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While Donald Trump may think it’s okay to refer to his daughter as a “piece of ass,” he still does listen to Ivanka when it comes to decision-making and keeps her very, very close to his side. Which is why yesterday evening, over 150 artists, writers, curators, gallery workers, and other activists showed up outside her downtown Manhattan apartment in Puck Building to ask her to hear their collective concerns in the wake of the presidential election, on issues from women’s rights to climate change to immigration. For nearly two hours, they marched around the sidewalk with posters and candles, at times chanting, “Tell daddy ‘no!’” Some protestors handed out letters addressed to Ivanka that read, in part, “We refuse to ‘wait and see.’ We look to you as the voice of reason.”
Framed in the form of a candlelit vigil, the protest was organized by Halt Action Group — a “coalition of artists, writers, curators, but also activists, and normal people who have very strong feelings about not normalizing what’s happening with the Trump White House in formation,” as curator Alison Gingeras told Hyperallergic. Gingeras, along with artist Jonathan Horowitz and gallerist Bill Powers, started the group about two weeks ago; among the names involved are artists Nate Lowman and Dan Colen — who both have work owned by Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner — as well as Marilyn Minter, Ryan McNamara, and Alex Da Corte.
Halt Action Group is also behind a recently created Instagram account, @dear_ivanka. It pairs glamorous pictures of the president-elect’s daughter, drawn from her own account or press releases, with captions sent by other users that express personal anxieties. A mirror selfie arrives with the sentence, “Dear Ivanka, I’ve been raped and I need to have an abortion”; a photo of her in silk pajamas, relaxing on a chaise lounge, accompanies the plea, “@dear_ivanka I’m one of those ‘dykes that came from the Seven Sister’s schools,’ to quote Steve Bannon. Please tell your father not to give him a cabinet post.”
Yesterday’s vigil outside Puck Building, which Kushner’s family owns, drew those messages out into the physical world. Aside from painted signs that bashed Trump and called for Ivanka’s support, protestors asked passersby to write notes to Ivanka that will be delivered to her, and handed out the letters pre-penned by Halt Action Group. Listing requests directed at Ivanka, these voice very real concerns in a blunt and personal form.
“We really wanted this as a giant public open letter to her,” Gingeras told Hyperallergic, explaining that the group decided to stage a vigil as its members “didn’t want to align ourselves with the very vitriolic, anti-Trump protests.
“Ivanka Trump has presented herself — and the campaign has presented her — as a figure of reason, a working woman, a feminist; and as she is a New Yorker who participates in the art world and in cultural spheres, we felt that as artists and members of this community, we could speak to her because she’s part of our world,” Gingeras continued. “We felt that there was a lot of hypocrisies and contradictions within her personal beliefs, what she says she stands for, and the types of positions that her father and his cabinet are taking.”
There was no sign of Ivanka or her husband — perhaps they were celebrating his glossy cover story in Forbes — although police officers eventually showed up with yellow tape and barriers, as did one lonely counter-protestor with a “USA FOR TRUMP” sign. A handful of pedestrians cutting through the busy intersections did pause to write notes and take printed letters; some individuals accepted candles and joined the protest. But the crowd remained overwhelmingly filled with art-world types, for whom Ivanka’s particular connections to their realm have not gone unnoticed.
“I feel like artists have a very privileged situation — and people in New York … we live in a bubble,” Jordan Wolfson told Hyperallergic. “But I think it’s important to recognize that Ivanka Trump, in a lot of ways, exists in tangential social circles to a lot of people in the art world, or people who participate in New York society. And it’s hard to imagine that she’s not conscious of all of the bizarre irregularities, lies, and exaggerations her father says and proposes to act upon.
“We’re reaching out to her to say, ‘Hey, come on. Let’s cut this bullshit.”
While certainly done with good intention, the protest, in a sense, was still very much an “art scene”: intimate, even edging on exclusive. Although it was open to all and not just individuals working in the art world, it was tough to imagine members of the public jumping into a relatively small action where everyone seems to know everyone — the social expectations felt similar to those at art fairs or gallery openings. (And as with such affairs, the phrase “I love your work” was heard often.) My own attempts to ask for help to identify artists — or even mentioning that I didn’t recognize a name — left me feeling awkward and out of place.
But every effort that points out the wrongs of Trump’s administration, of course, matters. Ivanka may not respond to last night’s open letter, but #DearIvanka messages are continuously cropping up on social media, emerging on screens beyond New York City, where we do have the privilege to openly voice our concerns. The vigil was also just the first of many actions Halt Action Group is planning to protest Trump’s election. And, as Cathy Park Hong recently emphasized, artists, curators, gallerists, and collectors are all in particular positions to resist, collectively, the adversities of the Trump years — but they should be aware of building communities beyond institutions.
Artist Becky Howland, while protesting at the vigil, told Hyperallergic, “Of course artists are going to be very involved in planning and executing creative acts against what is going to be a very oppressive regime. We can lead the way. It’s sort of our job. There are times when it’s necessary to say ‘absolutely not,’ and this is one of them.”
And for her, participating at an event like last night’s simply “feels very good to fight back and to express our opinions.”
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