The Artist Behind "Ivanka Vacuuming" Tells Us What Inspired Her

Photo: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock.
Currently on display at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.: a performance art piece in which a model who closely resembles Ivanka Trump vacuums up crumbs that visitors throw on the carpet in front of her. Wearing a pink dress, shiny stilettos, and with her hair in curls, she smiles and vacuums wearing a placid, docile look.
Critics of "Ivanka Vacuuming" were quick to point out that the "exhibit reflects every stereotype feminists claim to stand against, oversexualizing Ivanka’s body and ignoring her hard work."
But New York-based artist Jennifer Rubell, the creator of the piece, which was presented by CulturalDC, said that she wasn't making any type of judgment about Ivanka. Instead, she said, she wanted to explore "the relationship between the viewer and the character's femininity," as well as our relationship with Ivanka, and wanted the piece to serve as "a questioning of our complicity in her role-playing."
Photo: courtesy of Ryan Maxwell Photography.
"Usually the qualities of feminism and femininity are seen in opposition," Rubell said in an interview with Refinery29. "Most women clearly lean toward one side or the other in their self-presentation. Something very interesting about Ivanka — her clothing line, too — is that it seems the goal is to achieve both of these qualities as part of the conversation. This is something women struggle with, and her conclusion is unusual and interesting."
But won't portraying her in a domestic role and having people toss crumbs at her be seen as encouraging subjugation?
"First of all, people aren't throwing crumbs at her," said Rubell. "She's vacuuming them up from the carpet. You're participating in this act of subjugation, that's true, but the piece is not 'Ivanka vacuuming,' it's a combination of that and the participating viewer. ... It puts the viewer in a very complicated position. And I'm most interested in the complications of the viewer; how they decide to engage with this feminine figure. What does it mean to either throw crumbs, or stand there watching other people throwing crumbs?"
As for the crumbs, they could symbolize a lot of things, said Rubell. "The cheapness of our appreciation of her. Her desire to clean things up. It's extremely open-ended and open to many different interpretations. ... One thing [tossing the crumbs] could say is that we’re all complicit in this dynamic and how it relates to feminism and femininity."
Rubell said she was inspired when she saw photos of Ivanka at the G20 summit wearing a dress from her own line. She then had her model wear the same dress and asked hair and makeup artists to recreate Ivanka's look. She found the model, who is 16, through an agency, and said that it took a while to find someone who so closely physically matches Ivanka.
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She said her motivation was far from political. "Art can offer a truth that politics can’t. It can create a portrait of things that contradict each other. This is a great gift of art and a great defect of politics. There’s no greater clarity than the piece itself."
So, there you go — a piece of performance art just as mysterious and open to interpretation as the first daughter and White House advisor herself.
"Ivanka" will be vacuuming thanks to CulturalDC until February 17, and the piece is also being livestreamed.
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