tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera December 26, 2015 7:30am-8:01am EST
fine, i would be lying. >> i feel so utterly alone. >> in this envelope is my life. >> if you don't go to college, you gonna be stuck here... i don't wanna be stuck here. >> catch the whole ground-breaking series, "edge of eighteen" marathon. >> this week on "talk to al jazeera" -- artist, author and reporter molly crabapple. >> what i think my art brought to my journalism is that i didn't come to journalism with the sort of bias towards faux objectivity... i deeply believe in having an extreme bias towards reality. >> in her youth, she traveled europe and the near east, and worked as a nude model and danced burlesque.
>> so much of women, so much of what our virtue is supposed to consist of is maintaining this sort of, like, pearly, innocent purity. i hated that idea. i hated it. >> crabapple has drawn migrant labor camps in the united arab emirates, illustrated the conflicts in palestine and syria and she's taken her sketchpad to the us prison in guantanamo bay, cuba. >> it's a place where, when i went, they were force feeding and torturing really--dozens of men, while at the same time there was a cheerful gift shop that sold t-shirts that say, "it don't gitmo better than this." >> plus, she's used her artwork to draw attention to problems in the criminal justice system. >> they filled the cells with tear gas. they beat, they tased, they hit the men with electrified shields. they cut off their clothing, put hoods over their head. >> following the release of her memoir "drawing blood," crabapple's been called "a new model for this century's young woman." and "our irreverent guide for the new gilded age."
i spoke to molly crabapple at her studio in new york. >> you write in the memoir, "to draw was trouble and safety, adventure and freedom." so art was an outlet for you, not just a form of expression growing up? >> oh god. art saved my life. to me, art was my addiction. i think that i could be locked inside a room and i would draw all over the walls. i can't imagine life without art. i sometimes think that there's literally nothing else i could do on this earth but be an artist. >> and it was an escape for you of sorts as well when you were a child? what were you escaping from? >> i think, like many kids i had that sort of age dysmorphia thing where in my head, i was ready for adventures and freedom. but, you know, out in the world, i had to ask permission to borrow a book from the library. but on paper, there, i could live exactly as i pleased. >> and you had sort of grown up around art because your mother was and is an illustrator. >> my mother's an amazing illustrator. and i think it was a real
advantage 'cause so many kids, they think of art as something that, you know, you'll never make a living at, something very, very distant. and a lot of parents, you know, encourage that. but for me, i was, like, no, my mom puts food on the table by drawing cabbage patch kids. this is a totally legitimate, totally adult, totally prosaic way to make a living. i can do this. >> your dad is a political science professor. so your work, in some ways, this melding that you talk about of politics and art, that was sort of preordained in some ways. >> it's strange. yes, it actually was. it actually was. and i never thought of it like that. but my father was a huge influence on me. he's a huge influence on me. he is marxist. when i was growing up, he would buy me copies of emma goldman's autobiography or huey newton's revolutionary suicide. he was constantly going to cuba when i was growing up. i knew all about che guevara. i was brought up in a house where my dad's commandments, he had two, were confront authority and be interesting.
>> confront authority and be interesting. and did he encourage rebellion? >> i think even the most rebellious of parents never really wants a rebellious child. but he definitely taught me to think about the world in this very sharp and skeptical way. >> and so maybe it's in the blood. and that sorta leads me back to the title of your book, "drawing blood," this sense of rebellion. so after high school, you go to europe. and you do what i think for a lot of would be bohemians is a dream. you find a home of sorts in that famous bookstore shakespeare and company. >> oh god... >> tell me about that. >> of course i'd known about shakespeare and company. it's a legendary english language parisian bookstore where basically, ne'er do well artists and writers could sleep there. we were called tumbleweeds. we'd work an hour a day. we would sleep on bunks there. the only other price for our accommodation was we were supposed to read lots and lots and lots. and i would keep returning back to shakespeare and company throughout my later teens.
