10 Quotes on Feminism From Madonna’s Pre-Inauguration Talk With Marilyn Minter
The two artists talk age, sexuality, and history in advance of Trump's presidency.
As the crowd filtered into the auditorium at the Brooklyn Museum on January 19, the night before the inauguration of reality star-turned-politician Donald Trump, footage of African American author and social critic James Baldwin played on a screen. The occasion was “Madonna X Marilyn Minter,” a conversation between pop star Madonna and artist Marilyn Minter, two legendary feminists who showed themselves to be unafraid of speaking out against the incoming president.
The image and memory of Baldwin helped set the tone for the following discussion, moderated by museum director Anne Pasternak and poet and playwright Elizabeth Alexander, which vocalized a creed of intersectional, inclusionary feminism that extends beyond white, upper-class, straight, cis women.
Without preamble, the evening’s programming began in earnest with the screening of secretprojectrevolution, a black-and-white film starring, directed, and produced by Madonna. “I want to start a revolution, but they don’t take me seriously,” the singer narrated, over scenes blending violent imagery with graceful dance.
Although the video was made in 2013, it ended with an extremely timely message: “This film is dedicated to those who have been persecuted, are being persecuted, or may be persecuted. For the color of their skin. Their religious beliefs. Their artistic expression. Their gender. Or their sexual preferences. Anyone whose human rights have been violated.”
While Trump’s inauguration has exacerbated and even provoked fear of such persecution among large swaths of the population, Pasternak introduced the speakers on an upbeat note, saying, “These are two artists who know that with action and resistance, there is hope.”
Throughout the evening, the importance of standing up for women’s rights, and all human rights, both for artists and the general public, was a theme. “Fight back,” Minter urged. “Don’t accept anything he does. He’s not my president.”
The conversation was at times deeply personal. Madonna spoke of a turning point after being raped, when a dove managed to fly down between two tightly-squeezed buildings and alight on her windowsill. She also talked about motherhood, and how “my kids are not impressed—at all,” by her many career accomplishments.
Despite working in different disciplines, Minter and Madonna have both encountered fierce criticism for wholeheartedly embracing sexuality in their work. They talked about the difficulties of dealing with rejection, and how it can make one stronger.
A career’s worth of opposition has left both women battle-hardened and ready to fight anew against the oppression of women. “We can only go up from here,” Madonna insisted, ready to lead the fight.
The talk was part of the Brooklyn Museum’s “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum,” celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Institution’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. “Pretty/Dirty,” a retrospective of Minter’s work, is among the yearlong programming, which appears to be pitched in part against Trump’s apparent misogyny.
If the importance of the feminist movement was implicitly understood, its role in the years to come was perhaps up for debate: “Maybe revolution isn’t the right word for me. It’s about a historic continuation for a fight for equality and goodness for all,” said Pasternak.
“But,” Madonna noted, “that is a revolutionary idea unfortunately.”
Here are ten key quotes from the discussion:
1. On age and sexuality:
Minter: “If you’re young and you’re working with sexuality, people will kill you. Other women want to kill you… When you’re an old lady, nobody cares. They don’t in the art world. They don’t let you get old if you’re an entertainer, but in the art world, you can get old…”
Madonna: “But are you allowed to have sexuality?”
Minter: “Oh no—but you’re allowed to make jokes about it!”
2. On the importance of supporting other women:
Minter: “When I see an artist I love, I wanna kill her, especially if it’s really good… But what I do instead is I go up to them and tell them how much I love their work, and [how much] I want to get to know them, and the poison drains, and then they’re my colleagues.”
Madonna: “So then we go come to what you said at the beginning, and that’s ‘all we have is love.'”
Minter: “And that’s all we do have. Love trumps hate. Always does.”
3. On not losing hope and how Trump’s election shows us what’s really important:
Madonna: “I do believe that Trump was elected for a reason: to show us how lazy and un-unified and lackadaisical and taking-for-granted we’ve become of our freedom and the rights we have as Americans. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. This had to happen to bring people together—so let’s get this party started!”
4. On why a Trump presidency is so upsetting:
Minter: “This is the most frightened I’ve ever been—I’ve never been frightened by my government before. I’ve been really angry at them. I’ve watched Nixon, and I’ve watched the AIDS crisis, and two Bushes, and this is the first time everything is really been upside down, and what I thought was happening was not happening. The most qualified candidate that ever ran was beaten by the least qualified candidate that ever ran, because of misogyny, baked in misogyny.”
5. On what it means to call yourself a feminist:
Madonna: “It means that we’re all human beings and we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
6. On the future of feminism:
Pasternak: “I see young people, they’re tired of our generation and it’s bullshit. They’re tired of white women not supporting each other and white women not supporting women of color… I think they see that we made lots of progress but it didn’t completely work, and they’re coming up with completely new language, identification, organization, and some of it’s very, very exciting… I think this is a radical moment… really remarkable art is going to come out of this moment, and for better or worse we’re inspiring a new generation of thinkers and creators and viewers.”
7. On how to send a message with your art:
Minter: “One has to work in metaphor because illustration is boring and tells everyone what to think.”
8. On appreciating the moment:
Madonna: “When I was beginning my life as an artist on the Lower East Side, and I was meeting on a regular basis with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol and many other artists who you wouldn’t know the names of, I didn’t understand how precious and unique that time was. To me it just seemed normal.”
9. On looking to history for guidance:
Alexander: “Trump gets elected and my dad says, ‘Well, Harriet Tubman figured it out, so y’all need to figure it out.’ And you have the benefit of seeing how Harriet Tubman figured it out. Looking back over time and remembering people have figured something out in the face of unimaginable oppression and adversity…what does it mean to look at those lessons and understand the historical circumstances and say, okay, what do we have to do now?”
10. On where to go from here:
Madonna: “We only have two choices: destruction and creation. I’m going down the road of creation, and you’re all welcome to join me.”
Watch the full talk below:
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