The former Pfizer plant at 630 Flushing Avenue on the Bushwick/Bed-Stuy/Williamsburg border is odd and massive, a veritable maze sporting a slew of office culture flyers and a strange sterile smell. No longer a biopharmaceutical plant, the building still mostly looks that way, making it a unique and sometimes strange home for local food companies, office workers, and also, art. Last week, the Re:Art show opened, transforming the fifth floor of the building into a massive art display. Some work was spread out over large hallways or slyly hidden among machinery, but in one mighty room was the vibrant “Fatter IRL” show, showcasing only work by artists who identify as fat.
Consisting of work by many queer, gender non-conforming, and/or femme artists and one male artist, Fatter IRL celebrated representation of fat bodies both as creators and subjects. Though it wasn’t the initial intention for most of the work to also portray fat bodies, the majority of the artists elected to do so, and many of their artist statements reflect a strong belief in body positivity and a wish to challenge the “acceptable” body norms that pervade nearly every aspect of life.
Fatter IRL is curated by Annie Rose, who is also an artist and writer. Though she’s often shown her work in art shows and galleries, this is her first time curating. “I think I was feeling very down about art and the art world, and creating art,” she tells me. “I was realizing I felt so much better when I was talking about other people’s work, uplifting other people’s work, people that I felt were really worthy of getting attention. People that should have attention, but don’t.”
When her friends Max C. Lee and Erin Davis invited her to show some work in the latest edition of their monthly art show, she instead requested a curatorial role. After considering a show of all fat artists and a show of all sex worker artists, she decided that a showcase of fat creatives was something she had rarely seen.
“I see articles like “10 Fat-kini Pictures To Inspire You,” but I never see something that’s really taking fat people seriously as creators and as intellects,” she explains. “People still feel uncomfortable identifying as fat; there’s a lot of negative connotation. And consequently because beauty politics rule everything around us, there’s just not a lot of fat people in high positions. One of my videos was screening last night at a gallery, and I was the only fat person there. And I’m only a size 16. So I was like, we need to see fat people. I always feel like I’m the only fat person at any event, and I’m a small fat person. I just really wanted to dedicate this space to them.”
Some of this dedication was done in a literal way, including an altar to “aspiring fashion designer and plus size model” La’Shaunae Steward, who has a large social media following. Guests were asked to leave whatever they’d like at the altar to honor her, a request that interestingly acts as a far more tangible version of a “like.” In this case, an IRL tribute meant flowers, candles, and tampons. Nearby, Fatty Spice’s shrine to “failed relationships” is a gaudy, kitschy mini-wonderland of voyeurism, where you can kneel down and listen to muffled voicemails through a pink CD player while gazing at a lipstick-kissed wall. Though the piece isn’t about fatness per se, its very presence in a “fat art show” leads one to wonder if any of these “failed relationships” might be due to the bodily judgments of others.
The multimedia art constituted an unabashed celebration of fatness. There was PervvyPanda’s fat black femme illustrations, Rachele Cateyes’s “superfat crop top girl gang” ink drawings, Shoog McDaniel and Rochelle Brock’s beautiful photo portraits, and “thick angel” Tawni Staples’s takedown of a condescending article offering reasons to date overweight women. In addition, attendees could engage beyond passive observation: Sculptor Chuck Charlotte made cast plastic “Queer Femme Tinies” into necklaces that folks were encouraged to take home, which broke the notion that art is sacred and not to be touched while also asking attendees to wear fat femme bodies on their chest like a medal.
Many others experienced a performance by Laura Marie Marciano, who passed out cards with her phone number and the phrase “Do you think I’m fat?” written on them. Rose tells me Marciano got many responses assuring her she wasn’t fat, despite this being a show specifically of fat artists, sans euphemism or apologies.
“We thought that was so funny. People still couldn’t say it, and it’s a show celebrating fat people,” Rose notes. “If I say I’m fat to a stranger that doesn’t know me, they’re like, ‘You’re not fat, you’re curvy!’ And also, it makes me think about fat people who aren’t curvy. Part of why I did [Fatter IRL] is because I’m someone who has the ability to do it. I have the least to lose. I’m a white, acceptably curvy fat woman. I think it’s really interesting what a maligned term [fat] is. I want people to use it in a normalized way but at the same time it’s so stigmatized, when people who aren’t fat call me fat I’m still like, ‘The fuck is your problem?’ It depends on the context. People have to be sensitive. It’s still a very hard thing to be fat.”
Rose also focused on making sure there was a spectrum of fat bodies were represented in the show, rather than simply just “acceptable” (i.e.: white, cisgender, conventionally attractive) larger bodies that might make it into an inspirational thinkpiece.
“It was a very mixed group. There was what I guess people in the fat community call superfat people, smaller fat people, there were people who are a size 14 but they really own the term fat… You know, everything is trendy right now. Its very trendy to accept queer people, fat people, social justice is really trendy. But it’s always kind of the surface. It’s always queer people who are comfortable, and not traumatized, angry queer people. And it’s always fat people who are size 12, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, we still kinda have a flat stomach but when we sit we get rolls. I can’t even imagine how alienating that is to fatter people. I can’t even find stuff to wear, and I can’t really imagine— I mean I can because I experience it on a smaller scale, but how people who are fatter move through the world and how disenfranchised they are. So it was very important to be that it not just be acceptable, ‘curvy’ white girls.”
Despite a successful opening, Rose isn’t quite satisfied, telling me she would like to find even more fat artists with work to show, and eventually tour “Fatter IRL” to other cities and countries.
“Fatter IRL: A Fat Art Show,” part of Re: Art Show, is on view through November 5 at 630 Flushing Avenue, 5th Floor. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm.
Update, October 20: The original version of this post was revised to clarify details about the curator.