Art x Hollywood x Feminism
Electric pink flooded the gallery. Neon rose light illuminated portraits, installments, and homages to Olivia Benson. The feminist art gallery and community space, Junior High Los Angeles, celebrated the opening of their new show, “What Would Olivia Benson Do?”.
But who is Olivia Benson? For the uninitiated, Olivia Benson is the protagonist of Law and Order SVU—the TV show you watched when you stayed home sick from school and learned how to prosecute.
“People are surprised I like Law and Order, but it’s empowering,” said Genisis Escoto, the curator of the show, contributing artist — and recent high school graduate. “Olivia Benson has no sympathy [for the criminals], she just goes straight for it. I’m cheering out loud when I watch an episode.”
Its true, Olivia Benson is empowering, she kicks ass, and unapologetically stands up for women. And you know who else does? Genesis, the 18-year-old that successfully organized an art show dedicated to survivors of sexual assault.
“The art show and preceding events seek to empower survivors of sexual assault and educate the community about the often-silenced issues surrounding rape culture,” reads the event description on Junior High’s website.
As attendees entered Junior High’s rose colored clubhouse, they were ready to show their support. The money from this show was donated to End The Backlog, an initiative spearheaded by Joyful Heart Foundation, focused on ending the rape kit backlog in the United States. Sarah Marie Sapphire, an attendee, loitered surreptitiously in her electric pink pants next to a Delaney Renee piece. Determined to win the piece in the silent auction, she stood poised, head on a swivel and pen in purse. $150 brought her home a victory and the painting.
The intrinsically serious nature of the show’s theme spoke through the artwork, but felt balanced by the vitality of the people in the room. You felt the pain and honesty in the art, but you didn’t feel guilty about drinking a Tecate or having a laugh with the artist.
“What Would Olivia Benson Do?” features twenty-two artists, each approaching the show’s theme with a unique style and perspective. One featured artist, Rikki Write, walked me through her series of four photos depicting a young woman submerging herself in murky bathwater called “The Aftermath.”
“After being violated you feel dirty and want to take a bath,” explained Write. ”In this series, she is going down under the water, and you don’t know what happens.”
Artist Zoie Harmon created a shadow box “with evidence you would find on a crime scene.” Law and Order resonates with Harmon because Olivia Benson never imparts guilt onto the victims of rape.
“Even if a girl is a sex worker she doesn’t deserve to get raped. I love Olivia Benson because she tells the stories of and defends complicated women,” says Harmon. “I imagine that the shadow box I’ve created tells the story of a complicated woman.”
Escoto, the shows curator, contributed an original painting, “Untitled”. “Untitled” is split into a four-square grid. Each square shows a hand holding a different object—cigarettes, pizza, lipstick, coffee. Out of context this piece conjures Warholian sentiments and could be interpreted as friendly pop art, but in context it comes alive, and its message is both powerful and chilling. “After rape, a girl may distract herself, relieve stress, or try and find comfort in a variety of ways, the items in the subject’s hands represent a few ways a victim might do that”.
“What Would Olivia Benson Do?” through June 16th at Junior High Los Angeles.