take it very seriously. But, in the last few years I think a lot of people have woken up to the misogyny in our culture and the fact that things need to change. The corporate world has had a lot of initiatives for many years in place to prevent discrimination, but it is far more challenging in the creative industries where everyone is freelance. I think after a certain stage in my life I took a look around me and just said you know what, I can do better than this. I’m an educated woman, and I need to use my abilities to do whatever I can to enact change. I don’t want future generations of women to have to go through what I went through.
Your gallery The Untitled Space has become celebrated for its controversial and boundary pushing exhibitions? Has there ever been a time when you developed a theme for a show and thought “actually maybe this is going too far?” or has that always been part of the excitement?
No, I have never felt I was “going too far” with my exhibition themes. For me one of the things that makes art so special is that it can ask the viewer to think, to debate, to address the world we live in perhaps in a new way they never thought of before. Artwork can challenge the status quo, it can be a protest in itself or inspire change. One of my initiatives when I launched The Untitled Space was to emphasize contemporary female artists and feminist art as a genre. I think it is really important there is dialogue and a narrative that addresses not just women’s history but body politics, and women’s rights, and for me as an artist it makes sense to do it through my exhibitions and artwork. I want to wake people up, make them think about who we are, what we are saying and doing – if that is offensive or going “too far” for some then all I can say is I am happy the work is at least causing a reaction and making them think about the issues. I always tell artists if everyone likes your artwork, then it probably isn’t very good! I think it’s really important not to be afraid to be different.
You recently launched Art4Equality. Why another arts non-profit? And why is this one so crucial? What is the ultimate goal for Art4equality?
I launched Art4Equality in November of 2019. I felt that in order to make a real difference, it was important to be able to bring a lot of people together, and to scale the productions to have more impact. I took a look back at the last 5 years since I launched The Untitled Space, and I have curated over 30 feminist art exhibits as well as exhibited not only my work, but that of over 300 female artists. But honestly that’s just a tiny drop in the ocean. Contemporary female artists are underrepresented in museums, galleries, auction houses and public art. There are over 2.5 Million professional artists in the US alone, of which 50% are women. Despite approximately 50% of MFA graduates over the last few decades being female, recent reports highlight the fact that even in 2019, only 13% of female artists are represented in museums and galleries today. Only 2% of artworks by women were sold at auction between 2008 – 2019. And when it comes to public art, female representation is way behind – in New York City alone, of the 150 public statues currently on display, only 5 honor women . The statics are pretty shocking. You can read more about the state of women in the arts on the Art4Equality website – there are some pretty eye opening facts (sourced from the National Endowment of The Arts, New York Times, Art Net News and many other credible sources) and I think anyone who actually reads the recent reports that have been published would agree something must be done.
In my opinion, my little boutique feminist art gallery just isn’t enough.