Andre Veloux is a British artist who currently resides in Princeton, NJ, with his wife and daughter. His artistic work, created entirely from LEGO™, focuses and draws upon feminism, gender equality, and women’s rights. Veloux’s work continually explores how women are viewed and treated, as well as the expectations and demands that are relentlessly placed upon women in their daily lives. Near the tail end of his latest show at the Krause Gallery in New York City, I was able to interview him about his work, his motivations, and about our collective future together as men and women in this society.
JMA: What would you say inspires you?
AV: On the macro level, my inspiration comes from a desire to make a change. As humans, we have such a big responsibility to be respectful and understanding of each other. I believe in many change initiatives, but the one that speaks to me most intimately is feminism. It is people who inspire me. I meet so many inspiring women and some men fighting for the same thing: leaders of agencies, feminist artists, gallery owners, media people, and those who organize and campaign. Their drive and passion help feed my own. I admire them, and I love my work for allowing me to engage in my own way, using the skills that I can offer.
JMA: How would you personally describe your work, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
AV: My work is a multi-dimensional assault on gendered bias and violence against women.
The feminist icon portraits speak for themselves, such powerful women and role models. In contrast, the ‘Mask of Femininity’ portraits comment on the constant demands that women endure to continually rebuild and renew how they present themselves to gain approval in society. The mask which unlocks acceptance to a world controlled and codified by men.
My ‘Freedom Without Judgment’ artworks say firstly that a woman can wear whatever she wants, and secondly, that feminism includes freedom without judgment. They depict women’s clothing and appearance and defend the right of women to present themselves freely without fearing judgment, intervention, or harassment from others.
My ‘Anti-Portraits’ reference that women are seen as the bearer of sexuality, even though there is no need to interpret the pure female form along these lines.
I’ve more recently built upon these themes with the alternative aesthetic of my ‘Enthusiastic Consent‘ series. In these works, the figures are simultaneously gendered and genderless and reveal in many of us the need to identify gender in what we see. Can we accept everyone for who they identify as, be that male, female, or non-binary?
I hope to raise essential questions on gender and related issues when the viewer sees my work and from that be a small part of the collective push for change, which means women and female-identifying people of all races and color can be accepted equally.
JMA: What does the word feminism mean to you, and can you point to a specific moment in your life when you began to consider yourself a feminist?
AV: It’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment. I went to an all-boys’ school in the UK. My parents thought it would be good for me, but what I encountered was rampant bullying, violence, misogyny, homophobia, and more, it was the classic environment of toxic masculinity. I was by any standards a feminist by the time my daughter was born. I gave up my job to become a stay-at-home parent, as my partner had the beginnings of a successful career. It never crossed my mind to question this decision, because this was the best solution for us as a family. As my art career took hold, I was able to become a more vocal exponent of women’s rights.
Feminism means recognizing the systematic bias against women, which in an intersectional and global way, means standing against violence against women in all countries. By that, I mean domestic violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, slavery alongside the myriad of small and large examples of discrimination that women face on a constant basis.
JMA: Why do you think more men don’t support the goals of feminism, and why do you think they should?
AV: Put very simply, I do not believe men, in general, think the goals of feminism are their problem, and secondly, they don’t see what is in it for them. It’s hard to give up the power that they are accustomed to, and I don’t know that men have really tried to imagine what it would look like if we truly re-balanced that power. There are very, very few cues available for them to contemplate an alternative world view, the media is controlled by men, which role models can they look to? If they could envision a new power dynamic that represents shared power for all of our society, it just might allow them to step away from the norms of masculinity, the stereotypes that teach men, or allow men to express themselves through anger and violence. They may experience joy and freedom from having permission to cry when emotional, show expression, even praise one another and communicate, etc. They may thrive from being able to enjoy relationships with women that are not tagged with sexuality, role-division, or emphasis of gender difference. There’s no freedom in following conventionally defined gender roles.
JMA: What does the phrase “gender equality” mean to you, and why do you think everyone should support it?
AV: Would gender equality be the result of successful feminism? Does gender equality mean men allowing women a seat at the table? What use is a seat at the table unless what follows is the power associated with it? That would mean at least half the seats at the table, along with half the senior leadership roles in all places in society; business, banking, industry, the judiciary, elected officials, and influencers of any kind, everywhere. If you want the strength of the diversity of opinion that will benefit us all, you should support gender equality.
JMA: How did you come to decide to use LEGO™ as your artistic medium? What do you think the use of LEGO™ significance is with the subject matter of your art?
AV: I was first attracted to my chosen medium of LEGO™ because of its limited yet consistent color palette as well as its physical properties. It is hard, durable, and tactile, and can be taken apart and reconstructed as needed. The ability to build layers and structure into wall hanging works was a natural progression. I then developed a methodology that doesn’t have paint strokes or lines. Instead, my work uses pixelation and blurring effects to present the images in a less defined way.
