Heather Benjamin’s work has been exciting and unsettling viewers for ten years and counting. Having spent years with her practice firmly rooted in DIY zine and comics culture, Benjamin’s drawings of ultra femmes covered in blood, bugs, lipstick, and leg hair have typically been made with the intent of mass reproduction, through photocopying and screen printing. With her new work, Benjamin moves in an a more expansive direction, creating pieces whose primary motivations are not exclusively to be reproduced and reprinted as their final form, but are instead made to be viewed as singular and precious objects. For the artist, this new intention opens up infinite possibilities to experiment with scale, color, and medium, in ways she had not yet attempted.
Cavegirl Monologue is Benjamin’s most substantial collection to date and the works range from the most minuscule of talismans to larger than life representations of female creatures. Much of the art in this collection is new and unreleased, but it also contains a selection from her artist’s books and foldout zines, including the recent Romantic Story collection that was wildly popular and is now out of print. It also contains paintings from her 2017 debut solo exhibition at Dress Shop in Brooklyn. The images compiled here are intended to be displayed together, all falling under the umbrella of her most recent work but also providing an integral passage in the cavegirl’s monologue.
“Because of my roots in DIY zine and comics culture, visual narratives are important to me, though I tend to pursue them in less traditional and more non-linear ways,” Benjamin explains. “I’m interested in the stories that form within a singular image as well as in how the images relate to each other through shared use of iconography and theme.”
The subjects of her recent art are a logical continuation of the larger narrative of Benjamin’s body of work: She works to excavate the female human experience as she knows it. Benjamin muses on intimacy, sexuality, self-perception, body dysmorphia, and trauma through her avatars. Her work is diaristic, approaching her subjects through the lens of her own personal experience; each piece can easily feel like a self-portrait. Her women are simultaneously self-assured and crumbled, standing defiantly on their own two hairy legs, yet seeking the shoulder of an empathetic viewer to cry on. Benjamin uses her art to sort through her own trauma and self-analysis, and seeks to give faces, bodies, and narratives to the different facets of her own womanhood. Through that excavation, she reaches for more universal ideas and truths about the relationships people have to each other and to themselves, hoping to guide herself through the abjections and frustrations of her womanhood toward a greater sense of self-acceptance and actualization.
The book contains a foreword by Reba Maybury of Wet Satin Press.