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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Politics aside, the vacuuming Ivanka Trump is a distasteful, sexist parody

Inviting strangers to throw rubbish at a woman, regardless of her job, her beliefs or her family, just doesn't feel like the message a post-#MeToo world should place on a (pink carpeted) podium

Ivanka Trump spoke out against the exhibit on her Twitter account. Bloomberg
Ivanka Trump spoke out against the exhibit on her Twitter account. Bloomberg

With her immaculate wardrobe and perfectly coiffed hair, she bears more than a passing resemblance to the United States' first daughter.

However, this is "Ivanka Trump" as you've never seen her before - hoovering.

The 37-year-old adviser to US President Donald Trump (aka her father) is the subject of a new art exhibit at Washington DC's Flashpoint Gallery, where a lookalike of the former model can be found relentlessly vacuuming a patch of carpet, as bystanders are encouraged to throw breadcrumbs at her feet.

The performance piece is the work of conceptual New York artist Jennifer Rubell, with the interactive display running at the US museum until February 17. A description of the artwork, placed next to the busy model, paints Trump as a "figure whose public persona incorporates an almost comically wide range of feminine identities – daughter, wife, mother, sister, model, working woman, blonde".

The piece invites visitors to chuck handfuls of stale bread at the doppelganger in a “surprisingly pleasurable” act, where a smiling Ivanka 2.0 will swiftly, and silently, clear the floor, for two hours every night.

The gallery does refer to Trump as a "contemporary feminine icon", detailing that the work questions the viewer's "relationship to that figure; and a questioning of our complicity in her role-playing".

I am not an art critic, nor a particularly ardent art appreciator, but the goading stunt doesn't sit quite right, in my humble, philistinic opinion. Trump is not perfect - from the thoughtless tweets of her family life as children were being forcibly removed from their parents at the Mexico-US border, to her continuous misuse of a White House email - but no one is.

“Here is what’s complicated: we enjoy throwing the crumbs for Ivanka to vacuum. That is the icky truth at the centre of the work. It’s funny, it’s pleasurable, it makes us feel powerful, and we want to do it more,” said Rubell of the piece. “Also, we know she’ll keep vacuuming whether we do it or not, so it’s not really our fault, right?”

The performance is clearly intended to provocate, to stir discussion - but should it be at the expense of a human being's feelings? The controversial display even elicited a response from Ivanka herself, who shared a link to an article by The Hill on Twitter. "Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up," wrote the president's eldest daughter. "I choose the latter."

The 17-day exhibition reduces Ivanka to a mute, high-heel-clad deckhand, unable to respond

Sure, there are clear, figurative correlations between the model's actions and those of Trump, with the first daughter frequently left to clean up the messes of her Twitter-happy father. And yes, she does so while looking very put-together - but is that rare? Wouldn't many of us want to slap on a bit of make-up and get a blow-dry before facing the US capital's cameras?

Whatever your feelings on President Trump and his immediate family, it's one thing throwing away a snide comment in the office kitchen, or a sarcastic Tweet behind an anonymous handle. It's another thing to create a 17-day exhibition that reduces Ivanka to a mute, high-heel-clad deckhand, unable to respond.

After all, it was the gallery itself that highlighted and pointed out Trump's "powerful and sexualised female form", a seemingly unnecessary comment on the adviser's outward appearance, as well as making "blonde" one of her defining feminine identities.

Of course, her role necessitates a certain level of scrutiny - as it rightly should - but inviting strangers to throw rubbish at a woman - one figurative and one literal - regardless of her job, her beliefs, her family, just doesn't feel like the kind of message a post-#MeToo world should place on a (pink carpeted) podium.

Updated: February 10, 2019 04:18 PM

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