Elizabeth Harnarine Wentling received a BS in Psychology from Kutztown University, an MPS in digital photography from the School of Visual Arts, and an MFA from Parsons School of Design, The New School University. Harnarine’s work questions the authority of the power structures that continue to embed gender inequality into all aspects of American culture. Through strategic alteration of appropriated materials, Harnarine creates a space to reimagine, among other things, advertising, education and the financial system. Her work has been exhibited both in New York City and internationally, including most recently at the Pingyao International Photography Festival, Pingyao, China; Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and the Institute for Art and Art Theory, University of Cologne, Germany.
What are some of the underlying ideas and themes behind your thesis?
EH: So, In Sept 2014 the Senate blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act from going to vote. It was meant to protect women from being paid less than men for doing the same job. And so, I decided at that time to start looking through print media and popular culture to see what sort of things I could find that would support this idea that it was okay for women to be paid less or that half of the Senate would be allowed to vote that act down. I started looking through popular magazines and I was finding that the images of women, their crotches were right in the center of the page. So, I started cutting the crotches out and compiled a crotch book. The hole in the middle of book kind of mimics the crotch. From there I started looking at my niece’s history book and I went through the book and cut out everything that didn’t refer to women so the only thing left in the book is this delicate web of women. And you can see the degree to which women have been left out and also still left out.
I also started cutting the men out of the money because there were only a bunch of white dudes on our money. I read the law against defacing currency and it makes it clear that the money never actually belongs to us. It always belongs to the Federal Reserve. You can get a fine or up to 6 months in jail but I don’t know if that ever happens. So I cut the men out and decided to leave the holes because I think if I, from my point of view, tried to fill those holes with something else it would create the same problem. So I’m hoping to, with this work, have the viewer imagine what they would replace the men on the bills with.
From there I felt my relationship changed to the money because I’m always anxious about having enough money and finding work so I can pay my bills or student loans and things like that are anxiety inducing. It was kind of like this pleasurable thing to cut the men out, as sort of like a piece of paper or material that I could use and hoping to reproduce that with a group of people. So I cashed out a hundred dollars from my photography department scholarship and I had an event where people came in and we all defaced money together and we talked about the issues around money and the imagery on the money. But it was actually just kind of a relaxing and fun activity. I was hoping to find a way to change our relationship to money. So for the thesis I’m showing a hundred of those dollar bills and the books that I cut.
Would you say that a lot of your work has to do with social problems or would you consider this a social problem?
EH: I think it’s been super weird being here during the second semester I was here. People started protesting around when Eric Garner was killed and it was super weird sitting in this classroom and we’re all talking about he history of photography and it seemed kind of inconsequential with these things happening. So I guess, I’m trying to find a way to think about social issues and work them out through my work.
By Terricka Johnson