Whether you know it or not, if you’ve scrolled Instagram in the past year, you've most probably interacted with Faye Orlove’s work. Her femme colored illustrations of Kim Kardashian and witchy tarot cards of Mariska Hargitay and Frida Kahlo have made her one of the hottest animators on the internet. Orlove is also the magic behind Junior High, a nonprofit gallery that opened its doors after raising funds from a Kickstarter campaign. Along with hosting music gigs and art shows, Junior High organizes community events with the goal of making the art world accessible to youth and emerging artists in Los Angeles. Junior High is an oasis for all of those who have been consistently marginalized by the art world. BUST chatted with the woman behind the internet’s most famous feminist illustrations and found out what it’s like to start a groundbreaking gallery.
LA can be a scary place, especially the art scene. Did you move here with the purpose to start an art gallery? Or did you feel there was something missing in the gallery scene that you could add to?
I moved to LA to be with friends and to pursue art in a serious sense. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, I still really don’t. I knew I liked animation, film and activism. I wasn’t sure what form that would take. I definitely have felt, my whole life, like spaces targeted at women and empowerment and consent were limited, and it felt like in LA the art scene was thriving and vibrant and full of diversity, but very much living online. I never really thought of myself as adding to it, more so it just became important to me to give other people a place to be seen.
Can you tell me the inspiration behind the name Junior High?
I always say that of all the names I came up with it was the one my mom liked the most, so I went with it. But it also hints at the ideas of education and teenagers. A lot of people tell me they would have never named a space Junior High because they hated their middle school experience, and I always say, "That’s the point. I did too. This is kinda me redoing it."
Junior high was a rough place for most people. Are you trying to resignify that?
Yeah, exactly. Middle school is when I felt the all-time most objectified, bullied and negated. As a girl, as a teenager, as someone who didn’t adhere to conventional ideas of beauty. It’s exactly those people, having similar experiences, whatever age they may be, that I hope to offer a warm space to showcase the things that make them feel strong.
What is the state of the art world to you at the moment? Is Junior High trying to change the voices that are heard and the kind of bodies that are seen?
The state of the art world right now is fucking magical. I’m so inspired by and grateful for Instagram, for Tumblr, for feminist publications showcasing voices generally overlooked by mainstream media. But I do think a LOT of this diversity still exists solely online. Like how TV fucking rules lately, but movies haven’t caught up. It’s like as awesome as it is for these female, POC, queer artists to be making livings and getting recognized for their contributions to the art world, galleries and top earning artists are still white males. Junior High is attempting to tip the scales a bit back in our favor, but also, and I think more importantly, inspire other people to open similar spaces that value and shine a light on work created by people overlooked.
Nonprofit and gallery are two words that almost never go together. Do you think this could be the start of a gallery revolution?
I grew up in Washington, D.C. where museums were free. I always thought that was just how it was. I’d go to the Portrait Gallery after school and eat a sandwich on the steps with my friends, and we’d talk about how cool it was to see Biggie Smalls next to JFK. I assumed galleries were always open and accessible to the public until I left the city. I’m grateful I grew up in an environment that encouraged galleries to remain free and open to all. It definitely instilled within me the belief that our shared human history belongs to us all. I’d love to see more galleries with a focus on curating more diverse content. Whether or not they’re a nonprofit doesn’t dictate their focus on empowerment and activism.
Along with Junior High, you’re an incredibly badass animator! You’ve drawn some trailblazing women, from Angela Davis to Yoko Ono. What does it mean to you to include these women in your art?
It somehow became ingrained within me that portraits proved someone’s worth. You’d see them in the White House and in history books and on museum walls. It always felt like if someone was culturally significant, they had a portrait. I’ve always loved portraits and when I started drawing, it was always my goal to portray the people that inspire me — whether it’s Kim Kardashian and Sylvia Rivera or my friend Liz from back in Boston. For me, portraits prove their power. Portraits can make them immortal.
You also have featured images of menstruation and blood in your animation. In a male-saturated field, do you see your works as radical?
I do. It’s probably pretty derivative now, but when I see my teenage sister still ashamed to ask for a tampon in public, I know there is still work to be done. I always talk about my period like I’d talk about a headache. Complain in public, ask for remedies, have my dad or boyfriend pick up meds at the store. Most people in the world have uteruses, and on any given day, billions of people are shedding that uterine lining. It shouldn’t be seen as a taboo. People want to sexualize vaginas when it’s convenient for them, but can’t dare be confronted with a vagina that’s behaving as a bodily organ. It’s like that Marilyn Monroe quote everyone says wrong, “if you can’t handle my vagina at its bloodiest, you don’t deserve it at its consenting to sex.”
Do you have advice for marginalized people that want to break into the art industry?
Do your art all the time. Just keep doing it. If you want to be a writer, then write; if you want to be a painter, then paint. Don’t wait for opportunities, create them. Don’t wait to get paid, you’ll be waiting forever. Just create, create, create for yourself or for no one at all. Just make things and eventually, people will take notice. And people will pay you.
What do you see as the future for Junior High? More locations? Or inspiring more nonprofit community building galleries to open?
What I see for the future is more volunteers, more events aimed at educating people on their rights and how to exercise them, and more outreach to kids in the neighborhood. I’d eventually like to have a summer camp similar to the format of Girls Rock, where we spend a week with young girls teaching them new artistic mediums and empowering them to take up space. I hope, hope, hope that Junior High inspires more community oriented spaces to open. That would make me so happy. To see my little pink corner of Hollywood Boulevard explode across the world like spider webs.
And finally, in a mystical, magical dream world, what would be your ideal gig/exhibition/workshop to take place at Junior High?
My mystical magical dream event would be a very long hug with Michelle Obama and Kim Kardashian. Then Jessica Williams, Nicole Byer, Kate Berlant, and Tina Fey would do stand-up. Then Simone Biles would teach a workshop on backflips. Then the 1994 Hole line-up would perform. Then I’d makeout with Harry Styles. 'Cause it’s my dream, okay??????
All photos by Grace Pickering for pc purposes except where noted
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Mo Johnson is a twenty-one-year-old women’s studies major at The George Washington University. Her writings on sex, relationships, and what it means to be a millennial woman can be found on her blog. Follow her on Instagram.