Photographer Maggie West is rethinking who's worthy of being immortalized in stained glass. In an artist statement, she writes, “Throughout history, most women depicted in stained glass artwork are saints. The majority of these saints were virgins, many of whom suffered gruesome violent deaths rather than lose their 'purity.' … Rather than be celebrated for their purity, this piece, titled 98, pays tribute to women’s freedom to sexually express themselves and protest sexual violence.”
On Sunday, Oct. 1, to coincide with Amber Rose's annual SlutWalk through downtown, West is constructing a free-standing “stained glass” ceiling in Pershing Square. The 60-foot-long, 10-foot-tall installation features translucent photos of 40 models posing nude in solidarity with the event's participants, who'll march in various states of undress to protest rape culture.
“Because the issues that SlutWalk addresses are so universal to all women, it was important to have a wide variety of different types of models,” West says. “Trans models, sex workers, all different ethnicities and different ages.” Over the course of a week and a half, West conducted hourlong shoots with all 40 models, some she'd worked with before, others she found on Instagram and some who just happened to show up. “I had a few instances that actually worked out great that one of the models was going to be in the shoot and they’d happen to bring a friend who was also a model,” West says.
For a project like this, West also thought it was important for the models to exercise agency, so she allowed them to select the photo that would be used. She also collected quotes from the models about the project so their thoughts and ideas would be represented, not just their faces and bodies.
Gaby Dunn, a writer and actor, said, “As someone who has the luxury of being open about her sexuality, it's imperative I use that privilege for good: ending slut-shaming and allowing everyone to feel good about their bodies and sexual lives and desires.”
Writer-actor Allison Raskin said, “I wanted to participate in this series to take away the shame that's often assigned to the female body. I also wanted to prove anyone can proudly pose naked, even if they have a reputation for being a prude.”
For West, 98 is also a continuation of West's mission to present photography in ways that are outside the box. “I think there are so many amazing photographers, but the way photos are showcased is very traditional; they're just something hanging on a wall in a gallery. I’m excited about evolving that a little bit and using my photography in a more integrated way.” Prior to this, she created a floating installation in the pool at the Standard Hotel downtown for the launch of her book, 23.
Ultimately, she hopes it serves as a statement on the pervasiveness of rape culture. “I do think it is really universal and it’s interesting to me the various ways that this sexist attitude that the more a woman sexually expresses herself, it merits shame or the threat of violence,” West says. “It manifests itself in so many different ways. If a woman has slept around she’s not wife or girlfriend material, or [the notion] that sex workers can’t be raped.”