Elda Miniero was born and raised in Benevento, in the South of Italy, but moved to Rotterdam when she was just nineteen years old. She is a Fine Art senior at the Willem De Kooning Academy. Last week, one of her stunning and deeply personal artworks has been uploaded on an Instagram account without her consent.
This interview is, indeed, a payback.
By giving Elda the coverage she needs, we will not just unfold her artistic point of view and her opinions on creative integrity and art colleges, but we will also assure our readers a chance to meet an international visual artist and understand one thing or two about professionality and self-respect.
Hi Elda, how’s it going? What’s on your mind lately?
“Hi Mauro! It’s been a week with lots of ups and downs, not quite sure how to answer.”
Well, then, what have you been up to?
“I’ve just sent what I believe is a final email to my university, I wanted to go past my own feelings and highlight the bigger issue I sensed during these years. Artistic agency over your work as a student, in a digital era where institutions have a public image to solidify trough content over Instagram.”
In 2019, Elda was working on her portfolio. Some months before that, she had made a plaster mold of herself sleeping, as a part of a bigger piece she had in mind. “At the start of the year we were told that there wasn’t going to be a studio for the Fine Arts department anymore! Imagine me running around the academy with this huge art piece, trying to find a space for working on my project.”
An instructor helped her out by taking pictures of her work-in-progress, so she could show her range of interests in the portfolio. She didn’t think much of it, she was “extremely relieved that this task was off my list”. She then went to London with an Erasmus+ bursary, at Central Saint Martins: “I loved London, but I could spend just two months there. I went back to my home country in mid-March due to the pandemic.”
Some days ago, Elda’s friend showed her an Instagram post from the Willem De Kooning’s photography department’s account: it was a picture of her sculpture, with the face accidentally covered by the hands of the instructor who helped her finish her portfolio.
“There was no credit to me as the artist, my work was used as a background for a statement of someone else”
She continues: “It’s my naked body there. It’s not an imagined body, it’s a mold of my actual body. My face, the sculpture’s face, is hidden by the instructor’s hands. My overall identity is erased from the picture, both by the absence of credits and by these unfamiliar fingers all over my face. The female body that’s exposed there seems to put an accent on the male figure, portraying him as the maker. My body, the artist’s body, becomes an accidental accessory.”
Another thing that goes missing from this picture is Elda’s agency over her own work.“I did not know that this picture existed nor that it was online for everyone to see. As we mentioned before, I discovered it by accident.”
“It’s a work in progress, that I did not intend to share with an Instagram audience at that stage. They’ve removed the post after I addressed these issues in private mails and in public with my social network. Through my Instastories I wanted to reclaim my work and analyze the underlying issues underneath all this. I felt the need to, but that puts another layer to my work: it will now be perceived by my audience there with that picture in mind.”
Do you think that part of this issue is influenced by the direction we are taking as a digital society? As something more virtual, where even art institutions have to use social media to reclaim their spot in our culture?
“I’d rather say that the issue begins when the institutions don’t understand how to behave in an online context. For what I’ve gathered, my accident was exactly that. An accident. The instructor did not think it through, the team just saw it as a picture. On this note, the digital world is fleeting, certain pictures and stories stick to memory and I would’ve liked to be the one who creates the final picture for my finished work.”
So, the main point is that the Willem De Kooning Academy missed empathy towards their students. Both by limiting the space destined to the Fine Arts Department and by engaging with students’ works as mere instacontent.
“As students, we are encouraged to reach out to other people for collaborations and to instructors for clarifications on technical skills and such. Yet, we are given no further instructions on how to handle our rights and our artistic vision. If we are training for an artistic career, how does this help?”
Is it the first time that you had problems with this organization?
“Over the years at WDKA, I could see an overall negligence in how the institute decides to portray works of students, online and offline. I’ve had other “accidents” like the one we are talking about, yes. And every time it was handled with a fast apology that lacks a real acknowledgment about the problem. Our academy, and I believe art academies in general these days, are promoting the idea of a student as a project manager of sorts. But if that’s the case, we are given no tools to protect and claim our artistic vision.”
Over the past few weeks, an Instagram account named @calloutdutchartinstitutions reached over 8000 followers as it started to highlight experiences of sexual harassment, racism and other unacceptable behavior in Dutch art institutions. Via a form, everyone could anonymously share their story.
There’s a community that is not up for being mistreated by the same institutions that should educate and form the artists of tomorrow.
So, what happened to you is just one of the many examples of how arts universities are treating students as clients. It seems like it’s the amount of money you spend with tuition fees and materials that counts to these institutions, not your artistic point of view or your potential as a creative human being. What needs to change?
“I believe we should receive a training to manage and support our artistic career, respectfully engaging with others and their contributions. There needs to be an awareness within learning institutions about the online context. If my work is posted online without my consent, you are misrepresenting my work and myself as the artist, which is what is supposed to be nurtured instead.”