Vanilla Extract explores the complexities of femininity, femme fantasies, and mass-produced culture made for femme audiences. Subscribing to traditional feminine ideals has been equivalent to supporting antiquated, racist, and misogynistic attitudes toward women. Perhaps that’s an excuse not to interrogate further, or maybe this attitude is another form of internalized misogyny that minimizes women’s interests. Fantasy is a femme space; it is an interior world within the mind, safe from the male gaze. Vanilla Extract recontextualizes femme media to analyze these narratives in a critical, sincere, cheeky, and ultimately loving way.
The gallery has been transformed into a series of fantastical, sculptural installations performing and celebrating the spectacle of femininity. Women are asked to navigate impossible double standards with grace and intelligence. To watch them succeed – whatever that means to them – is rewarding. To oversimplify women as brainwashed consumers of glitter-covered fairy tales belittles them. Mass-produced pop culture aimed towards femme audiences are popular for a reason. We must look deeper into the desire for these “guilty pleasures” and uncover the embedded alleviating nuances.
Zoe Schwartz is an educator and artist based in New York City. Her work has been shown at Chinatown Soup, UUU Gallery and Trestle Gallery. She graduated with a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Michigan, 2016 and is currently a sculpture MFA candidate at the Rhode Island School of Design, 2022.