I find that my audience is also fascinated by LEGO™ as an artistic medium. The use of these small, plastic bricks that many people have lying around their homes resonates with them.
Artistically, I enjoy the changeability of my artworks. Whatever I’m depicting objects, figurative art, or portraits, I can take them apart and rebuild, just as we create and model icons, objects, and especially our own image in our ever-changing society. The plasticity of the bricks seems appropriate to the modern world. The standard dimensions of the bricks are perfect for pixelation. In my ‘Consent’ themed artworks, I use a blurring technique to deliberately avoid being definitive. I’m not presuming to answer my own question. I want the viewer to form their own opinion about what they see and think. I believe that presenting my work without comment is the best way to see if this leads the viewer to make judgments that are their own. They find the image they see by reflex, but as they linger, they may begin to see more, see something different, see another possibility.
JMA: In what way do you think gender roles oppress women?
AV: The traditional role of women as the providers of service in their gender role is hugely oppressive. As I mentioned earlier, from domestic and sexual slavery to violence against women, every step of the way, the presumed gender role for women is the servant serving under punishment of violence. The power and control lie with men, and the roles are designed to reinforce this. The gift of women to birth our future generations has been used as a tool with which to enslave them.
JMA: How do you come to support the HeForShe organization, and how important do you think its work is?
AV: I was very excited when the UN started HeForShe. I think it was a pivotal moment. It certainly helped me think of feminism in a more global and intersectional way. Women needing primary healthcare and reproductive rights in Africa are just as important as women fighting for senior roles in the US. The HeForShe movement had the specific and essential goal of bringing men into the conversation, in a role to support women rather than leading the conversation. No-one needs to listen to another panel of white men discussing diversity. HeForShe enlisted an impressively influential and diverse number of ‘male global champions’ who made concrete commitments to equalizing social, economic, and political opportunities for women and girls in their companies and communities and be held accountable against those commitments. This goes beyond just claiming to be an advocate; this is walking the walk.
JMA: How do you hope men view your work, and how do you hope women see your work?
AV: I hope both men and women see my work the same. But, usually, they don’t! I hope that my audience sees strong women, women with self-belief, with autonomy, comfortable with their bodies, and comfortable with their role in the world as fully contributing members of our society.
Viewers of art bring with them all kinds of preconceived ideas into what they see. These ideas are about both what is depicted and what the artist intended and even what the artist believes.
For example, as I mentioned, my series of ‘anti-portrait’ pieces are aiming to highlight that women are seen as the bearer of sexuality: the female figures are depicted showing their backs, emphasizing their vulnerability. This position facilitates the voyeur’s objectification and sexualization of the model. Quoting Laura Mulvey, who summed it up succinctly as “woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” in her seminal essay “Visual and Other Pleasures” I want my modern-day audience to study the image for cues that justify this treatment. If the viewer sees this, then why is that? Instead, women can be seen as strong and independent human beings if the viewer is so inclined.
JMA: What is one thing that gives you hope for our collective future?
AV: Men have ruled and dominated every aspect of our lives since the beginning, and things have not worked out nearly as well as we would have liked. I think we are due a change of leadership at the top.
JMA: You once said that “Art should be at the forefront of change in society; at its best, it raises important questions and becomes part of the process of change.” How do you feel your art follows this maxim?
AV: I do want my artworks to create a dialogue. I believe I have gone some way to achieving that, as I have mentioned already about how people see it.
Building relationships, showing art in galleries, and in public spaces, and by being transparent with my artistic statement, is one way I have looked to achieve this. Moving further into the process of change, now my live art workshops provide the opportunity to engage directly in discussion and challenge perceptions of gender and equality.
I recently produced and delivered an event where other people get joy from building and creating one of my artworks. I worked in partnership with Princeton University in early 2019 to develop for them an artwork on the ‘question’ of sexual consent. We orchestrated everything so that the students could build the artwork themselves in a single day. Working in pairs, students were asked to practice consent between them as they worked. We filmed the event, including a time-lapse and later interviewed the participants. I am looking to roll this out to other institutions using this ‘Consent’ dialogue as well with corporate partners with works to discuss issues of diversity.
JMA: In this current era of Trump here in America, why do you think it is so vital for men to speak out about women’s issues?
AV: When the President of this country is a known sexual predator, with a litany of misogynist acts, and attitudes to his name, when the election of that man lays bare the systemic misogyny of a developed country which purports to have a functioning democracy, I think every man should wake up and say this isn’t working for everyone.
I attended an event where Tony Porter of the organization A Call to Men said to the assembled audience in relation to what he called an epidemic of violence against women, “if women could stop this on their own, they would have done so by now.” While we are clearly unable to give women the power to stop this, then it is up to every man to stand up, join with them and say this has to stop.