The artist behind Narcissister says of her character: "As Narcissister, I wear stripper gear, pneumatic breasts, outlandish wigs, and trompe l’oiel costumes to deconstruct stereotypical representations." Credit: Miles Dixon / Metro Narcissister might not always wear a top, but she always wears a mask.
You might have seen the performance artist and dancer on “America’s Got Talent,” in paparazzi photos with Marilyn Manson or contorting onstage in larger-than-life costumes at the Box, the Lower East Side nightclub.
Now, Narcissister is bringing a video installation to Petrella’s Imports, a newsstand on Bowery and Canal that has been turned into an art space. The piece, which will be projected on a building opposite the newsstand, will feature clips of different women wearing the Narcissister mask and baring their breasts in public, an act that is legal in New York. The topless women perform mundane acts like running errands and taking their children to school in the clips. "It’s not just about freedom for women; it’s the idea that freedom for one means freedom for all and that it makes larger statements about freedom and equality," said the artist who portrays Narcissister.
The artist, who does not disclose her real name or show her face, said she wanted to explore the “cultural psyche” around the human body. “There’s this idea that women’s bodies are fundamentally sexual and consequently, inappropriate to be seen in the public arena,” she explained. “[This project] is about women enjoying a broader experience with their bodies and in their bodies the way that men do ... I want to question whether this law or other laws are built on stereotyping and discrimination have been unconsciously built into law."
The installation is part of a larger project called “Narcissister Is You,” which features different people in the Narcissister mask.
The artist said she created the character of Narcissister in 2007. “She’s a plastic mask that lays on the floor of my studio and when I put it on, I understand how much potential there is,” she said. “Through the mask, I feel I can comment on issues that are greater than I could if I did not wear the mask.”
The woman behind Narcissister was a professional dancer who trained with the Alvin Ailey School. After she quit dancing to focus on visual art, she discovered that she could still utilize her dance background. “I’d been thinking about political ideas around race and sexuality and I realized I had everything I needed for my own performance project,” she said. She started dancing with her mask at burlesque shows before moving onto broader audiences, which included television viewers across the country for her “America’s Got Talent” performance - Narcissister said that a producer at "America's Got Talent" repeatedly contacted her to audition for the show.
“I couldn’t see how a project that includes strong erotic content could be on their program, but I was finally persuaded and I’m so glad I was,” she said. “It was a very positive experience.”
Is the anonymous artist envious of the fame that Narcissister has found? Not at all. She admitted that at the end of the day, she is glad that she can remove herself from the Narcissister character. “I take a lot of comfort in the fact that Narcissister is separate from me,” she said. "I’m excited to play that character the way an actor can, for example, but I’m relieved I can shed that character and return to my more private self.
Narcissister’s installation will show at Petrella’s Imports at 9 p.m. on Friday; you can also see her photography at the Rockaway! arts festival from June 29 to Sept. 1 at Fort Tilden in Rockaway Beach.