Brace yourselves, Miamians. The butts are coming.
You might have seen them the first time they invaded the Magic City. Like a colorful, moderately obscene plague, wax-and-plaster butt sculptures appeared in locations across Miami this summer. The butts showed up at the beach. They perched atop playground equipment in parks. The butts sat obstinately on police cars and waited patiently on Metrorail benches. When touched, they recited provocative lines: "Bend over." "Yeah, keep rubbing. Almost there." "Use me."
Then they disappeared.
"Now they live in my bedroom," confesses Allison Bouganim, the artist behind the butts. "I have an army of butts. They've taken up most of my floor, so [my bedroom] is, like, a bed and a little walkway area and just a pile of butts."
The pieces are part of the ongoing series Wax That Ass, which was on view across Miami for most of the summer. Bouganim, speaking to New Times from Tanzania where she's enrolled in a gap year program, says her experiences growing up in Miami inspired her to create the butts.
"I've always been interested in the focus of women and how the media perceives women, and so my biggest motivation is to raise questions and awareness about the political and social issues facing women," she says. A recent graduate of Design and Architecture High School (DASH), Bouganim noticed a pattern in the treatment of women firsthand: "When I was going to high school, I would pass by maybe five or six strip clubs on the way to high school when I took the public bus. Those things are just so prominent in Miami."
To begin the process, Bouganim began recruiting women to participate in the project. "They're made out of molds of actual women's butts," she says. "One of them is my sister – I'm a triplet, so I have multiple butts to go around. Some of them are my friends. And I put an open call on social media saying, 'Anyone over 18 who wants to come over to my house to get their butts molded in a nonsexual way, just message me — I'll pay you, you can use my pool, whatever you want. I got a few women who were really interested in that and didn't think it was creepy at all, which was great."
Next, Bouganim worked with an audio engineer to install the voice technology inside the sculptures, making them responsive to viewers' touch. A processing board, connected to a copper electrical circuit, controls the recordings Bouganim made with her computer.
"I can highlight text and press a command on my computer, and it speaks to me," Bouganim explains. "There are different voices you can choose: One is Siri; one is Samantha; one is Allison. So I chose the Allison one because I just thought that was funny."
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The butts' sayings, on the other hand, are meant to inspire serious reflection.
"'Euphemistically misogynistic' is the term I use [to describe the sayings]," the artist explains. "I didn't want them to be force-feeding you information, like you have to feel this way about this piece. I don't want my work to decide things for you; I really just wanted to create a conversation."
When it was time to install the butts, Bouganim chose places around town where she'd witnessed or experienced objectification, "typical places of unwarranted harassment towards me or other women in general: the supermarket, the beach, the laundromat, the park. I have other photos at a church, at a school, a place of learning."
The butts came down at the end of the summer, when Bouganim left Miami for Tanzania. But she's not finished with the project. She's studying coding in an effort to streamline the butts' technology. When she returns to South Florida, she says, she'll begin applying either to colleges or for exhibition space in galleries. Either way, the butts will be back.
"I'm really motivated to create more of an army of butts," she says. "That's my main focus."