Amanda Manitach is an artist, curator, writer, editor and entrepreneur. Her series Whiskey Helps examining contemporary feminism and pop culture debuts at Roq la Rue Gallery Thursday April 2, (6-9pm) and runs through Saturday, May 2nd. She recently took the time to chat with us regarding her “T-shirt Girls,” Beyonce and statement making heels.
What’s the inspiration behind Whiskey Helps?
I kind of got obsessed with text-based t-shirts on Instagram about a year ago. It’s trendy right now and kept popping up. I had this older watercolor of a girl lying around. One night I inked her and drew a dick on her and wrote PENIS ENVY on the shirt. People went nuts for it. I started making more and it just kind of snowballed. If you look at sites like http://www.nikkilipstick.com/, there’s a whole subcultural zeitgeist of these kinds of shirts with really pouty, flip shit.
The “watercolor girl” is very mannequin like in the pictures- and I notice on the site you mentioned these shirts are being modeled by a very specific type of girl – is the uniformity of that image an intentional juxtaposition with the t-shirt’s messages?
She’s part mannequin, for sure. Especially the full frontal images, where the rest of the body is truncated. You’ll also notice a lot of them are also recumbent, in bed or similar, with that vacant gaze and vapidity that harkens to the 19th century odalisque, whose body is on display. She’s the reclining, fainting, sighing women of leisure. Or maybe the hysteric, who has no real voice or agency except for what she can purchase on a t-shirt.
There is an intersection between wearing a sort of pat statement on your chest and “#” Culture – do you think that brevity of conversation is empowering or hindering for young women?
I suppose it depends on the content of the statement. Brevity can still pack punch, but in the case of my T-Shirt Girls, there’s a lot of ambiguity as to whether the messages are undermined – by all kinds of things. Which is a reflection of what’s happening in real life, as well as in the myriad nuanced approaches and voices present in feminist dialog right now.
I mean, just the way we vivisect any public figure – Beyoncé for example – trying to figure out if her tone or messages is feminist or not. It’s rich, confusing territory.
Right. Again with the site example – all of those young women are under 20 and 100 lbs and it begs the question “Are you wearing the statement or is it wearing you?”
What are some ways you think this idea could be used in a potentially more empowering manner?
That’s a good question, but I’m not sure I’m attempting to answer that with my artwork.
The work lives in a state of ambiguity and as a reflection of culture (and of my personal ambiguous feelings towards my gender, self-empowerment and so forth). That being said, I’ve recently begun producing actual t-shirts with some of the same sayings from my drawings – some of them rather aggressive. I have one that says, “SHUT UP I WEAR HEELS BIGGER THAN YOUR DICK.” I wore it out a few weeks ago to an art opening and everyone was wide-eyed. I got high fives from strangers on the street (all female). The male response, without exception, was to examine my heels and make a remark as to the veracity of the statement in comparison to the actual size of their dicks. I was amazed! Some were defensively like, “no way, my dick is bigger.” Others visibly blushed or sheepishly admitted, “That’s about right.” I happened to be wearing six-inch wedges to the event, which I think threw them off, since my heels weren’t literally the shape of dicks. So wearing these shirts in the real world will be an interesting experiment in taking the temperature of people and gleaning reactions. To be honest, as an artist, I’m more interested in the potential of these products and this art to mirror and to elicit responses rather than as a way to craft the perfectly empowered t-shirt. That’s just me, but other people are going to eventually wear these t-shirts in the real world (I’ve had endless requests), each endowing the message with a slightly unique empowerment, irony or aggression.
What else do you have coming up?
I’m continuing to make more work for this T-Shirt Girls series. I’m really interested in its evolution. Also, it’s coincidentally led me down a totally new path of running a small business. I’ve formed my Whiskey Helps clothing company, which will exist alongside my fine art practice. There seems to be mounting energy in Seattle, with female artists crossing over to the entrepreneurial world. Susie Lee of Siren was a huge inspiration for me last year, and continues to be as her business grows. Roq la Rue founder Kirsten Anderson also encouraged me a lot, and I couldn’t have started a biz without the incredibly generous time and consultation of the attorney Ben Kerr. He’s a fantastic resource in town and very supportive of artists. I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that artists should treat their work as a business and take the steps to get licensed, protect their work and make money off it. There’s a learning curve there, and it’s stuff that unfortunately no one teaches you in art school. But it’s worth the time and energy.