Annique Delphine: Breasts, Flowers, and the Power of Femininity
Annique Delphine is a feminine powerhouse. Based in Berlin, the photographer, installation artist, and film-maker, is in the midst of creating her third film, prepping for two shows coming up early in 2017, and somehow had time to answer some questions about her art practice. Below we talk about how embracing femininity is a powerful thing, the male vs. female gaze, and what young women can do to remove the stigma from the word "feminist".
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: Hi Annique! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. I know you’ve been super busy lately making more and more work and putting together a new film! I thought we might start out the interview with a little bit of background about you for our readers just getting familiar with your name. Can you tell us about yourself?
Annique Delphine: Thank you so much for your interest. I love Pink Things Mag!
I’ve been all over the place for the past 20 years. I started modeling when I was 14 which took me to a lot of great places by the time I was 18, but it also brought on a lot of pain. The modeling industry is very harsh and you are constantly criticized for your body, your face, your hair, and your skin. It’s just a sick, sick business in which adults tell young girls they are not good enough on a daily basis. After high school I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to become an actress but that industry is just as destructive to your soul as the modeling industry. So when I quit at 24 I was a complete mess but I got a job as a photo assistant. 10 years earlier I had bought a camera from the money I got with my first modeling job and I had been taking self-portraits over the past decade, and they were always sad. So I decided to change that.
For the next several years I took self-portraits like a ritual every other day and it was a very healing experience for me. This was years before selfies became a thing so naturally a lot of people must have thought I was off the charts in my vanity but I guess that’s what I needed. I needed to believe in my own beauty again. Everybody should know that they are beautiful and valuable. I took back my power that way.
At 27 I moved to Berlin to study photography at the Neue Schule Für Fotografie. I did a project for my finals that combined photographs of trees with autobiographical texts. It was very personal, and the vulnerability I felt putting those photographs with their accompanying texts up on the walls was scary. But when I saw other people understanding what I was doing and being touched by it I knew that’s what I wanted to keep doing. From there it just evolved into what my work is now: a constant reflection on personal or societal struggles connected with being a woman.
PT: So one of the initial things that drew me to you through instagram was the overly feminine work you’ve been making. The stand-alone boobs in spontaneous crevices in cities like LA surrounded by beautiful florals are startling. They complete spaces left by decay and time. What is the inspiration behind this work? Can you talk to me about this project and what it aims to do? How did you get to this point?
AD: Girl Disruptive is a series of these semi spontaneous public installations I do wherever I currently am. It may sound funny, but I was inspired by plants. I love how nature will always find a way to make space for itself again. Like in LA there’s all these sidewalks where the concrete has been broken open by roots; so these trees that were planted for decoration are claiming more room than they were given. And they should. They weren’t supposed to be surrounded by concrete.
And while I was hiking in England this summer I came across a creek overgrown with ferns and weeds and I just thought if femininity could do that, that would be so awesome.
That inspired me to imagine a world where femininity also always finds a way to be around us and reclaim its space. I want to promote femininity and raise awareness about female sexuality and gender-based violence.
PT: What led to the transformation from photography to installation to film?
AD: I was working on the photographs for ABUNDANCE and I saw that the white liquid I used was moving so beautifully and I thought people should see that and so I just started filming it while working on the photos. Then I played around with those scenes on my computer. Had I set out to make a film I would have been very intimidated by the overall process but this happened so organically I never thought about it until I already had finished my first film, ABUNDANCE. Then I got offered a solo show at Showroom Berliini in Berlin and decided to make a second film called PLETHORA for that exhibition.
Girl Disruptive started because I wanted to visualize femininity like a plant overgrowing areas we come across in our daily lives. So I set out with a bucket full of flowers and breasts and just arranged them in different places to take pictures.
Then I was offered a spot in this huge group exhibition in an old office building. Every artist got a room to do with whatever they wanted and I decided that instead of just showing my art I wanted to create an interactive and visceral experience for people. I turned my room into a teenage girl’s bedroom and I collected diary entries from teenagers all over the world to tell grown ups what it’s like today to be a young person that identifies as female. I had been very interested in installation art because I love artists like Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas but I didn't know how to approach this and make it a reality. And then I was lucky enough that the opportunity presented itself to me.
