When I took my first drag of a cigarette, it wasn’t the rush of nicotine and tobacco I was excited for. It was the feel of the thing in my hand, slender and smooth, the most delicate weapon I could imagine. It was the theatrical gesture of inhaling a moment, pausing inside it and letting it go. But mostly, to be real, it was the opportunity to look and feel like a badass.
In the Invisible-Exports exhibition “Frida Smoked,” six women artists explore the legacy of the compact vices, specifically in relation to ideas of femininity and creativity. What stereotypes come to mind when we see a woman light up a cig? And what do we see when we strip the paper cylinder of its cultural connotations and simply examine its shape, color and texture?
GENESIS BELANGER, “PETER THE LAST DRAG IS FOR YOU,” 2016, OIL ON CANVAS
At the point when cigarettes initially developed in the seventeenth century, they were a man’s toy. In painting and photography, cigarettes just showed up in the hands of sex laborers and wanton ladies on the edges of society. For a considerable length of time, ladies were accepted unequipped for appropriately breathing in a cigarette. In 1908, a woman was even arrested in New York City for lighting up.In the long run, around the time of World War I, when cigarettes were being mass-delivered and mass-promoted, ladies’ lungs were at long last regarded deserving of taking a puff. Just because, cigarettes were advertised explicitly to ladies, charged as images of opportunity and sexual orientation equality.
AMANDA NEDHAM, “OSNA198990 (OSTRICH),” 2016, SCULPEY, ACRYLIC
Today, women who smoke are often associated with certain clichés. There’s the glamorous hot mess, as evidenced by Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, Rita Hayworth’s Gilda, and of course Carrie Bradshaw. And the not-so-glam hot mess, à la Bridget Jones. There’s the good girl turned bad, like post-makeover Sandy in “Grease” or Molly Ringwald in “The Breakfast Club.” Then there’s the femme fatale, Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction,” and the rebel, Winona Ryder in “Heathers.”
To smoke cigarettes, especially in an age when its health dangers are widely researched and publicized, is an act of carefree defiance, privileging the drama of the moment over future guarantees. There’s an undeniable poetry to the botched logic that enables the habit, the nebulous future price for the precious instances spent breathing fire.
GENESIS BELANGER, “CIGARETTE AND STAIRS,” 2015, STEEL, PAINT, CONCRETE, OAK WOOD
“A cigarette is a breathing space,” John Berger beautifully put it. “It makes a parenthesis. The time of a cigarette is a parenthesis, and if it is shared, you are both in that parenthesis. It’s like a proscenium arch for a dialogue.”
Not too surprisingly, given its associations with transgression and whimsy, cigarettes are quite popular with the artist set. As Invisible Exports writes in their exhibition statement: “All artists smoked — all the good naughty ones anyway.” Cue the iconic image of queen Frida Kahlo in black and white, smirking at the camera while taking a drag. Pleasure, relaxation, sensation, excitement and defiance all rolled up in the tobacco.
AMANDA NEDHAM SCULPTURES
“Frida Smoked” features the work of six women contemporary artists who, I can only presume, have a soft spot for the cigs. Amanda Nedham‘s sculptures transform cigarettes into Gumby-esque limbs, contorted and colored to resemble a perched ostrich in one piece, a mountain gorilla in another. The animals converge around a cigarette placed in a wooden box, a coffin of sorts, bowing in reverence like a scene in “The Lion King.”
Artist Genesis Belanger creates oil paintings and sculptures addressing the physicality of the cigarette — namely, its phallic resemblance. As psychoanalyst A.A. Brill said in the 1920s, when trying to devise a marketing strategy to make women want to smoke: “Cigarettes were a symbol of the penis, and of male sexual power… If [advertisers] could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, then women would smoke, because then they would have their own penises.”
GENESIS BELANGER, “BUBBLE GUM ARRANGMENT #1,” 2016, STEEL, PAINT, CONCRETE
In Belanger’s geometric figures, a limp cigarette hangs inertly over an unbending, steel and wood models, similar to a depleted appendage urgent for a breather. From another edge, the cigarette’s delicate measurements nearly take after the female structure, hung exotically over serious building scenes like a parlor artist at a piano bar.In the work of art “Dwindle the Last Drag is for You,” leveled, disconnected cigarettes drift among pastel-shaded, geometric shapes looking like Donald Judd models. Separating the cigarettes into moderate beige square shapes and red circles, Belanger demonstrates exactly how famous the bundled merchandise have moved toward becoming.
CELESTE DUPUY-SPENCER, “MARK THE FLOOR,” 2015, OIL ON CANVAS
“Frida Smoked” examines the relationship between women artists and cigarettes twofold. First, it questions what smoking suggests about a woman, and how these clichés play into our perceptions of others and ourselves.
What is it about being a lady artist that makes the damn things so appealing? Second, the show examines cigarettes from an artist’s lens, exploring not just their history and cultural weight but their literal weight, feel and stature.
The way they float effortlessly between your fingers, hang softly between your lips, transforming real life into something just like it, but sharper.
In that way, smoking a cigarette can be like stepping into an art gallery. You’re feeling a bit cooler, or maybe just performing as such. Your environment is heightened and your senses razor-edged, if only for a brief period of time.