meet petra collins' inspirational women: from writers to singers, actors, and feminist activists
From cult art icon Marilyn Minter to publishing’s new genius Tavi Gevinson and future star Selah Marley, Petra Collins handpicks eight trailblazing females whose approach to art, music, writing, and activism defines the world we live in.
Selah wears dress Tommy Hilfiger. Earrings Proenza Schouler.
Selah Marley, singer
17-year-old Seleh Marley claims perhaps one of the most impressive — and intimidating — lineages of all time. The eldest daughter of former Fugees frontwoman and musical genius Lauryn Hill, and the granddaughter of reggae legend Bob Marley (her father is Bob's son Rohan), Selah has music in her blood. As a child she moved around a lot, eventually settling in South Orange, New Jersey. "The hardest thing about coming from a well-known family is being in the limelight from birth," she says. "Although it sounds like a dream, it can be a little overwhelming... One of the biggest misconceptions about me is that I've never experienced a struggle," she continues. "I know my life can look very glitz and glam, but there is always another side to the story." Fortunately for Selah, she has her music through which she can escape it all. So what does the music of the offspring of Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley sound like? "Futuristic R&B," she says proudly. "Or at least that's what I strive for!" While she has her entire family to thank for her musical talent, it is her mother, Lauryn, who's bestowed upon her the greatest gift of all. "My mom has blessed me with the freedom to discover myself," she says. She also credits her mother with teaching her how to be a woman. "As women, I believe we end up carrying everyone else's burden, and still find the time to take care of ourselves. We grew up in a very unconventional household with an irreplaceable dynamic and a priceless energy that I wouldn't trade for the world."
Text Tish Weinstock
Maia Ruth Lee, artist
Maia Ruth Lee had a nomadic childhood; she was born in Korea but grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal. She moved to America in 2011 to follow her dream of becoming an artist. "As a Korean living in Nepal and being taught a British education, it was rather puzzling to me what my role in society could be," Maia says. "But since moving to New York I've had some eye-opening experiences. As cliché as it sounds, there is a sense of freedom here, and even if things still seem fucked up and there need to be radical changes, America gave me a chance to grow. It shaped me."
Maia's artwork takes many forms: paintings and prints and sculptures and photos, abstract shapes reft into iron, patterns built from an obscure zodiac of image and language. She's made zines and jewelry, collaborating on a much-coveted range of vagina charm necklaces with Tuza jewelry. She's a true multi-disciplinarian, following her creative impulses wherever they lead her — wherever they might bear the most interesting fruit. "I've considered myself an outsider most of my life, and I think being an artist and being a woman can evoke that kind of feeling." She's hopeful though. "The art world seems to be shedding more light on women artists. I think it's a very interesting time to be a part of that shift."
Text Felix Petty
Lumia Nocito, photographer
For Lumia Nocito, taking pictures isn't simply about documenting moments, or creating art, it's about engaging with her surroundings in a meaningful way. "What got me through my depression and what still gets me through life today is the beauty in the world," the young photographer muses on her desire to capture the world around her. "One of my greatest motivations is the satisfaction that comes with showing others how I internalize things as I move through life." Shooting the faces and places that make up her native New York with a sensitivity and thoughtfulness that extends way beyond her 17 years, Nocito certainly proves age and experience don't need to precede talent. Taking inspiration from the "human body language and energy," of Cindy Sherman's work — whilst finding confidence in Petra Collins' presence as a "young female artist that holds a dominant position on set" — girl power is "fundamental" to Nocito's craft. Constantly surrounded by powerful women, an inspiring city and "a serious hunger to create work that shows the realities of being a young female artist," the world is Lumia's for the taking.
Text Ryan White
Marilyn Minter, artist and activist
For more than 30 years, Marilyn Minter has been creating potent work that straddles a fine line between sexy and grotesque. "I've always been interested in things that culture thinks of as shallow and debased, like pornography and glamour, they are considered non-essential and uninteresting," she says. Marilyn's work explores the tension between looking and feeling, desire and dissatisfaction. "I think a lot of women get pleasure out of glamour and beauty, and at the same time they feel a lot of self-hatred — a constant paradox of love and hate." Marilyn's early shows saw her condemned by some feminists who saw her unapologetic use of pornographic imagery as misogynistic. "It was devastating at the time. But I was young enough to think, 'Oh fuck you, you're upset about this? I'll go even further'." There was no galvanizing moment that feminism took hold of the artist, it was always just logical. "I was too young for the first wave of feminism, but I remember watching Betty Friedan on one of those talk shows and everybody was making fun of her. I thought she made total sense."
Sexual imagery that explores women's pleasure continues to be, Marilyn believes, potent and contentious. "There's still a huge glass ceiling if you're a young female trying to work with sexual imagery," she says. "You see Miley Cyrus with that big foam finger at the MTV awards, she got slut shamed all over the country. She's trying to own her own sexuality. It's frightening for both women and men to see young girls working with sexual imagery. I think that's still a taboo. I love Petra Collins and Sandy Kim, all the young girls working with imagery that they're trying to reinvent and repurpose and own. I think that's terrific, it's a real punk attitude, and I'm an old punk."
