Curator and artist Indira Cesarine at The Untitled Space gallery ONE YEAR OF RESISTANCE Exhibition, NYC, January 2018. Photography by Dustin Wayne Harris

An Interview with Indira Cesarine

– What is your background?
I was born in the Midwest – in Iowa to be precise. I moved to New York when I was 14 years old to study at Parson’s for their summer painting program for high school students. I feel in love with NYC and convinced my parents to let me go to high school on the East Coast, where I also studied photography and painting. I’m actually the youngest of 5 kids, so I think they were happy to get me out of the house! I ended up going to Choate Rosemary Hall, which has an amazing arts program. Every summer I studied at Parson’s and later I went to college at Columbia University (I graduated with a triple major in Art History, Women’s Studies and French). After I graduated college I moved to Europe to work as a photographer.

– Where do you go to find inspiration generally (whether in the past of present)
I am often inspired by my dreams, as well as every day influences. My work is often inspired by what is going on in the world around us, such as current events and politics. I also of course love checking out other artists work and try to find the time to go to exhibits and opening studios when I can. I’m also always curious to learn new techniques, so I often take night classes and workshops. I find it really inspiring and also the students usually inspire each other. One is never too old to go back to school or learn new tricks! There are also a few art fairs that every year I hit, as the work is very inspirational – Frieze, Art Basel Miami, Spring/Break Art Show. I’m not a huge fan of art fairs, but those always stand out as worth going to.

– What does art itself mean to you, and why do you think it is especially crucial to have art and artistic expression in these current times?
At the end of the day art defines the world we live in. Artists are expressing what everyone is thinking – their work becomes our cultural currency. When we look back historically at an era in history, we often look at the art and artifacts as defining that time. I also think that freedom of expression is crucial right now, and artists use art to engage a narrative that makes people think about the world we live in with a unique sensibility. Even if you don’t like the work, it is provoking ideas, and often creates an emotional response. Art keeps us alive!

– If you were to be stuck on an island with one other notable or influential person from any field or profession, who would it be and why?
That’s a tough one! Really not sure – to be honest I think I would rather just be with some nice, normal person if I was stuck on an island – no drama! I would much rather relax and enjoy it.

– Your upcoming exhibition, INDIRA CESARINE x NEON, will open on Valentines Day at Le Board on the Upper East Side. What is your relationship with the living brand, and how did this collaboration come about?
I was approached by curator Jenny Muskin Goldman, who saw my work at SCOPE during Art Basel Miami last December, about doing an exhibit at Le Board. We caught up with their Creative Director Sofia Karvela and it felt like a great fit for my work. Le Board has a mission to celebrate and empower women, which I felt has a great synergy with my artwork – which is clearly very female empowerment

– As an artist, your work encompasses many different styles, however for this exhibition you are only featuring some of you fascinating neon artwork. When did you begin working using neon? What spurred you interest, and, how do you find the reactive process in that to be different or similar to working in any other style?

In 2014, I was invited to create a sculpture for the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, which was exhibited at Rockefeller Center. I created a sculpture called the “Egg of Light” which was made out of glass and crystal, and reflected the light as if it was electric – but it wasn’t – it was just refracting ambient light. Over the course of making that sculpture I became totally inspired by the process of creating 3-dimensional art, which was a massive leap from my former career as a photographer. Over the past several years I have been studying and exploring techniques in clay and casting, welding in steel, 3D printing, as well as neon glass bending. I became really inspired by the process of making sculptures in glass, and started doing workshops out in Brooklyn on neon glass bending a few years ago. With my background in photography – which is an art form heavily focused on light, and how light reflects on surfaces, I guess I was just naturally drawn to neon, which is one of the only sculptural styles that combines 3-D form with the component of light. As my work has evolved I have been drawn to conceptual text and figurative works in neon that engage historical narratives and poetic messages of activism. It is one of the few art forms that you can easily employ text and in many ways it is a very thought provoking medium to work in. I think with my feminist messages of activism, I am naturally drawn to it, as it is direct yet poetic, with the sculptural glass component, usage of light and color.

– One could say the subject matter in INDIRA CESARINE x NEON is rather provocative and controversial. Some of the wording includes “Slut”and “Lust”. What triggered your interest in exploring these themes, and why did you choose as your means to express it?

My neon sculptures are often inspired by inspirational women and their quotes, by words that can become tools of empowerment, words that reclaim sexist narratives or challenge the status quo. I often find my artwork addresses stereotypes and double standards. My “slut” neons are reclaiming words that have been used against women, and turning them into words of empowerment, while “lust” is celebrating sex positive femininity and sexual liberation. Many of your topics of focus have to do with empowerment, particularly female empowerment as well finding ones true voice as a female in a male led world.

-Why is this subject matter so deeply important to you?

