“I’m still shocked, but if anything, this is indicative of the times we’re in right now,” Illma Gore tells The Creators Project.
This article contains adult content.
Since creating a less-than-flattering portrait of presidential candidate Donald Trump earlier this year, 24-year-old LA-based artist Illma Gore's name has become synonymous with the many issues facing artists and women on the internet today. Over the weekend, stalking and physical harassment piled onto the list, as Gore reports on Instagram that a Trump supporter punched her in the face shortly following her return from showing the nude portrait, entitled Make America Great Again, at Maddox Gallery in London. Apparently, this is now something artists have to think about: make art about Donald Trump, risk retaliation by a fanbase the Republican frontrunner has directly encouraged to be violent.
“I’m still shocked, but if anything, this is indicative of the times we’re in right now,” Gore tells The Creators Project. Her voice is steady, but she's too smart to not be scared. She sees the attack as part of the artwork, albeit a psychological measure no artist should have to take. Calmly, she recounts the events of Friday, April 29:
Just after noon, Gore says she was walking down a side street used primarily by locals when La Cienega Boulevard is backed up. “A car drives past. I believe all of them were men. They were yelling, ‘Feminist bitch! Trump 2016!’ And I just ignored it,” Gore recounts. With the barrage of nasty comments and threats she’s received since painting Make America Great Again, this is less a choice than a survival mechanism. “They pulled over a couple of cars in front of me and I decided to ignore them. I texted my girlfriend at the time to let her know what was happening, but as I walked past I ignored them because they’re just a bunch of 25-year-old idiots, right? Then a man jumped out of the back passenger side door, hit me in the face and yelled, ‘Trump 2016, bitch!’ Then he got back in the car and drove off laughing.”
At the time, Illma didn’t know that a protest had ignited nearby around a Trump rally at the county fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, which she now suspect could have incited her attackers—not that that's any excuse for mobs of angry men to go around punching anyone. People had recognized Gore before, both belligerent Trump supporters and her fans, because of her distinctive tattoos. This situation didn’t seem any different, until it was too late. “I don’t know whether it’s some crazy person who has my address, someone who lives near me that happened to notice me, or whether it was a random act, but it’s just so crazy to be so close to my house and encounter such casual violence,” she says.
Gore says she immediately went home and locked the door, keeping her girlfriend on the phone in case the attackers returned. A few friends arrived shortly, helping her file an incident report with the LAPD, searching for street cameras and witnesses that could help track down the black Honda Civic she remembers carrying her assailant away.
“I had to think about posting about it online, because I knew people would question it instantly,” Gore says. “But it was more important to tell people that this stuff actually happens. It says a lot to the art world.” Fighting an instinct to be embarrassed, she posted her account of events to Facebook and Instagram alongside an image of her bruised face, and was unsuprisingly greeted with an immediate onslaught of more abuse.
“It’s almost become another part of this whole art piece,” Gore says. “This was a way for me to create a reaction from people that shows where we are when it comes to gender, and it was exactly where I thought we might be. There was a guy who said my artwork was being disrespectful, so I deserved being punched in the face and having people laugh at you. What world are you living in when you think that’s ok? Not that it’s a game of tallying up, but Donald Trump is actually racist and encourages violence. How is that not disrespectful to the whole world?”
Make America Great Again’s great irony is that it was never intended as a personal attack on Trump. From the neck down, in fact, the painting is of a man whom Gore loves and respects deeply, who happens to have a micropenis. “If you look back at Renaissance paintings—not that I’m anywhere near as good as them—a lot of the penises are actually the same size,” Gore explains. Adding Trump’s head is a statement that our sexual organs have little to do with who we actually are. “You can be a massive prick, despite what is in your pants,” she quips.
“Trump creates an instant emotion in people, in America especially. You see his face and you instantly relate it to something. You instantly hate him or you’re one of his supporters. That’s the reason that I chose his face. And he cares so much about his physical image and the way that he’s perceived. I knew he would actually care about something like this, and that if anyone was going to say something about it, it would be him. If I did Hillary or Bernie, or even Ted Cruz, I think they’d ignore it.” This theory will soon be tested, as Gore has a Cruz-themed artwork on the way. She continues to poke and prod political entities, investigating the effect art can have on politics, and vice-versa.
Compounding Gore’s concerns about the attack, she’s worried the very platforms that made her famous could have provided her information to her attackers. Her work made headlines when Facebook removed Gore's page under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act after an anonymous third party claimed she was infringing on their intellectual property. To contest this claim, Gore had to supply her address and contact information, and shortly after she reports that receiving threats of legal action, including a cease and desist order that claimed to be from Trump’s lawyers. She has not received any official paperwork from Trump’s legal team.
Despite repeated attempts to obtain the identity of whoever issued the DMCA takedown—a right granted in Facebook’s terms and conditions—the social media behemoth has not yet provided the information, sending no response since asking Gore for “additional details." The Creators Project has reached out to Facebook for a comment, but at the time of publication, is still awaiting a response. [Update: Facebook has responded that, based on the information they have at this point, no information was shared with anyone in this case.]
Regardless of how her assailants found her, Gore says that, despite the undeniable fact that in a decent world she wouldn't have to fear for her safety because a particular group disagreed with her artwork, she's still getting the hell out of dodge. “I’m not staying in the same place for a while, probably until after any more press comes out about this piece, just in case, because this was so close to my house.” I asked Gore if she could go back and stop herself from painting Make America Great Again, if she could avoid all the harassment and now assault. Without missing a beat she says, “Never regret. You only live once… YOLO Trump penis YOLO!”