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Interview: Tootsie Warhol

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2020

1) Could you introduce yourself as an artist? Where do you come from, where did you attend school, and what prompted you to impersonate Donald Trump as a performance artist?

I am a native New Yorker (b. 1985), and I earned a BA from University of Virginia in Spanish and History (2007) and a JD from Brooklyn Law School (2010). I met with Donald Trump the week of his inauguration with Martin Luther King III and other civil rights activists in 2017 at Trump Tower to discuss voter suppression, and that was a transformative experience in my life. It landed me on the front page of the New York Times online, and my secret tape recording of the meeting was covered by Politico and the New York Times, and others.

I could not help but notice that there was no artwork directly addressing Donald Trump in the 2017 Whitney Biennial and that less than 1% of the 2019 Whitney Biennial related to Trump. I love the Whitney Museum. The curators in 2019, Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley and the director, Adam Weinberg, did a remarkable job; and overall, the show was outstanding. The glaring omission of work about Trump though, propelled me to start a two month long protest staged near daily, while I was still working full time as an attorney, known as "MAKING THE BIENNIAL GREAT AGAIN!" I performed as a satirical Donald Trump character in the galleries for three days until I was asked to remain in front of the museum, and the people loved engaging with me about politics and art taking selfies and having meaningful conversations and laughs.

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2017

2) Is Tootsie Warhol a fictional persona or your actual identity? How do you juggle between multiple personalities including the ones that you may in fact be imitating? How do you surpass and outdo Donald Trump in the act of impersonating him?

I identify as Tootsie Warhol. At this time there are two Tootsies: the artist and activist and also the satirical anti-Trump character who bears a gold wig and orange face paint. In my performance, I channel the experience of meeting Donald Trump and bring that toxicity directly to the audience often through the use of humor.

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2020

3) In your view, what sets apart performance art from comedy, political satire, and political activism, for example? What is the essential nature of performance art that makes it distinct from the other performative roles, while incorporating many of the characteristics and aspects of those roles?

My performance art combines comedy, political satire, and political activism. Especially in the Trump and post-Trump era, I find it very hard to separate these facets of culture.

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2019

4) Why is it not enough to talk only about the color and form of a painting? What spurs you to become a performance artist rather than a painter, sculptor, or a photographer?

I absolutely love so many artworks for the beauty of their color or composition. Not all art should be political. I am most well-known for my performance work, but my creativity and output are not bound by performance.

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2019

5) Can you describe some of the performances and happenings that you have conducted under the persona of Tootsie Warhol? What are the messages that you have for the audience regarding Donald Trump and his party?

In 2019 I performed "MAKING THE BIENNIAL GREAT AGAIN!" In 2020, I brought comedy and performance art to audiences on social media and in person at a time when all performing arts were sadly shuttered in New York. I brought laughter and entertainment to people at Black Lives Matter protests, in Central Park, and most notably in Times Square, where I performed daily for six weeks culminating with the spontaneous and historic celebration for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on November 7. This performance is known as "TOOTSIE WARHOL FOR PRESIDENT - MAKE AMERICA SMART AGAIN! (2020-2021)." In short, the message was to vote for Biden and Harris to save America and also to please follow me on IG : ).

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2019

6) Has your performance art lost some steam with the defeat of Donald Trump in the Presidential Election? Or do you continue on because Donald Trump and his political dynasty might become a threat in the 2024 election and onwards?

Donald Trump is still a real threat to democracy in this country, and artists should not give up on holding him accountable. Despite his failure in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 573,000 Americans, and his refusal to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter after George Floyd was murdered; millions of Americans still support him. I am, however, working on other non-Trump projects as well.

7) What do you think were the conditions that allowed Donald Trump to rise into power, and how does your performance art involving satire and impersonation attempt to contain his power and image?

Trump's rise made use of the New York tabloid media for decades, of television via "The Apprentice," and then he rode the wave of toxicity on social media at the ideal moment. My performance art appropriates my meeting with Donald Trump and his voice and appearance from the media in a way that is not dissimilar to Andy Warhol's appropriation of Campbell's soup cans or Marilyn Monroe. I then use art as a means to engage in conversations and to spread an activist message.

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2020

8) What do you think is the effect of your performance video involving yourself mingling with the Trump supporter with a guitar in Times Square? What do you make out of the fact that good people can be misled into supporting Donald Trump? Who do we fight in the fight against Donald Trump?

The most iconic performer in Times Square is the Naked Cowboy, and even though we do not agree politically, we both love New York City, America, creativity, and performance. Many people said it was a heartwarming story to see me and the Naked Cowboy find some common ground even in a very divided country.

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2020

9) Donald Trump may seem ignorant and racist to many, but he still holds a lot of political power. What does it feel like for you to challenge and criticize someone who wields a lot of political power (in certain parts of the country)?

My battle against Donald Trump truly is a David versus Goliath story. Kamala Harris wrote in her memoir about the fight for victims of the #MeToo movement in the US Senate Hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice, “We chose this fight not because we were sure we could win but because we were sure it was right.” This is why I am still using my art to stand up to Donald Trump against all odds.

10) Who are some of your influences as a performance artist? Who are your favorite artists, comedians, political satirists and commentators?

I watched Marina Abramovic perform at MoMA in 2010 in "The Artist is Present," and this was very formative for me. She is an inspiration to me. Similarly, I saw the great artist Pope.L perform "Eating the Wall Street Journal" at MoMA in early 2020, and it was very special to see him perform and meet him. Much like Pope.L, my performances often use the humble streets of New York as their stage and engage audiences of all types as they occur.

Tootsie Warhol on Instagram, 2020

11) What are your plans for the future as an artist? What do you plan to do 10 or 20 years down the road?

I am honored to participate in the upcoming Art in Odd Places and will perform at large along 14th Street May 14-15-16. I absolutely idolize both former President Barack Obama and also Kehinde Wiley, who is one of my favorite artists; and I love and appreciate Chinese people very much. This performance, though, will address the secret truth that Kehinde Wiley's celebrated official presidential portrait of Barack Obama was made in China and not in the United States.

President Biden in his first address to Congress said, “We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century,” and “there is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing;” so the fact that this singular and symbolic portrait was made China is worthy of conversation.

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