Jessie Askinazi is one of those rare connectors that seems to know or work with everybody - and not just in the art world. Art, fashion, politics, social justice – she’s there. Visit her Tumblr diary and you’ll see excerpts from fashion spreads she has featured on Autre, portraits of comedians, actors and musicians, and nightlife snapshots in black and white. Her photography is real, raw and it tells stories – it’s the opposite of vapid, which seems to sum up perfectly who Askinazi is as a person. She is also the founder, organizer and curator of the #YESALLWOMEN fundraiser, which is hosting a silent auction and exhibition featuring some of the most exciting women championing women’s rights, like Kim Gordon, Barbara Kruger, Rose McGowan, Mira Dancy and many more. Proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, which aids survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. The exhibition will be on view at Dilettante on Saturday, September 19 for one night only. There is also a Go Fund Me page raising the capital to support the project and the exhibition. In the following conversation, Jessie Askinazi opens up about her bouts with depression, the importance of standing up for people that need it and her exciting #YESALLWOMEN campaign.
OLIVER KUPPER: Where are you from originally?
JESSIE ASKINAZI: I was born in Levittown, New York, and then my family relocated to South Florida, where I lived until I moved to NYC after high school. I was watching an episode of Seinfeld last night where Jerry said, "New York, Long Island, Florida... It's like the Bermuda Triangle. Unfortunately, nobody ever disappears."
OK: You work in a variety of mediums and industries, from arts to politics, where do you feel most comfortable?
JA: Well, my involvement in the arts and activism come from a similar place of necessary vocalization. I am compelled to do these things. I've always had a kind of fire under my ass, if you will, to expose corruption and help those who - while they have voices - are stifled. Even when I was in elementary school, I assembled a group of friends to have a lemonade stand for an organization called Kids in Distress, which is an organization that cares for abused children. I can't exist without creativity in various disciplines of the arts, or without attempting to influence social change. I don't really get the point of being alive if you're not going to use your own experience to make life better for others in some way. Ego and self-furthering is boring.
OK: What do you think motivated you to be so active in the different worlds that you exist in - is there one specific instance or a series of instances?
JA: It's hard to pinpoint exactly how these journeys originated. I have been through a lot and have been exposed to a lot. I was often very sick as a child and later on suffered from major depression, and so because of many periods of debilitation, I was forced to create my own world outside of our standard. I stayed home from school a lot and was kind of a recluse, so that led me to exploring and archiving as an escape. I wanted to be a soldier for those who couldn't do it alone. I think there is a lot of shame around the idea of needing other people, but we do - we were made to be communal creatures and in this day and age we are so isolated. There's a lot that I've experienced personally which I'm sure has contributed to this sort of lifestyle - I don't know any other way to be.
OK: You are a very talented photographer and you tell great stories with a camera - who were some of your photographic or artistic inspirations?
JA: Thank you so much! I have so many influences and they constantly change. I would say Surrealism, Italian Giallo horror films, art house movies, documentaries, lo-fi video, lost Americana, 60s mod fashion photography in Harper's Bazaar, 80s post-punk (and the teenage rebel movies from those years), retro futurism, psychedelia, the occult, mysticism, and vampy silent film have been a constant. And The Rudi Gernreich book, Guy Bourdin, Francesca Woodman, Barbara Kruger (floored that she is donating work to my show), Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Craig McDean, David Hamilton, Diane Arbus, Melvin Sokolsky, Eugenio Recuenco, Claude Cahun, Wim Wenders, Mick Rock, Tim Walker, etc. But mostly the weirdos in my own life inspire me to take pictures. Ha.
OK: You usually shoot on analog film, right - what cameras do you use?
JA: I do try to shoot analog as much as possible because the texture of film photography is something that can't be replaced. I almost always use my Nikon N65, although in the past I also used the Lomo LC-A a ton. When I shoot art events, that's when I use my digital camera, because film is just not practical in those instances.
OK: What is your favorite thing about working around and with such creative people?
JA: How my perspective is constantly expanding which in turn makes me really able to see the world, and at the same time there is such a deep understanding between artists. Again, the reality of our corporate-commercial conglomerate was always foreign to me. So the creative people around me have been some kind of siblings.
