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Jasmine Wahi, Curator and Activist

Jasmine Wahi, Curator and Activist

We are so thrilled to have Jasmine Wahi as part of our Women We Love series this month!
We sat down with Jasmine (virtually!) and got her thoughts on number of things including her inspiring exhibition "all the women. in me. are tired" currently on display at THE CLUB in Tokyo, Japan with artists such as, Marilyn Minter, Hiba Schahbaz, Andrea Chung, Chitra Ganesh, Laurie Simmons, Mequitta Ahuja, Natalie Frank and Zoe Buckman

Image courtesy of THE CLUB, "all the women. in me. are tired" exhibition

Jasmine Wahi is a curator, activist, TEDx speaker, and a founder + co-director of the non-profit Project for Empty Space. Her practice focuses on issues of female empowerment, complicating binary structures within social discourses, and exploring multi-positional cultural identities through the lens of intersectional feminism. She received her Masters from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, where she focused on issues of intersectional narratives and authorship. In addition to running Project for Empty Space, and curating international shows independently, Ms. Wahi is also a professor at the School of Visual Arts, and a former board member of the South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC). Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal,Vogue, Hyperallergic, ARTNews, Art Forum, and more. Ms. Wahi lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her dog momo. 

How can art push to make a change and address social and political issues related to women?

I think the best art lives in a symbiotic relationship with social and cultural change. It not only reflects its socio-political or cultural landscape, but also has the potential to shift it. Drastically. Image making is culture making. Look at what an impact artwork has had on drastic political change. For example, Shepard Fairey's HOPE image for Barack Obama. That image was undoubtedly impactful to the brand and success of Obama's campaign. The same can be said of the women's movement- look at how much visual culture has permeated mainstream culture to define the movement- from the pink pussy hat, to the iconic 'woman' symbol. Even our show of 60 artists in New York, Abortion Is Normal, transgressed the art press into the larger zeitgeist because it reflected and codified an issue that is so important to people. 

Image courtesy of THE CLUB, "all the women. in me. are tired" exhibition

Tell us more about "all the women. in me. are tired” the exhibition currently showing at The Club in Tokyo, Japan , what sparked you to curate such an inspiring exhibition and what do you hope it will accomplish?

Thank you for saying it's inspiring! That means a lot! The majority of my exhibitions deal with gender and/or race, and take cues from my own life experience. This exhibition was really inspired by the content of my TED talk in 2019, which I translated into a visual depiction of what I said in that presentation. Over the past few years I have felt an ever-growing heaviness, an inexplicable exhaustion because of what's happening in the world around me. I wanted to lean into that idea, and to acknowledge that yes, life isn't always wonderful or easy. Even more so than that, I wanted to recognize the universality of this sentiment- in societies that are dominated by misogyny and/or patriarchy (so most societies), being a woman can be exhausting. It's time to see camaraderie and community in shared experience, even if that experience is fighting an upward battle against toxic masculinity. I hope that people of all genders see this show and take away a few ideas: that it's ok to be overwhelmed and exhausted; that there are others who can empathize with you; with the acknowledgement that oppressive patriarchy causes this phenomenon we can now work to dismantle it.

Image courtesy of THE CLUB, "all the women. in me. are tired" exhibition

In addition to being a curator, activist and speaker you are also a professor at the School of Visual Arts, how do you inspire your students to recognize and address these issues through their own medium?

I never want to impose my politics or ideas onto my students; however, I do try and expose them to new ideas and social concepts that I think will make them more conscientious art makers and art community members, even if social engagement is not ultimately part of their practice. I try and push students to think about equity in art making- not only in the content of work, but in the larger structure of the art world. My strategy is to have conversations about art history (and contemporary art) that direct deliberately intersect with social movements. I also either take them to exhibitions or suggest exhibitions oriented around social equity and justice. For my class on Intersectional Feminism, I ask my students to either create a body of work or use an existing body, and speak about it through the lens of intersectionality or social equity.

While the topics we discuss may never factor into their work beyond my time with them, at least they will (hopefully) be cognoscenti. 

What can we do to create gender equality in the art world?

How much time and room do you have? I could write an epic book on the topic. The short answer is: by recognizing that inequity is a real problem within the art world. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. And we have a real problem with gender and racial inequality. The issue with admission is- what do you do after that? Most people who have power do not want to relinquish it, so the way to create equity is to either take some power, or to create more room and opportunity for ourselves. Of course this is incredibly hard in practice, but if we recognize that the system of the art world is only a construct that we ourselves invited, we can change the game. There is no reason that we cant start to create new structures for ourselves, and there is also no reason we cant demand better. But we have to have solidarity and camaraderie in this effort.

The other more immediate way we can make change is by shouting about it- by making a stink. I'm not a huge fan of 'call out culture' because I think it often lacks nuance and a holistic understanding that ever issue is complex. BUT we live in an age where information disseminates and explodes very quickly, and it is worthwhile to use that to our advantage. One of the issues we face when it comes to gender equity and racial equity in the art world as that we have many of these conversations in silos and hushed tones. A lot of people outside of the communities (women, people of color) that are disenfranchised, don’t realize or deliberately ignore the fact that there is a problem. We have to create a cacophony so that people will pay attention.

Image courtesy of THE CLUB, "all the women. in me. are tired" exhibition

What is your advice to women entering the art world?

It's not easy. Be prepared for that. But the most worthwhile things that you love are never easily come by. Dont give up- it can feel very lonely and isolating, and also very fake at times. Instead, find peers who you can trust and build a community. A lot of people dont realize that working in art is not a job, or even a career, it becomes a lifestyle. So find a supportive structure within the art space who you can turn to, celebrate with, and commiserate with.