PT: Also, this might be an obvious question, but why breasts? So many other artists have really been focusing on the vulva and vagina for feminist work, so I’m just really curious about the choice of breasts.
AD: People ask me all the time why breasts and I can’t ever answer that question. The truth is don’t really know why other than because they are beautiful, and while not every woman may have them, they are a global symbol for womanhood. I do remember that as a child, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), was on TV one day as I was flipping through channels. I was clueless about what this movie was about but I’ve never forgotten the visual of that giant breast chasing a man down a landscape. Even as a child that seemed so absurd to me!
PT: What inspires you to make work?
AD: My work is 100% intuitive. Whatever is brewing inside of me comes out and then I build on that as a foundation for a project. It’s usually either something I am personally struggling with at the time or it’s something I am relating to. Everything around me inspires me and I feel like everything is connected.
With Girl Disruptive, for instance, it all just came together. I had been helping out organizing demonstrations during a high profile rape trial in Germany and I was taking this online course at Smith College about political activism. I was also reading a lot about the lack of appreciation of female sexuality, about rape culture, and about gender-based violence. I was filled with so much anger and I had to let that out. Doing it with flowers and breasts seemed like a beautiful way for me to do that.
PT: You use strong feminine symbols in your work, Girl Disrupted and beyond. Can you talk a little bit about how reclaiming the feminine is such a powerful thing?
AD: For me personally it’s a source of power because my femininity belongs to me now. It’s helping me distance myself from the obligation of being likable, agreeable, physically pleasing, or whatever else society pressures me to be just because I’m a woman. There’s nothing wrong with any of these attributes. I just don’t like to have expectations put on me simply because of the gender I identify as.
PT: Something that I really appreciate about your work, and your instagram platform, is that you actively advocate for women around the world. You’ve recently posted about Planned Parenthood, the objectification of the female body for advertising, violence against women around the world, and the dampening of real female sexuality. These are heavy topics, and it’s so thrilling that someone with your following is using it for good. Do you have any comments, concerns, or insight as to how these topics influence your work, the work of our contemporaries, or the art market? Society in general?
AD: I think my job as an artist is to always speak the truth. To spread it and start a dialogue. So I speak MY truth and I try to convey how that relates to bigger issues concerning all of us.
I just wish female artists’ expressions were as represented and as accepted as male artists’ are. Women are still way underrepresented in the art world.
And the male gaze still dominates. Like for instance female artists need to be allowed to represent the nude female body without it being called vulgar or vain. Male artists do it all the time. They draw, paint, sculpt, film or photograph our naked bodies and it’s art but when we do the same we are conceited?
PT: What are your thoughts on how Pink is used in consumer culture, society, as a gendered color, etc?
AD: It’s absurd how society assigns colors to certain genders. It’s all due to marketing and people trying to make profits. That has really gotten out of control. But while some feminists reject the color to make a point, I would rather embrace it because I love it so much. No one is going to spoil the color pink for me.
PT: How does Pink influence you and your work?
AD: I’m often drawn to pink. It’s so heavily charged with symbolism and what people project onto it. Plus it’s just really beautiful and I like to make beautiful visuals. I reject the notion that art must not be aesthetic to be taken seriously.
PT: Would you consider yourself a feminist? (I’m assuming it’s a hard yes).
AD: Yes! It makes me so sad when people reject the word feminist because it’s controversial. It will stay controversial until enough people endorse it and help dismantle all of the misunderstandings concerning it.
PT: What are you up to next?
AD: I’m off to New York because I have a group show opening there January 11th. It’s called “Hands Off My Cuntry” and it’s curated by Savannah Spirit. The show has a great roster of artists like Alexandra Rubinstein and Joanne Leah. It’s a plea to Donald Trump to stop his sexist politics.
After that I’m back to Berlin to finish working on my new show opening in Berlin this February in collaboration with Cogalleries.
PT: Do you have any advice for young artists looking to make work along the same thought line? Young women around the world? Our readership is global!
AD: The best advice I can give to artists is to never compare yourself to other artists. Don't wonder how your work fits into with other people’s work. Just find a medium with which you can express your own truth.
And to young women everywhere I just want to say that the one thing I wish I had learned earlier is to speak up and to be unapologetic about it. There were so many instances in my life where I wish I could have found the strength and the courage to speak up. Women’s voices are still under-appreciated. So it is important we find our voices and we use them.