Allow us to introduce nine artists and designers who use everything from acrylic paint to their own bodies in the service of pushing the boundaries of beauty. Their creations offer resistance, innovation, delirious escape—and in an age of “alternative facts,” we need it all. These are the New Creatives.
Like most women with a smartphone and a social media account or two, Whitney Bell has received countless unsolicited dick pics. But instead of merely complaining about—or, let’s be honest, mocking—them with her friends, Bell decided to turn these unwanted images into art, having been inspired by one particular photo she says was “so beautiful it should be in a museum.”
We don’t have the luxury of saying ‘That’s not my problem’ anymore. We have to fight for everyone’s rights, together.
Enhancing her own collection with submissions from other women, Bell premiered her provocative art show, aptly titled I Didn’t Ask for This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics, in Los Angeles last April and is now taking it north to San Francisco. “This isn’t the same as revenge porn, and I’m not trying to shame genitalia,” she says. “I’m trying to show how ridiculous it is that this is a constant problem.”
The self-proclaimed “art school dropout” and “intersectional feminist bitch” also owns a loudmouthed online boutique, KiddBell.com, which launched last year. The store offers unisex baseball caps proclaiming let boys be feminine, mock turtlenecks featuring commands like resist and revolt, and pins flaunting the word cunt. Equal parts artist and activist, Bell explains her motivations: “It’s easy to think something isn’t an issue if you haven’t experienced it, so a lot of men don’t understand the myriad ways sexual harassment affects women. I want to show it’s a lot more pervasive than they may know.”
Whether they’re in a gallery or a web store, Bell’s creations are informed by a desire to reap empowerment for women from that which is used against them, from the word slut to an unsolicited sext, showing how we can all create agency out of impotence.
What incentivized you to create your art show, A Lifetime of Dick Pics?
I was receiving a lot of dick pics through Instagram and dating apps. I started to get really fed up with it, so I sent one to a friend and he said it was a really pretty one. He was like, “This dick’s so beautiful it should be exhibited.” I thought, A gallery of dick pics—that’s brilliant. As soon as I started talking to other women about it, all they had to do was open up their Tinder accounts to find some. They started telling me their stories and it grew from there. I mean, I love a good dick and I’m not doing this to shame men’s penises in any way, but then again, so many of them are just really poor photographs.
What was the initial reaction like?
Women’s reactions to the show were cool, but my favorite thing about sharing them was the fact that dudes’ reactions were incredible to witness. I knew women were going to say, “Yeah, this happens to me all the time. It’s terrible. It’s funny.” Men were like, “Does this really happen? Men are really sending you stuff like this?” And my response was, “Can you just take a scan around the room at the hundreds of penises on the wall? These are just the best ones. It wasn’t hard at all to collect them. It took a week.”
I think a lot of guys were a little shocked, even maybe ashamed, even if they hadn’t directly sent a dick pic, but they’d done something similar. I really try to encourage men to talk to their sisters, mothers, friends, girlfriends and ask them about the sexual harassment they face every day. Maybe it’s you and you don’t know it. Sexual harassment can be so muddled – and it’s so ingrained in our society. It’s not all men, but it’s enough.
What’s your favorite product you’ve created?
We have these “bloody panty” pins, the proceeds of which go to Happy Period, an organization that gives the homeless all the period supplies they need. It’s something a lot of people, myself included, don’t really think about. Being homeless is terrible to begin with, and then you get your period and don’t have what you need. Pads and tampons are insanely expensive even for a woman who has a job and home!
Do you feel like your equal parts artist and activist?
My art is my activism, and I think in the last number of months, especially since the election, my activism has really kicked into high gear. Something I firmly believe in is that whatever it is, it shouldn’t have to be happening to you in order to make it matter. Everyone needs to contribute to everyone’s issues. We don’t have the luxury of saying “That’s not my problem” anymore, so we don’t have the luxury of fighting only for our own rights. We have to fight for everyone’s together.
What motivates you most?
It’s about using dick pics as a greater tool to get people to understand the sexual harassment women face every day. Violence against women is systemic, and it is something that has become part of the narrative of our culture. It’s not shocking. We reward men and treat sexual harassment as if it’s no big deal, which, in turn, means women and our opinions and safety are no big deal. That narrative needs to change.
I feel like this is an even more appropriate time than ever to be having this discussion because we have a very known sexual predator in the highest office in this country, and it’s not the first time. Hopefully, it will be the last, but until we really start to have a dialogue with each other about harassment in general and the misogyny that exists for women everywhere we go in this world, especially on the internet, we’ll never be able to change what’s going on.