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Meet Katherine Cooksey

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katherine Cooksey.

Katherine, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was diagnosed with incurable eye disease at the age of ten and have struggled with my vision ever since. As my vision started to deteriorate, my father decided to teach me how to paint since we didn’t know how long my sight would last. Unfortunately, my 8th-grade art teacher told me, “You can’t be an artist if you can’t see” which being at a venerable age I gave up art for years until my late teens when I discovered adults can be wrong.

The rejection and prejudices that arose from the academic environment led me to seek out other means of fulfillment. This came in the form of beauty pageants and modeling. Over the years, I have won titles including Miss Teen Hawaiian Tropic, Miss Bakersfield, first runner up for Miss California International, Miss California Global Nations, Miss Global Nations, Miss New York World and top 25 at the Miss World America pageant. Success in pageantry proved to be both my salvation as well as a burden. I have always naturally gravitated to the ultra-feminine so pageantry was a wonderful outlet. However, there is a darker side that comes with competition and the harsh self-judgment you absorb to embrace just to shred a few more pounds.

While attending Pratt Institute’s Masters of Fine Art program I created feminist artwork and kept the pageantry side of me separate. However, one professor said, “a pageant queen cannot be a feminist, you have to decide one or the other” but for me, I am both, stuck in the middle of this love/hate relationship. Wanting to take ownership of this realization and refusing to conform I decide to use these experiences to inform my art practice, which critiques the unrealistic display of the “perfected” physical form and the pressures to attain it. I am both an insider and outsider of mainstream “beauty” and feels the pull between both worlds.

To bring both perspectives together I claimed the Miss Art World title and uses the title to question the dominating ideologies of beauty fused with the disturbing and obsessive struggle to obtain it. Miss Art World retains her title until death. Age, unladylike behavior, bodily changes, pregnancy, marital status and health have no consequences on this title, unlike all other titles. Miss Art World is a lifelong performance piece that is voiced through a variety of artistic mediums. Miss Art World’s goal is to blend the feminine and feminist into one.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Of course, my eye-sight has always and will always be a huge struggle in a variety of different ways. I count myself lucky to have sight but having incurable low vision as an artist or even as a working professional is difficult. There may be a point when I will not be able to drive a car which as an independent woman is a hard pill to swallow. I have spent a lot of life feeling stupid. On the flip side, the struggles of being a female in a male-dominated world have made me advocate and fighter for gender equality.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I work in a variety of different art mediums but have become known for my performance art. With my performance work, I have performed all over the country including at Art Basel Miami and will be performing this February for the 2020 LA Art Show 25th anniversary with their DIVERSEartLA curatorial section. This past month I had my first solo exhibit featuring only performance art at Studio Channel Islands Art Center in Camarillo, the largest gallery space in Ventura County. My father taught me and my siblings how to mime and we performed for years in front of hundreds of people. Growing up as a mime and my pageant experience made performance art a very natural evolution.

The most well know performance piece I have is called “Personal Vacation”. For the performance, I bring my own living room couch into the gallery space. During the reception I arrive “made up” which, having been involved in pageantry, involves hours of time putting on hair extensions, fake eyelashes, five-inch heels, and an evening gown. In this space, I put on headphones so I can’t hear anyone and I do not interact with those around me. I take off my makeup, my extensions, dress, and heels; all are actions usually only done in privacy but doing it in public taps into the fear of the public seeing women without their “face”. I change into a onesie. My personal effects are placed randomly on the couch. In the pageant world, you would never let anyone see you not pageant ready even if you were working out. This created this huge fear of being in public with my face on. This performance forced myself to tackle this fear head-on and take ownership of my body.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My husband and I recently found out we a having a baby! This will be our first so we are excited and nervous. As a female artist, I am concerned about my career, it is common in the art world that women artists have a harder time getting exhibit opportunities once they become a mother. Lucky I have a husband that is very supportive of my art and knows how hard I have worked to make it this far. I am not worried I will stop making artwork because a true artist can never stop creating but I am anticipating my artwork’s concepts will shift into focusing more on motherhood.

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