Perhaps, women all over America remember the moment when they first heard Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood highly offensive and sexist outtake. For many, it provoked a clear and swift response. Conceptual Swedish-American Artist Michele Pred could only describe her reaction as a viscerally, energetically charged eruption of anger and disgust. The only appropriate description that came to her was the word, “revolting.” Like many of us, she wanted to scream. Instead, she did what comes naturally to her. She got to work and created art. The tape was released on Friday and soon she was on a mission to complete her cherry red vintage Pussy Grabs Back handbag in time for the first Presidential debate taking place that Sunday. Besides the obvious contextual connection, she was inspired by a meme posted on The Feminist Fight Club Facebook page. (Social Media site for the book: The Feminist Fight Club: Office Survival Manual by New York Times journalist Jessica Bennett.) The phrase seemed to be the perfect response. She felt that the use of a vintage handbag as the frame would be the right choice in light of her previous work from the series, Promote the General Welfare; work dedicated to the promotion of women’s rights. Michele’s creation of 50’s and 60’s era handbags emblazoned with electroluminescent wire letters proclaiming feminist messaging can be found in galleries and museums worldwide.
The beautifully crafted, ladylike handbags serve as metaphors, embedded with inferential meaning, speaking to issues such as abortion rights, sexual politics, and equal rights. The handbags function as walking political billboards branded with words like choice, equal pay, equality, vote and my body my business. Her use of an everyday object used universally by women during a time of limitation and sexist expectations reminds us of the past. In juxtaposition, these historical objects are now bestowed with feminist messages directed at a contemporary audience. Although her work speaks to a broad swath of society she feels a calling to reach out to a younger demographic who may not be familiar with the history of women’s reproductive rights and the tenuous legal thread which maintains those rights.
As Pred’s work has progressed through the years the line between artist and activist has blurred. Her work is known for tackling current cultural and political issues within American society. The series which gained national attention, Homeland Security, highlighted the loss of individual freedoms, post 9/11. She created installation pieces made from objects confiscated from travelers by the TSA. Her recent #MyBodyMyVote project focused on engaging politicians and reaching out to young people on college campuses around the country in anticipation of this important election.
Her work around women’s issues has not gone unnoticed and she recently received the Pro Choice Leadership Award by Personal PAC in recognition of her work as champion of women’s rights. She is also widening her range with her most recent work, which addresses the rise of gun violence, particularly the violence against young black men. Her red, white and black flag composed of painted bullets will be installed soon as a political billboard in Oakland as a part of an exhibition curated by For Freedoms, the first artist-run super Pac whose mission is “use art to inspire deeper political engagement for citizens who want to have a greater impact on the American political landscape.”
This is a good fit for Pred as her voice has developed over the years and engaged the audience about important issues facing this country. She credits her father, Allan Pred, a longtime professor at Berkeley and noted Geographer and Social Scientist for instilling in her a passion for political involvement. Her first experience as a 7th grader leading a charge against the girl’s dress code made a strong impression upon her. She developed a strong belief that one person can make a difference. This belief is especially important in light of the upcoming election. Pred believes that this particular election is of great consequence to women and will practically affect every women. Her message to women: “Every vote matters. Make a difference and vote.”
Currently, Pred’s work is on view at the Presidio in San Francisco as a part of the For-Site Foundation’s group exhibition, Homeland Security, until December 18th, 2016. As an extension of this exhibition, she will bring a performance piece to the San Francisco Airport. On October 26th, the 15th anniversary of the Patriot Act, Pred, dressed as a stewardess, will be passing out red pocket knives in the baggage claim area. These knives were the most common item confiscated by the TSA over the years and represent the thousands which have been lost by travelers. The knives are embedded with the text, “One Official Air Travel Replacement Knife” Its another example of her efforts to creatively engage the public to inspire a questioning of the status quo.
Michele Pred’s artwork has been exhibited in museums and galleries in New York, London, Stockholm, Bologna, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco and has been featured in the New York Times, ART News and Art in America. Pred is represented by Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York. More info. at michelepred.com and #herbodyhervote