it was a magical place. it was a place where all of the sort of imperatives of the modern world, the idea that we must have lots and lots of rules and we must make lots and lots of money and everything must be done in this very controlled and capitalist way were completely turned on their heads. i mean, the owner, george, he called it the little socialist utopia that could. but the thing is, unlike other utopian experiments, shakespeare and company is still gloriously alive. it never collapsed. it's been around for, i want to say nearly 60 years now. and george's daughter actually runs it magnificently. >> one of the other standout lines, and there are so many in this memoir, opens chapter seven of your book. "babies are cute so you don't kill them. young artists must be arrogant so they don't kill themselves." can you explain what you meant by that? >> you get into art because you love art, because you love art that other people have done, 'cause you love great art. but everyone is really bad at the start, or most people. i was, certainly. and so there are years, decades
even, when the gulf between what you love and the gulf between what you are is so yawningly huge. and if you're not almost delusionally arrogant, you would realize, "god, i'm never gonna be like this person that got me into this." and you would just either give up or, as i put it somewhat hyperbolically, kill yourself. and so you have to have that sort of delusional monomania to you. sometimes i look at my work from in my early twenties and i think, "how did i ever get a start in this profession? who possibly would've hired me?" >> you make your twenties sound like they were so far away but you're, like, what-- >> i'm 32. >> 31? okay. >> i'm 32. i mean, it's like a decade. >> you've done a lot in that time. and one of those things is you've worked collaterally at least in the sex business. you call it the naked girl business. and another huge chunk of your memoir deals with that time. you worked as a nude model to begin with. what drew you to that? >> well, a few things. first of all, i am way too dysfunctional to have an ordinary job.
and i'm al-- was also way too ill qualified. despite what some people believe, the world is not filled with lucrative job offers for fashion institute of technology dropouts. so i wanted something that would pay $100 an hour when i was 19. and so i worked as a really low rent naked model for all sorts of rather hilarious places and some fun gigs. i was in low rider, that was awesome. i got to pose next to an old car. i really liked that. but i also liked it because it was a trade that was a slightly outlaw trade, you know? and so much of women, so much of what our virtue is supposed to consist of is maintaining this sort of, like, pearly, innocent purity. i hated that idea. i hated it. >> it was part of sort of that arc of transgression that started when (laugh) you were four years old. i was curious because at some point, you changed your name. and i think it was in that period. you were... >> it was, yeah. >>...jennifer caban and you changed it to molly crabapple. so you also describe in a part of the book this sort of physical transformation
and i wondered whether the nude work was also part of that sort of physical experimentation. >> you know, it actually, i never thought of it that way, but you're right because i'd just broken up with my boyfriend--with my, like, long term boyfriend who i had been with, you know, since i was 15 years old i guess. and i was 19 and living in new york. and i needed to get a job obviously. and i think that it was just a time when there were so many changes in my life happening all at once. >> it's interesting how you're able to sort of dig deeper into it though in your memoir. and you write, "i wanted to see if i could work in a field as fraught and as stigmatized as sex and emerge unscathed. that i wanted to burn off childhood." did you emerge from that experience unscathed? >> who emerges from life unscathed? i think though that men, for instance, are always encouraged to go out into the world and get some wounds, right? so many men i've known have
joined the military, even not to defend their country, but because they wanted to have, you know, an adventure. so many men do all sorts of risky things whereas with women, we're not encouraged to do that. we're never encouraged to test ourselves. our unscathedness is considered our most valuable asset, and i hate that. >> and so, what was the outcome of that? did you end up feeling like an empowered, strong woman who made that choice, or did you feel disempowered by it? >> okay. so i have to admit, i hate the word, "empowered." i feel like the word, "empowered" is like the zeno's paradox of words. like, there's no power and then there's power and then you're, like, "empower," you know? i don't know what empowered means. the only thing i know i felt empowered by is i know i felt empowered by making $400 in four hours. i found that highly, highly empowering. but in terms of my work, i loved it sometimes. i hated it other times. sometimes it was just really physically awkward (laugh) and kind of silly. sometimes i liked the community
of women around it, even if the work itself was something that i really, really could've taken or left. but it's something i'm very grateful that i did. i really do believe that people who spend their entire lives being, like, prototypical good boys and girls and working in offices and going to nice schools and being patted on the head by authority are the least interesting people in the world. >> did it affect your later work as a professional artist and illustrator? >> absolutely. >> positively or negatively? >> i think very positively. i mean, it affected my reception slightly negatively at the start. but in terms of my actual work, which is the important thing, i mean, it taught me so much 'cause once you've worked on the other side of your field, the side of your field that's-- people don't think can talk, i mean, that's the most important thing. that's when you realize that there isn't, like, the far in, you know, subject that you can just objectify and project things on. that's when you realize that, you know, we're all humans, we're all watching and we're all being watched. so i feel very grateful for that. >> still ahead-- talking about abortion. why molly crabapple thought it was important to share
her story. that's next on talk to al jazeera. >> tomorrow on "hard earned". losing control. >> 50 and broke. i live with the consequences every day. >> harsh realities. >> i did two tours in iraq, when i came back i couldn't find a job. >> fighting to survive. >> bein' a man and can't put my family in a home that they deserve... that's a problem for me. >> hard earned pride. hard earned respect. hard earned future. a real look at the american dream. "hard earned". tomorrow, 10:00 eastern. only on al jazeera america.
