Thot or Artist?

Controversial “Angles on a Woman” Performance by Artist Leah Schrager Garners Viral Video and Opposing Reactions

Over the July 4th weekend artist Leah Schrager performed “Angles on a Woman” at the Montauk Beach House during the posh resort’s largest party ever. Moving about the pool area – where chairs are $2k each and rich millennials mix with the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio and Diane Kruger – Schrager used a selfie-stick to create images of herself from different angles and then, separating the photos out according to angle, posted them to one of her three Instagram accounts – @LeahSchrager (a feminist artist), @Hotspot.Studio (a fashion-conscious blogger), and @OnaArtist (a racy IG model). Unbeknownst to her, one guest captured a short video clip of her performance and posted it to @BarStoolSports (6.8m followers). The video has since gone viral and been seen by over 40 million viewers.

During the performance, the crowd reacted with a mix of curiosity, shock, and enthusiasm. Some of them joined in and got their photo taken with Schrager, some asked “what is this all about?” and others audibly gasped when she struck the signature pose captured in the video. The reactions online also ran the spectrum. Commenters said hateful things like “your parents must be so proud,” “why women can’t get equal pay,” and “she’s shooting her ass for a porn site…not art.” They also showed support, saying “the next Kim Kardashian in the making,” “this girl is an innovator,” and “your performance art…inspired my quilted self portraitures throughout undergrad.”

“Angles on a Woman” was the performative element of Schrager’s show, “Unprotected Specs,” which includes visual works on display through Roman Fine Art in the Montauk Beach House’s lobby gallery until July 16. It was the first in-person performance by the artist, and the show included an opening night reception on July 5 and an artist discussion on July 7 with journalist Nicole Teitler. However, the fact that her artistic performance went viral in a non-arts context is for Schrager both an affirmation of her process and a troubling commentary on female art in the age of social media.

“I was performing in order to explore the ways in which various angles are used in selfie-taking to generate different genres of digital female presentation,” Schrager says. “I also posted certain images, depending on the angle achieved, on one of my online profiles. But in clip that went viral, I was performing as @OnaArtist, my racy IG model personae.” Schrager feels the performance’s emphasis on angles was vindicated by the viral video’s caption, “gotta hit them angles,” and the many commenters mentioning “angles” in statements like “angles on point” and “going to extremes for the right angle.”

Schrager also found it telling that her work was transformed without her consent into a sordid meme page clip, that it was posted without crediting her as the model, and that she has been repeatedly referred to as a “thot” (slang for “that ho over there”) in the 1000s of comments. These facts, she says, “highlight important issues surrounding female art in the social media age. To have a short clip of this complex process posted and referred to as ‘just some thot trying to get attention’ feels like both an affirmation of my artistic investigative mission and an interesting commentary on how women are seen and often shamed solely based on the camera angle they choose. In short, am I a thot or an artist, and what is the difference?”

Schrager has also spent countless hours since the video went viral trying to get mentioned as the model. “At first, everyone posted it without tagging me, which I consider image theft. Then, while DMing these huge meme pages asking to be credited, I ran into resistance from men who felt it was their right to show my body without naming me and who even ridiculed me for trying to be identified.”

Owning her image is central to Schrager’s art practice. She has spent years creating work in which she is the photographer, model, and artist in order to facilitate an institutional critique of the standard exploitative practices of the fashion and arts industries. Before getting her MFA at Parsons in 2015, Schrager achieved global attention for her creation of Sarah White – The Naked Therapist. She has also written about Instagram modeling as female performance for leading arts journal, Rhizome, and had her show, Body Anxiety, featured in ArtForum.