artist ​illma gore on gendered myths and drawing donald trump’s penis

We meet the artist behind the most controversial artwork of the year.

by Tish Weinstock
31 March 2016, 2:10pm

When we last spoke to street artist Illma Gore, she was tattooing the names of total strangers onto her skin for just $10 a pop, turning her entire body into an unsellable work of art. Why? "To display ultimate individualism whilst at the same time giving myself relentlessly to the whims of the world," she told i-D, earlier last year. In a world where women's bodies are constantly being objectified and measured against unrealistic ideals of beauty, to see a woman take hers back into her own control -- albeit, somewhat contradictorily -- through the complete submission of herself to the power of others, is totally refreshing. Expanding her preoccupation with the human form ever further, Illma has reimagined the naked body of President hopeful, Donald Trump, in a pastel pencil rendering that literally broke the internet. 

Uncanny in its physical likeness, Make America Great Again could easily be mistaken for a life class rendering, and yet it remains an image entirely conjured from the crevices of Illma's imagination. Lifting his leg up, presumably on a stool, Trump rests his arms proudly, heroically even, upon his knee, with his mouth open as if in mid speech. However, stripped of all his clothing, and left totally exposed -- this is Trump as we've never seen him before. Then there is the matter of his microscopic genitals. 

Castrating a man whose performance of masculinity is so intrinsically linked to notions of power and authority, Make America Great Again is a commentary on the arbitrary relationship between a person's gender and their genitals. Posted on Facebook last month, alongside the caption "no matter what is in your pants, you can still be a big prick," the image went viral and sent shockwaves through the world (wide web) so great that Facebook deactivated Illma's account while eBay refused to let her sell copies of it. What's more, Illma received a barrage of death threats, while Trump's team has threatened legal action in the severest of forms. Here we talk to the artist about debunking myths surrounding gender, censoring art, and making a potential enemy out of one of the most powerful men in the world.

Where did you grow up?
Back and forth between Australia and California.

Have you always been interested in politics?
I've always had strong convictions about political issues. It certainly inspires my thought process.

What was the concept behind Make America Great Again?
Make America Great Again was created to evoke a reaction from its audience, good or bad, about the significance we place on our physical selves. One should not feel emasculated by their penis size or vagina, as it does not define who you are. Your genitals do not define your gender, your power, or your status. Simply put, you can be a massive prick, despite what is in your pants.

Why choose Trump as your subject?
He is someone who puts significant value on how his image is portrayed.

Should America's youth be more politically engaged?
Yes, because voting is easier than moving to Canada.

What are your thoughts about the election?
America has to stop being about pulling the ladder up from behind you. I am a strong capable young person, I am voting because before I could rely on myself, I was a homeless orphan teenager who needed the help of government programs to get me where I am today.

What were your intentions with the piece?
To bring to light pseudo masculinity, that it is rooted in oppressing femininity, and that placing any significance on one's capability, due to their genitalia, is absurd.

What connections were you trying to make between masculinity and power?
That there is no connection between the two in this day and age.

How does gender relate to the physical body?
It doesn't. Gender can be what ever you want it to be. Today I am a pencil if I want to be.

Did you expect the piece to go viral?
I expected a strong reaction, but that's because it's Trump absolutely naked.

How have the reactions made you feel?
I have mixed feelings, mainly sad.

What do you think these negative reactions say about society's perception of gender?
We have a long way to go.

What's been Donald Trump's reaction?
It has been legal, I'm in the process of being sued, I have been continuously censored.

How do you feel it will affect his campaign?
It shouldn't affect it at all, but it has caused him to mention his penis at a primary debate after it went viral.

Both eBay and Facebook have banned the images, why do you think this is and how do you feel about it?
I am frustrated; these sites are allowed to instill their own policies, however I have not received any definitive answer as to what policy I am breaking.

Their reaction has been quite aggressive, do you think it is because you're a woman?
No, I think it's about trying to be passive as a company when it comes to a public political stance.

Should this kind of art be censored?
The naked body is not unnatural so no, I don't think so.

If Trump wins the election, you will have potentially made an enemy of America's president. Is this something that worries you?
A man that feels threatened by the size of his fictional penis does not scare me.

You identify as gender fluid. Could you elaborate a bit about what that means?
My gender identity is best described as a mix of boy and girl. I choose not to ascribe to either.

American politics
Illma Gore