your abortion. and you had a really bad infection after the procedure. did you debate, molly, whether or not to include that in the book? and why did you ultimately decide to? >> i actually had written about my abortion before in an essay for vice. and of all the essays i've written, that was the one that i got the most positive and heartfelt feedback from. so many women wrote to me, women who had had abortions that were illegal wrote to me. older women who had had to have the procedure, you know, by hack doctors pre roe v. wade here wrote to me to thank me. young women who had had bad experiences. young women who had okay experiences. women who were about to have abortions. and the reason i wrote about it before and the reason i included it in my book was that one out of three american women has an abortion. and yet, the only things that we see in the media are these sort of i wanna call them edge cases that people use as justification 'cause they're uncomfortable with abortion. like, women have abortion because they're raped or women
have abortion because the fetus is, you know, is severely, severely damaged. or women have an abortion because they're 13 and don't know what sex is. or also on the other hand, you have the ridiculous right wing argument that women have abortion as birth control. but there's very little talk about, you know... >> just ordinary women that have had to make that deciscion. >> yeah, the vast majority. >> exactly. and i felt, because of that, there's a lot of space for stigma and shame, even amongst people who consider themselves pro-choice. i knew that a lot of people admired me before, a lot of young women did. and i wanted to say, you know, "i had this. you're not stupid because you got pregnant accidentally. you're not stupid. there's nothing wrong with you for having this procedure if it's something that you want or need." and, you know, "don't be hard on yourself." >> you write in the book, "lying sick in that bed, my politics become personal." and indeed, in the memoir, there is sort of a shift. was that a turning point for your work in that it then became more political?
>> my work didn't really become more political afterwards. it took me actually a little while to find that. but it was when i felt it, you know what i mean? 'cause i when i was protesting, for instance, again that iraq war, i'm not iraqi. i don't have family in iraq. i didn't have family that was enlisting in the army. it was something that, while i deeply, deeply believed the iraq war was a crime against humanity, it did not personally affect my life. whereas abortion politics was something that affected me in the most bodily, possible way. >> today, you describe yourself as a journalist. you write for vice. where has that job taken you? >> i have done work in syria, i've done work in gaza, west bank, abu dhabi. i recently was in iraqi kurdistan, guantanamo bay. i've done a lot of american prison stories as well, lebanon, turkish protests. >> so i wanna unpack some of that in a bit. but first, i wanna talk about your politics because you've described yourself as a leftist and you campaigned for president obama back in 2008.
