What Is Dear Ivanka?
On November 21, 2016, the Instagram account @dear_ivanka posted its first image, a photo of Ivanka Trump, her hair pulled back from her forehead and teased for volume, her red dress plunging down her chest. The caption reads, "Dear Ivanka, I'm afraid of the swastikas spray-painted on my park."
Several more images of Ivanka were posted that first day, some taken at events, some pulled from magazine editorials, and one bathroom selfie. Each had similarly urgent captions: "Dear Ivanka, I'm black and I'm afraid of Jeff Sessions"; "Dear Ivanka, I've been raped and I need an abortion"; "Dear Ivanka, I'm an American Muslim and I was attacked on the subway."
Dear Ivanka is the public-facing platform of the Halt Action Group, and was also the name of the group's first public action, held at the end of November 2016. "I would say it's something that became a platform and a collective," says curator and writer Alison Gingeras, who has been instrumental in organizing Dear Ivanka and Halt from the beginning.
"We were trying to plead with Ivanka, since she was the one member of the Trump family who was seemingly the most reasonable and the most progressive." —Alison Gingeras
"It started as a protest in the form of a candlelight vigil," Gingeras says. "Since that action, Dear Ivanka, at least in terms of how it lives online as an Instagram account, has almost become a kind of ongoing lens through which we speak through the news cycle about the Trump administration and all of the crucial issues that are at stake, in terms of their agenda."
The core of Dear Ivanka is made up of artists, writers, curators, critics, activists, and, Gingeras says, "quite a few psychoanalysts."
"She's instrumentalized a kind of 'feminism lite' to market herself as a poster woman for what it means to be a working woman."
Why Ivanka Specifically?
Gingeras says of that first protest, "We were trying to plead with Ivanka, since she was the one member of the Trump family who was seemingly the most reasonable and the most progressive, in terms of the different people and causes she seemed sympathetic to."
Well into her father's campaign, Ivanka wore the costume of progressive feminism. But she's an astute businesswoman who's used codified language to, at the very least, reflect feminist values back at the consumers still buying her handbags and shoes, without having to really adopt those values herself. "She's instrumentalized a kind of feminism lite to market herself as a poster woman for what it means to be a working woman," Gingeras explains. "Albeit, one of great privilege and a fairy tale of one-percent perfection. I think that's in many ways what we've tried to do: tarnish her brand of feminism, and call it out for the very superficial thing that it is."
But Ivanka also has a personal connection to New York's art world. For one, she and her husband, Jared Kushner, collect work by some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Visible in the background of photos on Ivanka's personal Instagram account are a chewing gum painting by Dan Colen, a silkscreen by Nate Lowman, and paintings by Alex Da Corte, Alex Israel, Christopher Wool, and David Ostrowski.
For many of the artists in Ivanka's collection, her support of the art scene is at odds with her support of her father's actively discriminatory administration. Da Corte commented under a photo of Ivanka standing in front of one of his works, "Please get my work off your walls. I am embarrassed to be seen with you." Other artists whose work Ivanka and Kushner own have joined Halt in Dear Ivanka protests.
On November 28, the Halt Action Group organized outside the Puck Building at Houston and Lafayette Streets in Manhattan, home to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Around 150 artists and other art-world professionals gathered with L.E.D. candles and some of the most clever protest posters to appear in the new post-election reality.
Artist Marilyn Minter carried a sign with a drawing of a cat, underneath which read, "If someone grabs my pussy, is it OK to fart?" Another set of posters used the same Dear Ivanka template, with pleas reading, "Dear Ivanka: Every family deserves a family leave plan" and "Dear Ivanka: Let Pence know LGBT people can't be converted" and "Dear Ivanka: We have everything to lose."
These Dear Ivanka missives became the namesake for all of the group's protests thereafter.
"Help Ivanka Move"
A few days before the inauguration, the Dear Ivanka crew decided to offer Ivanka and family a hand in their big move to D.C. "We started with this idea of a bon voyage party for Ivanka," Gingeras says. "Then we realized that what we were saying goodbye to was not her and her family, but we were actually saying goodbye to our rights. With the inauguration, we were in peril of losing freedom of the press, freedom of speech."
So, the group created a fictional company called Trump Moving, with one of the artist members (Gingeras wouldn't reveal who) creating a logo that included a cell phone number belonging to Donald Trump that was leaked a few years ago.
The artist made 200 hats with the moving company logo, and in a piece of political theater, protesters arrived on the corner of 59th Street and 5th Avenue carrying moving boxes with slogans and images referencing the rights now under threat.
Instagram as a Platform for Protest
The @dear_ivanka Instagram account continues to be an evolving form of political dissent. In response to Betsy DeVos's appointment to Secretary of Education, Dear Ivanka posted a photo of Ivanka Trump visiting a charter school in Harlem, with an open letter from a teacher challenging Ivanka to consider what was now at stake for public schools.
"I have people close to her, at least two different people… who have told us that she's very bothered by it."
Another shows Ivanka in a glimmering dress at the inauguration ball, with a caption that notes, "Before you even had the chance to sweep across the ballroom in your gown, your father had amended the federal website so that it no longer bore the pox of links related to climate change or LGBT rights."
But…Will It Work?
"I can't tell you exactly the source," Gingeras says, "but I have people close to her, at least two different people, who either work for her or are close to her, who have told us that she's very bothered by it. I would say that it definitely has enabled mainstream media to question her legitimacy as a spokesperson for political issues that her father's administration hoped she would spearhead."
Sweet had to ask, does having an oppressive, unpredictable, shitty government lead to the creation of more compelling art? "Well, I guess it creates the situation where we can no longer take for granted certain things, because the new normal is so far away from what we've known before in this country," Gingeras says. "I think that it not only provokes a lot of interesting responses from artists, but it also even creates an important political opportunity for us as a country. I think the Democratic Party and the left now are given an immense opportunity to reinvent itself...because the status quo doesn't work."
Stay up to date with the Halt Action Group's open letters to Ivanka Trump by following @dear_ivanka on Instagram and visiting haltactiongroup.com.