"I don't really get the point of being alive if you're not going to use your own experience to make life better for others in some way. Ego and self-furthering is boring."
OK: Okay, let's cut to the chase, what brought you to start #YesAllWomen?
JA: It's all been building up to this. Every day. The comments I receive, the way I've been objectified by men since I was extremely young. The way men have pretended to care about my humanity for their own gain. Being expected to be quiet or polite or passive. Every day. Television, movies, social media, the news, video games, contemporary art, the film industry, magazines. Every day. Advertising, marketing, consumerism, the dumbing down, the ignorance, indifference, bullying, violence, fear, misogyny, regulation, inequality. Every day. The Kardashians being an ideal, being worshiped. What we're expected to be, what we're expected to do, what we're expected to say. Every day.
OK: There definitely needs to be more female creativity in the world...What is your advice to young women who feel stuck, repressed or held back from their true passions?
JA: I actually think the phrasing of this sentence is wrong. Female creativity is everywhere. Practically every woman I know is a brilliant artist or thinker. Women are often creative heroes because we have such rich emotional lives and possess a regal strength. In Peter Pan, The Lost Boys are "boys who fall out of their prams when the nurse is looking the other way and if they are not claimed in seven days, they are sent far away to Never Land". There are no "lost girls" because as Peter explains, "girls are far too clever to fall out of their prams." It's just our society that is repressive, and it's the system that keeps the male in the spotlight (the patriarchy, as it goes.) It's all to service the man. Even our laws.
So my advice to all women (not just the young) who feel stuck on the road they are traveling, is to speed up. Go all in. Make a decision and follow through, despite what challenges you think lie ahead of you. That's what I'm doing - I'm not letting the vampires suck the life out of me. I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time, but luckily the people in my life are fantastic colleagues and friends, and we work together to achieve our goals. A year ago, I never would have guessed that I'd be curating a show with some of my greatest heroes. But what I constantly remind myself is, "If you don't ask, the answer is always no."
OK: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing women in today's time?
JA: I guess the fact that questions like this one have to be asked. That we are considered "other." We are the ones who create life, yet ours are always persecuted. There really isn't just one challenge, that's why I wanted to spotlight #YesAllWomen (because it covers the broad, various factors of this big picture - and is an ongoing conversation). Also, different challenges present themselves to different cultures, which is something that needs more awareness. Child marriage affects the Middle East and Africa, for example. Women of color often have an added layer of oppression that white women will never experience. For me, personally, I'm sick of being so obsessed with what my face and body look like, as if that is all that defines or validates me.
OK: How can people be a part of the #YesAllWomen campaign?
JA: In this case, you can make a donation to our fundraiser at: http://www.gofundme.com/elawc. We are trying to raise money to cover the hard costs of this large production, and we also hope to raise additional money for the East Los Angeles Women's Center, the organization that we are benefiting; they help survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Beyond that, keep sharing art that is reflective of the female experience, keep telling your stories that have so much weight. The only way for there to be real and actual change is by having the conversation, first and foremost.
OK: There is a one night only event supporting the campaign where people can purchase art, but what happens after the event?
JA: Actually, the one night only event at Dilettante is where the artwork will be exhibited and where there will be a series of performances and entertainment, hosted by Rose McGowan. The artwork will be available through online auction, via the website Paddle8, so anyone can bid and purchase the artwork which goes toward the charity. The auction will go live around two weeks before the actual event. Those details will be posted on the project's website soon: I am hoping that this will become an annual project, with different contemporary female voices benefiting different organizations for women.
OK: What's next for you - anything exciting that you want to share?
JA: I have some photo series in mind, and one of the artists in our show, Snovit Hedstierna and I want to collaborate on a project together. I'm really excited to work with her one on one - her passion is a rocket. She has such a rare enthusiasm.
The #YESALLWOMEN art auction and fundraiser will be on view for one night only on September 19th, 2015 at Dilettante, 120 N. Santa Fe, Los Angeles, CA. You can visit the Go Fund Me campaign here to make a donation. You can also use the #YESALLWOMEN hashtag to join the global cause. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper