Women Who Work?

Posted by on Mar 24, 2017 in Art History, Behind the Artwork, Essays | No Comments

While working on my most recent painting, the news has been appropriately filled with updates on the subject. We finally have a woman in the White House. Ivanka Trump has an office and access to classified information, though she is not technically serving as a government employee. She will be offering her father, Donald Trump, an independent perspective to counter the White House staff’s increased isolation from “mainstream” media and other critics. A calming force to Donald’s frenetic and reactive whirlwinds, Ivanka often counsels her father with, “I don’t know if this is good for business.” With her own campaign to promote “Women Who Work” through her branding business, Ivanka has made maternity leave and childcare her focus as the First Daughter. Launched in 2014, the effort appears little more than an ad campaign for Ivanka Trump products, including shoes, handbags, jewelry, cosmetics, perfume and clothing. Not only does Ivanka’s website offer links to purchase products, but also words of wisdom. Many have asked,”Will Ivanka not violate anti-nepotism laws by serving as her father’s presidential advisor?” or “Will Ivanka behave ethically while in office?” A more important question is, “Who’s Going to Stop Her?”

Comparing Ivanka Trump to Marie Antoinette is common. The constant photos of her in glamorous outfits preparing to leave for a state affair beg for the parallel. Recently posed in a shimmering silver dress, critics called her tone deaf for sharing this image on the heals of her father’s ban on muslims from seven nations entering the United States. It was poor timing to wear a $4,500 silver dress made from fabric visually similar to heat retaining blankets. Syrian refugees are often given this protection when rescued in the water. Members of the First Family are allowed to continue their lives, but members of that family who choose to work in the White House, are held accountable for the smallest choices they make. Everyone is watching and wanting Ivanka to set an example that contrasts with her father’s reckless behavior.

Women Who Work? Acrylic on Panel, by Nancy Polo, 2017

My painting, Women Who Work? is a view of Ivanka at her vanity table. It’s a tightly packed composition that includes several figures (L to R): Ivana Trump (Ivanka’s mother), Arabella Kushner (Ivanka’s daughter), Ivanka from behind seated at her golden stool, Ivanka in the mirror with a Miss Universe crown, Marie Antoinette behind her, and last, but not least, Bunny dressed as the famous painter Èlisabeth Vigée Le Brun. In the tradition of Vanitas paintings, Ivanka is contemplating herself. Symbols of her family’s success surround her: her father’s inaugural cake, a poster for Women Who Work, several bottles of cosmetics, gold furniture and an ermine trimmed satin robe. Less obvious symbols of the fleeting nature of life are the skeletons hidden in plain sight, the bee, the butterfly and the flowers. Before unpacking this carefully constructed painting, it is important to understand a little more about its complicated subject. What are Ivanka’s motives for entering the White House in an official capacity? Is she a new brand of Millenial Feminism? Does she really want to help American women, children or anyone other than her family?

Ivanka is an ambitious, but careful woman. She has consciously crafted her words and image since the harsh spotlight of her parents messy divorce fell on her at the age of nine. Always a dutiful daughter, she mentions her family constantly– giving praise to both parents for their beauty, wit, strength and business acumen. Photos of her childhood on Instagram are often posted to highlight strategic shifts in her life. When packing for her move to Washington DC in January, Ivanka posted a photo of herself hugging her mother Ivana. In a demure, pale pink dress, a young Ivanka is encircled by her long-legged, blond mother. In contrast to her daughter, Ivana’s ornate, sequined, strapless mini-dress is anything but demure. If the caption did not read “How amazing is this picture of me and my mom?!”, it would be easy to mistake this for a young fan photo from the back stage of a Rockettes’ show.

Ivanka and her father Donald at Mar A Lago, 1996.

Another famous photo from Ivanka’s childhood will probably never appear on her Instagram account. It’s a poorly choreographed moment. A fifteen-year old Ivanka in a short blue skirt and satin floral tank top is perched on her father’s lap. They appear to be sitting on a statue of two mating parrots. Ivanka is gazing adoringly at her dad with a hand under his chin. The statue is actually of three birds standing close together. Regardless of the “facts” of the scene, the photo is an awkward moment from an awkward time in life. Many girls look up to their fathers in early adolescence. As the child of divorce, it is likely that Ivanka was savoring a rare moment of attention in her busy parents’ lives. In article after article, it is clearly stated that Donald and Ivana were focused on building and maintaining their real estate empire throughout Ivanka and her brothers’ childhood. Nannies and maternal grandparents, were largely responsible for the daily care of Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric.

Virgin and Child with St. Anne, oil on panel, 1510 by Leonardo DaVinci.

Regardless of the truth behind Ivanka’s move into the White House, understanding what may come of it requires looking at the complex psychology of her family. The display of three generations at once in a painting can suggest shifts in time, fated connections between parents and children, as well as strained familial ties. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with St. Anne is a famous example of this. The arrangement of figures is unique. A grown Mary is seated on the lap of her mother who is necessarily much larger, but no less youthful. She reaches for the infant Jesus who is reaching toward a lamb. Loss and sacrifice are foretold in the extended arms of each parent to child. The final reach between Jesus and the sheep suggests his eventual martyrdom.

In Women Who Work? an older Ivana Trump stands in the left foreground with a protective arm around her grand-daughter Arabella Kushner. The girl is not engaged with her grandmother; rather she is focused on her iPad that displays an image of herself as a leopard. Animal filter/distortion apps are a common distraction for children and adults. Ivanka has a picture of herself with her half-sister Tiffany on her Twitter & Instagram feeds. The two Sistas! appear as cocker spaniel humanoids with puckered lips just days before their father was elected. The filter on Arabella in Women Who Work? was combined with a photograph taken on Election Day 2016. In the original photo, a reluctant and shy Arabella looks up at the camera, while her mother confidently stands behind her with hands on her daughter’s shoulders. In contrast, Ivana’s eyes inWomen Who Work? are sad and stunned.

Ivanka & Arabella at the Polls, 2016.

Ivanka persistently puts forth optimistic, vaguely progressive images and ideas about her convictions. Her mother, on the other hand, is not in the political spotlight. Much of the attention on Ivana relates to her experiences as the ex-wife of Donald Trump. In light of recent rape allegations against her former husband, the abusive nature of their marriage has resurfaced in investigative articles. Although Ivana originally stated under oath that Donald raped her in 1989, she retracted it after the divorce, claiming “that she did not mean the word ‘rape’ in a ‘literal or criminal’ sense.” In many high profile cases where victims receive substantial payment or settlements, negative statements are retracted as a requirement for the money received. Regardless of her daughter’s optimism, it must be challenging for the former Mrs. Trump to forget the difficulties in her marriage to Ivanka’s father and Arabella’s grandfather. In Women Who Work? Ivanka is not focused on her daughter or her mother. Her back is turned with her face toward the imagined reflection of herself crowned as Miss Universe. It is unclear what her emotions might be, as she sits in a cream colored, curve hugging slip. Ivanka’s silence concerning many of her father’s more drastic actions that go against her progressive claims is equalling perplexing.

An extensive look at how Ivanka talks about remaining close to her father and following in his foot steps in business, reveals a surprising amount of caution. In her autobiography, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, Ivanka shares a story about her dad and step-mother Marla Maples. Ivanka and Donald were waiting in a plane for Marla, who was late. Rather than ask the pilot to wait for his wife, Donald allowed the plane to take off, leaving Marla in alarm on the tarmac. When Ivanka suggested her father’s response was exaggerated, “No, Ivanka,” he replied. “You have to be on time.” Rather than see this as cruel and controlling, Ivanka “saw a valuable life lesson from a man she spends the rest of the book praising as a visionary.” Later in the book Marla and Donald’s fifteen-year-old daughter Tiffany approaches Ivanka for advice in asking her father for a credit card to help finance her life in high school. She is understandably nervous about asking a father whom she does not live with to support her financially so that she can fit in with her wealthy peers. Ivanka does her younger sister a favor by secretly suggesting that their father give her a credit card with a limited amount of cash on it as a Christmas gift. Perhaps her memory of Donald’s lesson on punctuality, prompted her to act on Tiffany’s behalf. In other stories shared, it is clear that Donald was focused on business rather than being a father. His children were taught to be frugal, according to Ivanka, and not take Donald for granted. Her mother Ivana had to struggle to ensure $300,000 in child support. A hefty sum, no doubt, but money does not stretch far in the world of the rich and famous.

With claims that she is pro-choice, an advocate for women, and concerned about the environment, how will Ivanka reconcile her role as advisor to her father Donald Trump? On March 16, 2017 she met with a group of Latina business owners at a private event in D.C. Photos of the meeting were shared on Ivanka’s social media streams. Lili Gil Valletta, a Columbian American entrepreneur, World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a weekly TV contributor to various networks like Fox News, Fox Business, CNN en Español, among others, wrote an article about the event for the Huffington Post. She claims that Ivanka was eager to discuss ideas to bring forward in her efforts to advocate for women within her father’s administration. In contrast to Valletta’s article, Jamie Feldman wrote another article about Ivanka for the Huffington Post on March 13, 2017. According to the budget & body friendly fashion & lifestyle editor, “as President Donald Trump promised to create jobs by following ‘two simple rules: Buy American and hire American’ in his January inauguration speech… more than 53.5 metric tons of Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, bags, and clothes were sailing to American ports in eight shipments” from China. Two very different women are sharing opposing views of Ivanka on the same news source.

Where do we look for the truth about Ivanka? She has created a name for herself as a tough negotiator with elegance and grace as her main tools. She has written an autobiography, and her new book, Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success is due to arrive in May. She has also been implicated in a recent scandal concerning an abandoned hotel constructed in Azerbaijan. Described as Trump’s “Worst Deal”, the hotel appears to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Constructed in the rough part of town, away from the central, high-rent district, the plan makes no sense. As the most senior advisor from the Trump organization, Ivanka traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan to approve everything from landscaping to rare wood paneling for the hotel’s ballroom. Even if she was ignorant of the level of corruption behind this project, how could her involvement endorse her prescription for success? The hotel appears to be a sham front for money laundering in an obviously poorly chosen location. In a video Ivanka released on Instagram, she urges her followers to check out her view, which included none of the “decaying Soviet-era apartment blocks, with clothes hanging out of windows and wallboards exposed by fallen brickwork” that actually surrounds the Trump hotel.

As we watch Ivanka follow behind her father in business and politics, what is the best we can hope? Sarah Finnie Robinson, a blog writer for Mom’s Clean Air Force, pitched a crazy thought in November, 2016. In her naively optimistic article on which woman nearest Trump to approach, she thinks Ivanka’s the best bet. “Ivanka strikes me as a smart woman. I feel sure she’d get it. Not only that, she’s influential. Why wouldn’t she speak up to her father, and others, once she grasps the urgency we all know is essential. Then, maybe, just maybe, we could all avoid the gruesome delays that have us collectively wincing in anticipation of every news cycle.” Four months later, I’m questioning the logic of Ms. Robinson’s hopeful post. If Ivanka is committed to progressive change, then she has to come forward and be more vocal about the issues she claims to support: equal pay, maternity leave, child-care, climate change and much more. Will she risk the disapproval of a beloved, if morally questionable, father? Will she stand up to the Republican Party of No that got him elected? Will she have a voice? What do you think?

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