For cross-disciplinary artist Micol Hebron, there are no boundaries between life, work and art. This is not a question of balance, but of integration. A feminist activist, artist, teacher, and organizer based in L.A., Hebron certainly makes objects, images and performance events. But for her it goes way beyond these conventional forms, to include social systems and institutional critique, from the internet to the exhibition space. For example, Hebron is writing to us from Ghana, where she’s taking a class with artist April Bey centering on the country’s textiles, art and music. Believe it or not, this is unrelated to Hebron’s other project in Ghana, helping establish a school on artist Todd Gray’s residency property. She’s heading to check on their progress after the class ends.
“When people think of art, they think of painting, drawing, sculpture — aesthetic, material things,” Hebron tells the Weekly. “My practice is equally dematerialized, and involves durational performance, social media, community conversations and even feminist summer camp!” She’s been developing a sort of feminist theory of everything (Feminism 4D), which involves living her philosophy in everything she does, and “doing everything in a feminist way. So, I consider all parts of my life — teaching, family, social, art, online — to be part of my art.” This is true of the global phenomenon of the art-world Gallery Tally gender accounting project she established in 2013, art space the Situation Room that she opened in her converted garage, the hosting of feminist field camps and video art festivals, and even her Instagram account.
Speaking of, Hebron is fresh from an ongoing skirmish with artist Spencer Tunick and the National Coalition Against Censorship, who brazenly appropriated her original male-nipple pasty project and then got super weird about it. In the context of their stated fight against the policing of social media, Tunick and the NCAC basically just took her project off the web and used it as their own. Disappointingly, they’ve worked hard to shut her out after she demanded due credit.
“In 2014 in response to the removal of topless images of myself and friends attending an art exhibition and breast cancer fundraiser, I was warned that I’d violated community guidelines prohibiting the exposure of female nipples.” Genuinely shocked at the blatantly sexist double standard of targeting female nipples specifically, her reaction was the sarcastic and humorous gesture of taking their implications literally and masking her female nipples with digital pasties of male ones. “This act of literalizing was intended to point out how irrational they were, and hopefully get people — and social media enforcers — to think about how their policies might actually be harming the community, rather than protecting it,” Hebron explains. It was the start of a five-year and very much ongoing battle, waged not only on her own behalf but that of other female identifying artists.
In June of this year, artist Spencer Tunick and the National Coalition Against Censorship created a campaign called #wethenipple, using the male nipple pasty in a performative protest at Facebook HQ in New York. Both Tunick and NCAC admitted to not having researched or credited Hebron initially, feeling that if it was “all over the internet,” it was okay. “While I certainly do hope that everyone takes part — and has fun — in fighting against sexist double standards,” says Hebron, “I found it shocking that NCAC would claim my art as their own.” It’s not lost on her that in a way they proved many of the points she’s been working on for years.
UPDATE: Hebron has clarified in a Facebook post that Tunick has indeed been helping try to get the artist properly credited. NCAC is strongly pushing back against the allegations.
For further proof, look no further than the still relevant message of the original art posters at Gallerytally.tumblr.com. After tallying and visualizing the gender breakdowns of nearly 600 galleries through contributions of over 5,000 artists since 2013, the statistics embedded in these lively and frequently hilarious images, still reveal that male artists are represented twice as often as females, with an average ratio of nearly 70 percent male artists in the galleries’ programs.