You may not know who Melissa Ichiuji is, but you certainly should! She is a sculptor who makes some of the most unique, shocking and provocative artwork. Her artwork has been on display in dozens of solo and group exhibitions, and she herself has been featured in publications like The New York Times andThe Washington Post. This feminist artist is certainly one to watch in the art world. We spoke with Melissa from her home in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., to find out more.
How did you become a sculptor?
I’ve been making objects, dancing, and directing plays since I was 6 years old. My dad was a sculptor and a machinist. He built me a child sized workbench and gave me my own tools. I started making little dolls after we lost everything in a house fire. We had to start over from scratch and lived for a long time with bare essentials.
My grandmother lived with us and I remember sitting under her sewing machine while she spent hours making quilts from old clothes people had given us. My mother became really depressed and I didn’t know how to help her. My dolls cheered her up so I kept making them.
I had a secret basket with a top where I hid scraps of fabric, thread, my mother’s stockings, buttons and anything sparkly. I was very comfortable being quiet and industrious and had the sense that my efforts were worthwhile.
In sixth grade I made a life-size doll of a boy I was in love with. Somehow he found out and I was so embarrassed that I abandoned the doll making.
When I was 13 I started studying dance seriously and at 17 moved to NY to perform professionally. I worked for many years as a dancer and actor. During a performance of West Side Story, I broke my ankle on stage. While I was recuperating I started sewing again. My love for art making was rekindled and I’ve been doing it ever since.
How do you embrace dance and art to create your own universe?
I create live performances, short movies and sculptural tableaus where figures act out staged fantasies relating to feminine eroticism, power and repression. My work has been described as performative sculpture.
I combine the physicality of dance with the narrative qualities of theater and use sculptural objects, costumes and props as an extension of the body and psyche.
Are you optimistic about women’s rights in the world?
Yes. Unthinkable atrocities and injustices against women still run rampant. Centuries of oppression and inequality can’t be reprogrammed overnight but I see progress happening everyday.
More political and cooperate positions of power are held by women, college campus activism is springing up all over America and mainstream advertisers are shrewdly promoting equality with slick campaigns like the Pantene ad, about workplace discrimination, that is generating so much buzz.
Are you influenced in your work by women’s legacy?
I’m very influenced by the social and cultural circumstances of my ancestors. The women of my past were poor Appalachian artisans who used the limited resources they had to make crafts that were beautiful and functional. These women were resilient and adaptable and they got things done in spite of adversity.
I idolized my mother. She had a very sensual presence, a wicked sense of humor and was smart as a whip. I watched her beguile men, root for underdogs and fight tooth and nail against playground and work place injustices. My artwork walks a fine line; one that acknowledges women as both master and victim.
What are your next plans ?
My current show “INSIDE OUT” with Hans Bellmer at Galerie Sophie Scheidecker in Paris will be up until the end of January.
After the holidays I return to Paris to meet with curators to plan another exhibition in France. At my studio, we are busy preparing work for a show in Munich next spring and Art Basel, Switzerland in June. It’s a busy time. I’m happy and grateful.
To view more of Melissa’s art, check out her video: Melissa Ichiuji in “Valentine”