Mixed-Media Artist and Gender Provocateur Dismantles the Word "Ma’am"

Multimedia artist Sadie Benning incorporates childlike pencil drawings with putty-like framing to create unconventional portraits.

by Diana Shi
22 October 2016, 11:35am
AMO, 2016. Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic, 67 x 49 in. All images courtesy the artist and Kaufmann Repetto

Forming a subtle division between clay and scrappy figure drawings, Sadie Benning creates a confounding yet dynamic series of hybrid sculpture/painting/photography artwork. With a specialty in splicing together different mediums, she takes simple pencil doodles to a whole new level in the show Excuse Me Ma’am. The collection of work is inspired by that typical gendered address, which the artist uses to construct conceptual art to challenge female and male labels.

The dichotomy of pencil work and clay sculpture creates an effect that draws the eye to the two-dimensional center. Resting at the core of each work, a flat, roughly-drawn, black-and-white figure faces forward or smiles while enveloped by color. Other instances, the pieces do not sport any human characters, but instead simply weave different electric shades of clay into a pressed weave.

Excuse me ma’am, 2016. Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic, 73 x 49.5 in 

Benning began her rise in the art world to large praise when she began an early-90s version of a bedroom blog at just 19 years old. In 1993, her comprehensive video diaries became a cultural point of interest after they garnered a spot in the Whitney Biennial. From there, the young artist started a trajectory that delved into other disciplines, even starting the post-punk band, Le Tigre in 1998.

In Excuse Me Ma’am, Benning’s protagonists are often wearing bikinis or futuristic suits, ensembles a child may envision for a super hero. More significantly, the majority of the characters in Benning’s works are indiscernible in gender—a distinction that plays into the artist’s theme of creating equality among sexes, and, as the show describes, “distorting the eye.”

Excuse Me Ma’am, again, 2016. Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic, 44 x 34 in

Untitled, 2016. Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic, 67 x 49.5 in 

Double Exposer, 2016. Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic, 34 x 40 in 

In a description of the series, Benning shares her thoughts in confronting the mutating nature of gender as a topic—like her art—can “broaden the categories to the point of shattering them.”

Bra People 1, 2016. Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic, 59 x 33 in

Soundwaves, 2016. Medite, aqua resin, casein and acrylic, 73 x 53 in 

Sadie Benning’s show Excuse Me Ma’am shows through November 10, 2016 at Kaufmann Repetto in Milano, Italy. Find more information, here.


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female artist
multimedia artist
Excuse Me Ma’am
Sadie Benning
feminist artist