what do you think of him today especially given the criticism he's faced over his use of drones, over surveillance and his middle east policy? >> it's a very complicated question. his use of drones is murderous. he is someone who's imprisoned many, many, many whistleblowers. his syria policy was confused and tangled and i think the worst of all the worlds in a number of ways. on the other hand, he does face a lot of criticisms because he's black and you can't deny that. and it's also nice to have a president who is intelligent. and i know that that sounds like, such a low bar, but it is nice to have a president who can make the effort to pronounce the names of other countries correctly and read books. and i sometimes wonder if we're going to have that in a long time. but in terms of his actual policies, i mean, he's done so many things that i disagree with or so many things that i think are absolutely horrid. >> your memoir, "drawing blood," starts with a
scene of you drawing khalid sheikh mohammed, the man believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks. why did you start there? >> i was trying to think of this moment that summarized everything that's kind of paradoxical about art. i was sitting in this kangaroo court in guantanamo bay, drawing the man who probably murdered 2,000 of my neighbors. and while i was drawing him, i was breaking his face down into lines and angles. it sort of summed up everything that my art is about and everything that the book is about, which is taking something that's this moment that really shows the raw edges and raw horrors of the world, and then combining that with the aesthetics. i've been to many places where bad things were happening for lack of a better word. but guantanamo is our thing. i say, "ours," like, that's... that's the american horror. it is the most american place in the world. it's a place where, when i went, they were force feeding and torturing really...dozens of
men, while at the same time there was a cheerful gift shop that sold t-shirts that say, "it don't gitmo better than this." it was a place without irony, without self-reflection. a place where terrible crimes against humanity were done with, you know, a chipper smile and a down home accent. and i think that that was why it struck me as so deeply even though, you know, i obviously, i've been, you know, to azaz where city blocks were being flat bombed by the regime and where isis was car bombing a garage near a refugee camp. but i think guantanamo hit me so closely because it was something to intrinsically related to being american. >> you've also done some work around the criminal justice system. tell me about what you've seen in that regard. >> one of my most recent pieces was a profile of these whistleblowers. they were six black men in long term solitary confinement. and by this, one of them, one of them was, or he has,
he's still in for 14 years. and they were giving information to a local human rights group in pennsylvania run by prisoners' families about various abuse and racism and even torture that was being done by guards at sci dallas. and when the group published this report, they sent a copy to the prison. and the guards used it as a checklist to abuse prisoners. and one night, while they were beating one of the whistleblowers, six of his friends put up... they put up their sheets on their cell windows in solitary cell. and this was an agreed upon symbol in the solitary wing. this is how you get a superior 'cause very often, if you had a complaint, you wouldn't want to give it to the person you were complaining against. and the way that the guards reacted is they came in in riot gear. they filled the cells with tear gas. they beat, they tased, they hit the men with electrified shields. they cut off their clothing, put hoods over their head. and when one of the guys filed a
complaint again that d.a., later the d.a., that very same d.a., then charged all of the men with felony rioting. and i've seen videotapes of it. and it's an absolutely fraudulent charge. and also, it's something that ought to have been obvious that it was fraudulent from the start because how do you riot when you're in a solitary cell? rioting is a group activity. >> yeah. i mean, what is that like for you to sort of have seen conflict overseas and then to see some of these endemic problems that this country faces while the u.s. i think often holds itself up as being sort of a moral compass for the world? you have a unique perspective on that. >> i don't think any one country is the moral compass to the world. i hate the what about-ist argument that happens when the u.s. will be, like, "oh, but russia locked girls up for singing in a church." or russia will be, like, "oh, but the u.s. locked someone up for revealing their war crimes," because ultimately, what they're just trying to lead to is a world
where everyone gets locked up for everything. i think that it's important that we don't find our moral compass in nations, but rather in an internationalist and universal belief in human rights. >> the power of merging art and journalism - molly crabapple talks about the melding of her two worlds. stay with us.
>> i'm stephanie sy, you're watching "talk to al jazeera." my guest this week is reporter and artist, molly crabapple. >> let's talk about the fact that you are relatively young and you have done a lot. not only have you been to conflict zones recently, but you've danced burlesque, you've been a nude model. you have eaten fire.
so i guess what is next? if one has goals, is there anything that you wanna check off the list? >> oh my god. i'd like to write another book that's not about me. i wanna just keep traveling and doing journalism and making big paintings and speaking to all of the defiant and brilliant people that i possibly can. and i don't know. i've never had like, the proper five year career plans like that. i'm just an artist. i make things. >> some of your artwork has become part of the permanent collections of not only the museum of modern art, but the barjeel foundation and the new york historical society. have you inadvertently become part of the art establishment? >> it's really funny because in some ways, i have. like, i always hate when people front and they say, "oh, i'm such an outsider," and then they're saying it from their fancy manhattan loft. it's, it's really terrible when people do that. but on the other hand i am in these fancy collections.