I think a lot of this comes from my own personal experiences, as well as my heritage. When I started working as a photographer after I graduated college, I found that it was a very male dominated industry. It was extremely difficult to be taken seriously as a female photographer. I worked a lot in Europe – London, Paris, Milan… but found it very hard to get any work in the US as a woman. Years later when I shifted my work to contemporary art, I realized it was just as bad! Most galleries only had a token female artist, and as we all know from the Guerilla Girls, most museums only feature a small percentage of works by female artists. The fact that the numbers of women being successful in these fields had hardly shifted even after the feminist movements of the 70’s and 80s’s, despite all the “progression” in education and “equal opportunity,” says a lot. The reality is that feminism had become a bad word, and it’s only in the last few years that people are taking another look at the situation and seeing it for what it is. With the #MeToo and #TimesUP movements and protest marches, I think a lot of people are waking up to the inequalities in our system. A lot of that is changing now that there has been an emphasis on it – but I think in order for progress to be made, we need to be progressive! There is still a lot of work to be done! Even now in 2019, they have just reported that 87% of museum collections are male artists. My work directly engages the need for equality to be a reality. I think I have also been greatly influenced by mother, who was a female pioneer of sorts. She was one of only of the only female graduates in her class at University of Chicago Law School back in 1959. I guess activism and this inherent desire to change the world is in my blood having been raised by such a progressive mother. A Mexican/American who was raised in Texas during the depression, she came from a very humble background and ended up attending law school on a National Merit Scholarship. She saw a lot of discrimination growing up with Mexican heritage in Texas (she descends from Northern Mexican Native Indian tribes), and also witnessed her own mother die of blood poisoning due to an illegal abortion when she was eleven years old. She always had a fighting attitude that you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it, no matter what your circumstances are. She named me after the first female prime minister of India, Indira Ghandi, and I was raised with her as a powerful inspiration to never give up. I can’t imagine what it was like back then – being a woman with almost no rights or access to education, and I’m thankful that she has given me the inspiration to be hard working and to fight for what I believe in.

– If a young girl were to have a look at one of your artworks, what message or ideal would you wish for her to take with her?

There is nothing wrong with being different, unique or shocking. Just be yourself!

– If you weren’t an artist, what career would you have?

I would probably be a lawyer! Or a politician… or maybe an editor in chief.

– Any artist past or present that has influenced your work and progression so far?

I love Tracey Emin’s work of course, as well as The Guerilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, as well as Warhol. I think he has influenced every living artist to a certain degree. I was always inspired by his multi-disciplinarian style, and ability to create artwork in so many different mediums seamlessly. He really celebrated women as well – all of his superstars were so fabulous. I loved his early editions of Interview Magazine – when I was in high school I literally used to plaster them all over my walls. I have also been inspired by a lot of female musicians, from Grace Jones and Annie Lennox to Siouxsie Sioux. When I was in high school I used to have a punk rock radio station and I was really inspired by all of those 80‘s fearless female punk and new wavers. They didn’t give a shit, they were these powerful amazons that ruled. Last but not least Sappho was pretty awesome!

– What do you see as your signature artistic style?

I’m a multi-disciplinarian artist and feminist activist. My work transcends one visual style in favor of my message of female empowerment. I work thematically versus with only one visual style and often my series includes a variety of mediums and techniques to convey a rich narrative.

– What’s next for you?

I am working on 2 exhibits for Spring/Break Art Show opening on March 5th . This year’s theme is “Fact and Fiction” and I’m creating an immersive exhibit titled, “EDEN” with 20 female artists (including myself) revolving around the myth of the Garden of Eden as the original “Fake News”. The exhibit explores the roles of Adam and Eve, the concept of original sin, of sexual temptation, and the religious belief system that as a result of Eve’s actions, women for eternity must pay for her sins with the “pain of childbearing and subservience to man.” Technically this religious tale is the root of misogyny in patriarchal societies for thousands of years, and has resulted in women being subjected to discrimination and “justified” inequality. I felt it was time to explore The Garden of Eden in context of feminist art today. The exhibit explores the stereotypes, symbolism and sexuality of Eden, while liberating Eve from being a woman condemned for all eternity. I also have a solo show I am curating for Spring/Break Art Show of artist Alison Jackson’s work, which is insanely brilliant. Aside from that I have a feminist art exhibit opening in April in San Francisco titled “F213,” which is presented by the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art (NCWCA), and I just found out that I have been selected to represent the State of New York for “HERFLAG 2020,” which is a nationwide project that commemorates 100 years of Women’s Suffrage. One female artist has been selected to represent each of the 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment, and there will be a ceremony in Albany, NY this summer as well as a documentary film created on the nationwide project. I will also have some artwork at Superfine Art Fair in May 2019.