The Girl – Kings by Samantha Conlon

Samantha Conlon is an Irish multidisciplinary artist working on projects concerning class & gender struggles. She is currently based in Helsinki, Finland. She is the founder and curator of Bunny Collective, a feminist collective and magazine collaborating on exhibitions and publications. 

KB: Does being Irish have an influence on your work? 

Samantha: Yes, I think also coming from a very small working class town in the Midlands has gave me a comfortable relationship with ideas of collaboration and community, all my work seems to come back around to my hometown, my family. I think in my earlier work I was heavily influenced by the online feminist scene which was very much into talking about all things digital, how internet was influencing young female artists, how the body engages with digital space etc, I was definitely influenced by a sort of American centered aesthetic but in the past three years I’ve really enjoyed going back to my hometown and being inspired by everything I’ve grown up around, I see the estates I photograph in as very beautiful places.

KB: Your work is very girl oriented, particularly young girls. Why do you feel it is so important to address and represent young girls in the way that you do? 

Samantha: I think representation is so important to humans, I didn’t think I could be an artist even though I had drawn, painted, photographed all my life, it was only when I met a group of artists when I left home and I saw art was very different from what they thought me in school; I didn’t have to be an amazing painter, or even be able to draw, suddenly I realized I could go down that route. I’ve grown up in a very female family, I am very close to my sisters, mother and nieces – so I’ve always felt responsible for how my nieces or little sisters feel about themselves. I liked casting my family in my projects for that reason, I got to create a portrait of them as I see them; strong, multifaceted, resilient, and also show the beauty of the relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to have with all of them. My nieces faces always light up when I show them a huge print I’ve made of their portrait or an interview they’ve been featured in. I’m hoping I can show them you can do anything you want, no matter what situation you come from, whether you’re working class, a girl, whatever, if you want it you can push for it.

KB: How do you come up with a project? What is your working process from developing an idea to actually coming to the point of completing in and moving on?

Samantha: I can’t really say how I come up with projects, but I sort of start seeing something in everything, when I was starting Girl As Weapon I just couldn’t stop thinking about kids toys and how they were gendered, suddenly ads on tv and in magazines were the most interesting things, I was obsessing over it sort of so I just decided to take some photos of the toys, make clothes, photograph my nieces in their rooms etc until I felt resolved of the obsession. I don’t know if it’s the best way of working but I sort of feel it inside when i’m done with a topic, my interest starts to wane and I see something else in everything. At the moment I am seeing swords, crowns, angel wings and halos.

KB: I was particularly fascinated by Girl Kings. How did you come up with this theme? When I look at these pictures I just wanna know so much more about this piece of work!

Samantha: I went on a trip to Poitiers in France a few years ago and stood in a room where Joan of Arc had been and it was the first time I felt a real excitement and connection to history, before when I had gone on trips and visited historical sites I always felt so far removed from those experiences, I couldn’t connect. But the story of Joan of Arc, a poor 16 year old girl from a small village walking across the country to lead France to victory with only a prophecy. I think that is such magic, it sounds like a fairytale, the fact it is true is extraordinary. I started to make drawings and sculptures about her and then thought about posing girls from my hometown as her, this seemed too narrow so the ideal of a Girl-King was born. Joan of Arc has that sort of energy too, like a neutral energy that isn’t fully girl or fully boy, like it doesn’t occur to her that she could have limitations for being either. I want to charge these girls with the energies of saints and warriors before them, perhaps in an attempt to stop the story before the tragedy, maybe these new Girl-Kings will face a better fate with the era they’re growing up in and how now there are more conversations about gender conditioning and the damages it does to mental health later in life.

KB: What will you be working on next?

Samantha: I’m still working on Girl-Kings, but I’ve just moved to Helsinki so I’m hoping to get to know the community here and perhaps get inspired by the rich history of folklore of Finland, maybe add some of it to the Girl-Kings story.