but i still wouldn't even know how to get a gallery show and write an artist statement in, like, their proper vocabulary and jargon that they like. >> does that divide even exist anymore between sort of high art and the kind of art that you have spent your life doing? >> oh, absolutely. high art is stuff that sells for $1 million. >> that's true. >> it's stuff that's deliberately scarce that's like a stock certificate or something. i don't do stuff like that i think because i'm just too greedy to make stuff. >> what do you mean by too greedy? >> well, no because it's if you wanna be one of those type of artists, you basically wanna create singular, highly polished, extremely technical, really, really big things that look really, really nice in oligarchs' lofts. that's the type of... that's what high art is. and you really can't make that many of them because not that many people have $1 million for something. so it's this very, like, artificial scarcity. it's like being a faberge egg maker. and i just really like to make stuff. i like to make stuff-- >> and you like to make a lot of it. >> yeah... >> can you talk a little bit about your technique and about your process? >> oh man. when i'm in the field, i have a
sketch book and i always draw. i love to draw in the field. and it's so good for building a rapport with people because a lot of times, like, camera gear's really alienating. you know, you have a big metal object in front of your face. could be used as proof against someone. whereas when you have a sketch book, it's like you're doing a little trick. people can look at you. they can tell you if you're doing bad. so i will sketch a lot in the field. and then when i get home, i take my sketches and i take my really bad iphone photos and i do usually watercolors. and i look at the sketch and i think, like, "what's gonna be the best plane? what's the best angle?" i never wanna draw from good photos because if i'm drawing from a good photo, it's like the photo has done all the art and what's the point of what i'm doing? and i often think about what's something that i can tell that photos can't? for instance, when i was in guantanamo, i was censored from drawing the faces of guards. and so, i would draw these, like, smiley faces with, like-- but with a blank line because i wanted to make it very explicit that i was being censored. >> how would you sort of like your voice to resonate in the
world today? >> i'm so terrible at answering questions like that. i feel like... >> i know it's sort of rhetorical. >> it's like - this is like my kryptonite here. i just wanna make things and then people can take them as they like them. but the one thing with my journalism is i always wanna show people that the world is way bigger and crueler and more beautiful and more complicated than they ever possibly could've imagined. i think if i had one sort of idea, it's the idea of that sort of muchless, that sort of largeness of the world. >> so you were an artist first. and today you're both, you're an artist and a journalist. how have you sort of melded these two worlds? >> one of my frustrations with art was always that artists were supposed to stay in our studios and be, like, these mute, little things that were just creating pretty objects and not thinking really about anything outside of our work. and i thought that was so boring. i wanted an art that was engaged in the world that was engaged in all the conflicts, all the beauty, all the horror, all of the interesting and terrible and wonderful things. and journalism allowed me to do that with my art. it's something that i'm so
grateful to for it. what i think my art brought to my journalism is that i didn't come to journalism with the sort of bias towards faux objectivity that you see a lot in the news. i deeply believe in having an extreme bias towards reality. but that's very different than pretending that you're an all seeing eye that has no internal bias towards yourself. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> comedy great richard lewis. >> i really am in love with the craft. >> turning an angst ridden and neurotic outlook... >> i have to unravel myself on stage as fearlessly as possible. >> into an award winning career...from hell. >> it's thrilling when it's working. >> i lived that character. >> go one-on-one with america's movers and shakers. >> we will be able to see change.
this is al jazeera welcome. you're watching the news hour in doha. 60 minutes of news and comment. today another setback for syria. the opposition says the death of a powerful rebel leader could undermine talks with the government. more than 100 homes are destroyed by bushfires in australia and it is still dangerous. inundated with flood waters, more than 100,000 people in south america have had to leave their homes. desperate to chase the american dream, but now there