What is the American Dream? The national ethos that values freedom, prosperity, and hard work has been a paradigm that Americans have bragged about for ages. Yet, the patriarchal patriotism that gleams over the United States fails to include the scope of all identities. Understanding this narrative through the perspective of women highlights the grave shortcomings and dreams that America fails to realize. As an interruption to the status quo, American Gurl explores our Americana through a female lens.
In its 4th annual public exhibition, Womxn in Windows presents American Gurl, a multi-formated art spectacle that seeks to challenge our traditional views of American consumerism through pop culture and fantasy. American Gurl consists of window displays, digital billboards, screenings, live performances, and prints by eight female artists that aim to amplify marginalized perspectives. This year’s exhibition is based upon the multi-hyphenate artist and performer Kilo Kish’s album of the same name: American Gurl.
Founder and curator of Womxn in Windows Zehra Ahmed leans into the feminine experience in her creations. She says, "I believe American Gurl influences and impacts girls across the globe and so, to be able to share the perspective of American girls from very different cultural backgrounds felt important to me. I don't believe we have to reimagine what it means to be a female in America. We just have to present diverse perspectives and give a platform to what already exists and find ways to share it with wider audiences.” Ahmed’s partnership with Kilo Kish seeks to display art that authentically mirrors the voices of our nation, ultimately encouraging American girls to realize that there is space for them.
Flaunt caught up with Kish to learn more about her visions for the project, the creative process, and what it truly means to be living the American dream.
Tell me a little about the 4th Wowxn in Windows exhibition, American Gurl. How would you say that it reimagines what it means to be a female in the United States?
I wouldn’t say it reimagines so much as it offers images, ideas, and thoughts from that perspective. I made an album with the same title that was a deep exploration of my personal history, upbringing, and relationship to national culture at large — so for this exhibition, Zehra decided to use these themes as a launchpad for that same exploration but with different artists. With my album, I was looking to explore my own relationship the American values and pop culture and I think that these works in the exhibition are threads of new and different thoughts that add roundness to the conversation.
I’m curious about the vision behind your song and video “Death Fantasy.” Tell me about its message and the meaning behind it all.
At a base level, the film features me consuming something, running with it, feeling sick, and purging it. I like to use my body as a metaphor for different ideas or subjects in my films and this is another one like that, a lot of my videos feature food as a way to “consume” ideas or viewpoints. The poem comes from a larger poem that we integrated into the Times Square Performance of “Still Dreaming” last week, it’s me explaining the many things I would like to shed to feel freer. I think there are many ways to experience the video, for some it could be a critique and for other’s, it may be comical, or both, I’m open to whatever interpretations arise.
As an artist, I know you’ve created a lot of your own projects through music and film. How does “Death Fantasy” differ from some of your other work? Was the creative process unique in any way?
Not really so different, Everything stems from some themes I want to explore and play with and the work is kind of a mix of music, writing, film, and sometimes performances and installations. Death fantasy is a byproduct of the work I was doing with my album and the emotions being brought up through that creative process.
It’s amazing that your work is going to be presented on digital billboards in two of the largest cities in the world. How do you think your viewers will respond to seeing your work? What do you want them to take away from it?
When I made the record, I was exploring a lot about how we’re indoctrinated into the values we inherit, and when that begins, I was really fixated on my relationship with television, magazines, and advertisements growing up. Times Square feels like the perfect place to explore this given that it’s this cultural monument to advertisements, brands, and consumerism, they really feel like they “fit” in the space. I think the spectacle of seeing all of the screens work in unison is really dazzling because usually, they are all doing their own bidding, so it feels really fresh when they are working together. I think when you know the context around the work there’s more to see, but it’s also nice to make your own impressions and takeaways as a viewer.
What is your idea of the “American Dream?”
For me it’s ever-changing. I think what it’s represented in the past is this heroic journey of starting with nothing and turning it into something in this noble way and having the freedom to make your own destiny. I think we realize by now that this purest form of the dream was only really meant for some, so to me it’s nuanced. But right now, I think my dream is finding peace and stability wherever I am, finding new ways of defining success, whether I achieve at the highest level or not, and whether I have outward markers of success or not. Freedom to me is shedding of some of these values.