Interview: Annique Delphine
Berlin based artist Annique Delphine uses her artwork as a tool to challenge the way society thinks about female identity and sexuality. Working in sculpture, photography, and installations, she creates confrontational and thought-provoking work that is powerfully feminine while embodying the strength in women. The breast can be found in much of her work, reclaiming the woman’s body, reversing its current role as commodity. We spoke to Delphine about her inspiration as an artist, her compelling body of work, and the important message behind each piece.
What is your artistic background? Tell me about your creative process.
I studied photography at Neue Schule für Fotografie in Berlin and my initial goal was to be a fashion photographer and photojournalist. I worked as a music photographer for many years before realizing that all I really wanted to do was make my own art. For the past 6 years I have been exclusively creating fine art photography, experimental short films, installations, performances, and whatever other medium I can use to express myself. I work intuitively, often trying out new things and new practices without much of a plan. It’s usually try and fail and try and fail until I get it right. I have pictures in my head that I try to visualize. They are always somehow channeling what I’m currently feeling or struggling with.
What inspired you to create a body of work focusing on female body politics and sexuality? What is your own experience in dealing with this?
Since everything I create reflects my own experiences and my point of view as a woman, my art has naturally taken on women’s issues.
My art is therapeutic to me. I’m trying to push back on the boundaries I still feel as a female artist. It’s a way to point a mirror to society so we can have a look at our status quo and imagine what the future might look like if we don’t intervene. I try to explore feminist issues in a playful way, but behind the cute little boobs in pastel colors drenched in ice cream, there is the thought of how disgusted I am with the ways in which women’s bodies are regarded as sexual play things/properties, commodities, and I am sometimes disgusted with how I objectify myself even. Internalized misogyny is also a big driving force of my work.
How did you begin using the breast in your sculptural work?
I started with self-portraits, which were usually nude. The reactions were often polarizing. Some people (including one of my teachers in photography school) said the pictures were vulgar. They were never sexual though. They were just pictures of a woman (myself) without any or very few clothes on. That got me thinking: why is it so accepted for male artists to display the naked female body through painting, sculpture, photography, etc. but when a woman displays herself that way it’s vain, vulgar and unacceptable?
Men can marvel at a woman’s beauty but women shall never do it themselves. We are held somewhere between “make yourself as attractive as possible” and “don’t ever believe in your own attractiveness.” It’s maddening. That conflict is what got me started as a feminist artists and then a few years ago I came across these breast-shaped stress balls in a novelty store. I bought a couple of boxes and started photographing them, making sculptures out of them, putting them in odd contexts. Then I thought, well what if I take them outside and confront people with them? So I started my project Girl Disruptive where I do guerrilla installations of breasts and flowers in public places.
Tell me about your installation work. What do you hope will be gained through confronting viewers with an isolated part of the female body, one that is often both censored and exploited through the media?
I like to poke people, make them a bit uncomfortable by warping their reality so they might question some of the norms society has established for us. For instance, it’s completely normal to view breasts as an object. When we see advertising for fashion, beauty products, for beer, cars… whatever, we see a pair of breasts and, of course we know that they are a part of a woman’s body, but we have gotten so used to viewing them as ‘things.’ They are like a stand in symbol for sex. Female sexuality is used to drive capitalism, but it’s a very limited sexuality; one that caters to the straight male gaze. It has become ingrained in us that breasts and therefore female nipples are linked to sex. So a naked woman’s body is always associated with that even when it’s not displayed in a sexual context.
I try to drive that point further by adding breasts into everyday pictures and expressing the way I experience objectification in a literal sense; breasts as deserts, breasts as alien spaceships, breasts as heads to replace a human mind, a woman’s personality and her agenda.
A chair made out of breasts (referring to one of my sculptures) is funny and cute, but it also makes viewers uneasy because it questions it’s own purpose. May you sit on a chair made out of female body parts? How does that reflect the way women are treated? What are the different reasons someone might feel uncomfortable siting on a chair like that? What are the different reasons someone might have no hesitation sitting on this chair?
Your series Objecitfy Me sheds light on important issues regarding women’s body as a commodity. Women are constantly reminded through everyday images that their body is an object; we as women are made to feel that our body doesn’t belong to us. How does this series work to reclaim the female body for women?
My work attempts to explain to people how we constantly feel like our bodies don’t belong to us. That we don’t understand how on one hand our bodies are a commodity and on the other hand it’s forbidden or harshly judged when women take charge of that commodity. Women are always judged for their bodies, for they sexuality and for any attempt at autonomy. By bringing these issues to light and starting dialogue with people—people who are unaware—I hope I can help us reclaim power. I am hoping to heal some of the wounds misogyny has inflicted upon us.
In your work titled “Alien Nature,” the subject sports a large, single breast in place of her head. Do you feel that women’s bodies are seen as ‘the other’ and are often treated as such through regulation and control?
Yes that is exactly how I feel. It is as if everything to do with womanhood or femininity is alien to people and they feel threatened by it. My works Flying Object (Beverly Hills, CA) and Flying Object (Mohave Desert, CA) reflect this as well. I find it so absurd how a female nipple alone can be such a threatening thing. It goes back to female sexuality being viewed as something shameful, something that should be controlled.
Earlier you mentioned your series Girl Disruptive. Can you tell me more about this series and the real life stories behind it?
Girl Disruptive is a photography and installation project where I seek out public places which are either frequented by a lot of people on a daily basis, or they are somehow connected to women’s struggles or a specific woman. I make these impromptu arrangements of flower petals and breasts. I photograph them and then I leave the scene and let people do with it whatever they want. I will post a picture of it to my social media account and then talk about how the installation is connected to gender-based violence or rape culture or misogyny in general.
For instance, last year in LA I did one at the exact location where Elizabeth Short’s body was found. Elizabeth Short is better know as the “Black Dahlia” and was most likely raped and tortured before she was murdered. Her body was found mutilated and discarded on a road. In the aftermath, many untrue stories about her were spread by the media including accounts on how she used to work as a prostitute. Regardless of if it was true or not, this was linked to her murder as if prostitution somehow justified the attack on her.
I did one recently in 3 different spots in Berlin that were all historically linked to one woman: Hedwig Porschütz. This was a woman who during World War II risked her own life many times over to save others from deportation by the Nazis. She hid people in her apartment for years, she helped smuggle food into concentration camps and was sent to prison for black market purchases of food. In her later life, she was very poor and applied for government assistance through a silent hero fund. This fund was started specifically for people like her; people who were prosecuted by fascist Germany for helping Jews. She was denied any financial assistance on the grounds of being a former prostitute. Her courage and selflessness were negated by what the 1960s government viewed as a “life of low morality.” You would think things have changed by now, but it’s 2017 and slut-shaming is still a tool used to dehumanize women and justify violence and hate towards them. I use my installations to raise awareness of these injustices.
Having such an unapologetically strong female voice as an artist, what female artist inspires you the most?
I am hugely inspired by Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin. They made me want to become an artist because they were the first women artists I was exposed to who were questioning gender roles and the way women artists are expected to express themselves.