In an era where seemingly everything is mined for inspiration—or, let’s be frank, appropriation—what does it take to be truly one of a kind? A willingness to break the rules is essential; a strong sense of personal style certainly doesn't hurt; but most of all, you need to have a truly meaningful point of view. At W we are all about celebrating originality, which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite people who are constantly pushing boundaries, and asked them to share valuable insights. They may be just starting out or in the prime of their careers, but they are all leading the conversation in their chosen fields—whether it’s fashion, art, film, music, photography, or even skateboarding. The bottom line is that, regardless of their differences, they all share one very important trait: for them, standing out, rather than blending in, is not an option but a necessity.
Martine Gutierrez is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work explores identity, often starring herself as subject or muse.
You have two series on view at the Venice Biennale, which is one of the most prestigious events in the art world. Both feature carefully staged photographs of yourself, and both are in the magazine you made last year called Indigenous Woman. But while “Body En Thrall” is very cool, mostly black and white, the other series, “Demons,” is about these wild goddess figures that are colorful and highly ornate.
I’m drawing there on Mayan, Aztec, and Yoruba deities. But I didn’t want to be too literal—they’re just a jumping-off point for imagery. I had some exposure to indigenous culture from when I used to go with my family to Guatemala. My father’s mother is Mayan. She never left the country. We would go to visit my aunt in Guatemala City, but she lived in the mountains for a while, and we went there, too.
In Indigenous Woman, you do it all: the editorial copy, the photo shoots, the faux advertising campaigns. You’re summoning up indigenous and queer personas in all these settings. It feels like allegory more than autobiography.
I’m innately a storyteller, and yet I’m not interested in telling my own story. So it becomes this kind of fiction in which I imagine using me in these situations—but then I can never seem to get away from my actual life experience.
Indigenous Woman is a superslick project, because it’s meant to mimic a fashion magazine. You seem drawn to what lurks behind those shiny surfaces.
I’m transfixed by glamour. Since I was little, it has been my escape. I consumed it through movies—it was animated princesses, mostly. And oddly a lot of sci-fi. My father really loved action films, and I think the fact that I would sit and watch with him gave him hope that there would be a masculine bone in my body. But we’d watch The Fifth Element and I was like, “Dad, I am Leeloo! I’m outside the binary!” Of course, we didn’t even have that language then.
When you stage yourself with other people in your shoots, they’re actually mannequins. What’s the appeal?
I grew up loving dolls. Mannequins kind of upped the ante. I think they served as a way for me to be more comfortable performing. I didn’t have to worry about how the other person was feeling, or even about my own discomfort in an intimate narrative.
Gender often comes up first when people talk about you: a Latinx, trans artist. But you don’t seem keen on foregrounding those aspects, even if they inform your work.
I feel like in my breakout moment this year there were articles framing me in terms of qualifiers, or headlines that didn’t even say my name! In that framing we don’t get to talk about anything that’s in a gray area.
There’s an inherent politics in your work to do with gender but also about today’s xenophobia toward Central American people.
I never had any dream of being political. My parents are. They met starting a nonprofit doing relief work in Guatemala. We had people staying at our house in California under false names. We always had someone crashing on the couch. And I would take my bowl of cereal, turn on the television, and ignore them. Like, you’re not going to get in the way of what I need to do, which is watch The Little Mermaid. But I see now that as artists we can be prophets of culture. I literally made a magazine talking about the absence of representation, then I got a Sephora campaign. This year every corporation went off on LGBTQ, black, and brown representation. And I was like, Am I part of this? That terrifies me because it means the next work has to be something really meaningful. But I also need to live my life—have a garden, fall in love, all those normal things.
Does originality mean going someplace totally different?
A part of me wants to take my image out of my work. I honestly feel the worst that could happen is that I’m nailed down somewhere—like, someone puts a pin in me and I exist on a mood board forever. This work is not allowed to be my best work.