Text Clementine de Pressigny
Carlotta Kohl, artist
From her candy colored dreamscapes to her intimate portraits of close female friends, Carlotta Kohl's work touches on all things girl. The daughter of two creatives, art has always been in Carlotta's blood, but it wasn't until she moved to Long Island that the German-born, Paris-raised beauty finally found her calling. "I've always expressed myself creatively," muses the 23-year-old. Frustration with her photography course eventually led her on to the medium of sculpture, and she began working on a series of wax paintings. "I felt somewhat detached from what I was making," she explains candidly. "I wanted to feel that connection and assert my voice." However, that's not to say she's abandoned photography entirely; in fact — with her intimate approach to her subjects and dreamlike aesthetic — she's fast becoming one to watch within the fashion industry, having shot editorials for the likes of Jalouse and L'Officiel Paris. Exploring themes of sex, objectification, and the female form, in a variety of different media, Carlotta's work ultimately seeks to unpick the many facets of the female experience. But be careful when labeling her work feminist. "I am a feminist. I'm an artist. But my work doesn't set out to be feminist," she states. Indeed, Carlotta is all too aware of a growing trend whereby artists are starting to co-opt the tropes of feminism as a means of drawing attention to their work. "It's become an aesthetic, something cool to entice people," she admits. "We have to be careful that the actual message of feminism is not being diluted." So what then does the future hold for Carlotta? A lot, actually. When she's not moonlighting as a model or running around the East Village with her friends, she'll be holed up in the studio creating magic. With her sights also set on making film, we'll only be seeing more of Carlotta.
Text Tish Weinstock
Torraine Futurum, artist
"I had every intention of arriving on this planet," says self-professed alien Torraine Futurum, "just not as forcefully and tumultuously as I did." The woman who fell to earth did not land as the confident artist-cum-model seen treading the runway for Rio Uribe's Gypsy Sport or featuring in Carly Rae Jepsen's "Boy Problems" video alongside Tavi Gevinson and Barbie Ferreira. Instead it was a 2014 annus horribilis in which the young New Yorker lost everything ("And I promise that is not hyperbole. I lost everything except my breath.") that presented her with the chance to start from scratch. Or, as she puts it, "the opportunity to think about the person I would be if I was the only one on earth." Documenting her transition through a series of cathartic self portraits titled Transgression: A Self-Centered Art Project, the aim was to cement these formative years — and all the fantasies, desires, love letters and frustrations that went with them — in time forever. "I believe in art. I cry over great songs, photos, films, even hair and makeup looks all the time," she says. "Love and art are the two most pure things humans have. And you can't always make love, but you can always make art."
Text Matthew Whitehouse
Tavi Gevinson, actress and editor of Rookie
As accomplished as she is beautiful, actress, editor-in-chief and all-around powerhouse Tavi Gevinson continues to stride forward, consistently defying exhibitions of what the average 20-year-old can achieve. 2016 has seen Tavi finish a broadway run of Arthur Miller's The Crucible alongside Saoirse Ronan; start on rehearsals for her next play, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard; interview guests for the Rookie podcast, launching this fall; as well as working with her fellow six editors on the wildly successful site's editorial output. "I definitely never thought my blog would lead to any of this but I feel really lucky I still have Rookie and writing as a place to be myself, and theatre, as a way to be someone new," she says. Founded in 2011, Rookie ushered in a new era of female focused sites with a difference, ones that were smart and encouraging of girls thinking differently — instead of following the media status quo, Rookie celebrated young girls being themselves. It had a knock-on effect, five years on we are saturated by Instagram collectives and hand-stapled zines that challenge what it means to be young and female. Tavi comments, "I'm thrilled that more and more people feel confident to self-publish and find their community! Rookie can't be everything for everyone, but if it encourages someone to start something new, that's what I wanted all along."
Text Lynette Nylander
Jamia Wilson, writer and activist
Jamia Wilson is a writer, feminist activist, and movement maker. As Executive Director of Women, Action, & the Media (WAM!), she is a leading voice in the fight for gender justice in our media. "When a significant portion of the population's stories, wisdom, and experiences are left out of the public discourse, we all miss out," she says, noting that just 5% of clout-level positions are held by women. "The absence of women's voices reinforces age-old stereotypes and undermines women's agency, leadership, and power," she adds.
Having contributed to a collection of essays about Madonna's impact on women's lives, Jamia is now writing a book about Beyoncé's powerful pop feminism. "Beyoncé sends women a valuable message: you are the CEO of your own life," she says. "Beyoncé shifts the conversation from 'run stuff within someone else's institution' to 'run your own institution,' and take action to transform systems that are broken."
It should come as no surprise then that Jamia is a staff writer for Rookie, the upstart independent online magazine for teens created by Tavi Gevinson. "Representation matters, and Rookie's team is intentional about presenting girls and young women's images without commodifying them or sexualizing them," she says, noting that the site is also a vocal ally of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Petra Collins
Styling Stella Greenspan
Hair and make-up Silvia Cincotta using YSL Beauté. Photography assistance Lumia Nocito. Styling assistance
Alexandra White, Chris Lee. Production Caroline Stridfeldt, Natalie Pfister. Production
assistance Rachel Kober. Models Selah Marley. Jamia Wilson. Marilyn Minter. Maia Ruth Lee.
Tavi Gevinson. Torraine Futurum. Lumia Nocita. Carlotta Kohl.