Allison Bouganim, 19, is an award-winning artist who caught the public’s eye in fall 2017 with her installation of butt sculptures around San Francisco. She has shaped her own education, starting a jewelry business at 15 and a nonprofit at 17 to support homeless women and children. She started the butt sculpture project in Miami, where she grew up, and hopes to bring it to other cities.
J.: Your art installation caused a stir in San Francisco last fall. Can you describe it for our readers?
Allison Bouganim: “Wax That Ass” is an interactive sculpture series made from molds of actual women’s butts. It’s meant to be satirical and super in-your-face. The sculptures are made from plaster and wax, and there are six interactive buttons on each one. When you press a button, a phrase comes out. The phrases are recorded from the woman that I molded, and every phrase is a part of her story that she’s shared with you about her experience with harassment or rape. This not only helps these women share their stories, but ensures that their stories are heard in a way that can’t be ignored.
These aren’t really installations because you are often asked to remove them quite quickly, and the places they appear are not random.
Right, they are site-specific installations around the city where these women have been harassed. For example, I put one in front of the San Francisco office of Google, because that woman’s rapist works there. They generally don’t last very long. Essentially, the installation is happening until someone kicks me out or before the cops come. I had one in front of Civic Center for about an hour and a half before the police told me I had to move them. I kind of like that about it, that you have to catch me in the moment. It’s more of a public work rather than an installation. It’s real and raw, just how harassment takes place, not in a white-walled gallery space.
What kind of impact has this series had?
These sculptures have been really helpful in helping me deal with my own personal experience with harassment. Having other women share their stories with me is a powerful act of healing. I hope to be moving these to other cities as well.
You started this series before the current #MeToo movement, correct?
About three years ago, so yes, way before the current #MeToo. From my understanding, #MeToo actually started around 2000, but only became popularized more recently.
“Wax That Ass” had a small write-up in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. How did they hear about you?
I have no idea. I didn’t even know that Haaretz wrote an article about me until my dad, who is Israeli, was reading it and sent me the link. I think it’s so awesome that my work made it all the way over there.
What are you working on now?
A series called “the female gaze,” giving power back to women. The male gaze is a term that typically describes how women look in advertising. A woman is viewed in advertising as a product, or a means of selling things, and not viewed as an actual person. This also comes from movies where the directors are always men, and the camera angle has this hierarchical view from above, making women out to be weak, fragile and sensualized creatures. The female gaze has women looking straight at the camera fiercely and in an empowered stance, giving the power back to the woman.
Your art clearly has a strong feminist bent. Would you say you were raised that way?
I’m a triplet and I have an older sister, so [with my mom] there are four women in my immediate family. We’re a lot of really powerful, strong women [with] female energy. I felt we women were empowering each other to succeed. But what really influenced my feminist voice was growing up in Miami, where the sexualization of women happens all the time at a young age. I grew up thinking that street harassment or being followed was normal. But this was not OK, I shouldn’t feel scared walking down the street or going to school. That was the catalyst for my feminist voice and my needing to share that perspective with the world.
Were you drawn to art as a child?
I like to think so, though I didn’t have any formal training. I learned everything from YouTube. YouTube was my best art teacher.
How would you say being Jewish has influenced your work?
I think satire and dark comedy are very Jewish, and certainly my being Jewish made me the outspoken woman I am today.
Who is your favorite Jewish woman role model?
Going back to my bat mitzvah, it would have to be Golda Meir.