By Samaria Bailey
Using the power of the pussy as the driving force of her brand These Pink Lips, artist and fashion designer Iris Bonner is painting her way to major runways, art shows, and Cardi B's back, concluding last year with her work seen everywhere from New York Fashion Week to Berlin.
A painter, Bonner draws startling explicit images—think: polka-dotted cartoonish women eating bananas while their breasts are exposed; impossibly thick pink lips opened slightly with a tongue hanging out; and pink-colored penises—on any surface: canvas, furniture, or clothes.
The messages are equally brazen.
A painting depicts a topless Marge character (of The Simpsons) holding a sign proclaiming "Girl F—king Power"; a sweatsuit and denim jacket declare "Pussy Power," t-shirts plead "War not Pussy," and thigh-high boots boast "Bigger Than Your Dick" while others request "Sex Me." And there are some tamer statements, oriented for women who want to affirm themselves and other women; these include the clever "Goaldigger" sweatshirts; "She's the Boss" capes; and "Ladies First" jumper.
As an outsider, Bonner's art obviously seems feminist and centered on women being sexually free, but in actuality it's more about individuality and an innate sense of empowerment. Bonner is not advocating for vaginas to have power, but sees it as her purpose to show the world that it is already the truth. And whereas she uses various media to produce such art, the clothing line ensures that the message is spread to as many eyes as possible in any particular setting.
"I don't think of myself as a feminist," said Bonner. "I hate different terms and labels. I feel like it's just me. That's what I'm painting because it's stuff I want to wear. [And] pussy is not a bad word, so I don't know why people get so up tight about it. I'll be wearing it and forget I have it on and people will be staring. My girlfriend, she wore it to the [Philadelphia] airport and they were acting real crazy, about to not let us on the flight. Some people turn their nose up, [but] who said that pussy was bad? You can call a cat 'pussy,' but as soon as you turn it into my vagina, it's bad. Even with my paintings, you can see a naked girl, [but] if you read some of the words behind it it's not just a naked girl. That's the good thing about art - you can take your own perspective from it, good or bad.”
Bonner's ideas resonate with different types of women and men. A perusing of patrons photographed wearing These Pink Lips reveal excited white mothers, style-conscious black women, white men, black men, Star Trek's Sonequa Martin-Green, Bulgarian pop singer Gery Nikol, drag queens, and not least of all former exotic dancer-turned-Love and Hip-Hop star Cardi B (above) and former exotic dancer-turned-entrepreneur Amber Rose (below).
Rose's and Blac Chyna's headlining looks for the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards—a catsuit and dress painted with the words "slut," "hoe," "bitch" and "stripper"—were designed by Bonner. Rose channeled the moment into an act of reclamation, stating on her Instagram page the night of the VMAs, "When u wearing your Instagram comments...Fall the f--k back haters.”
When u wearing ur Instagram comments Fall the fuck back haters pic.twitter.com/SPdZ98mW1f— Amber Rose (@DaRealAmberRose) August 31, 2015
Costume designer for Sex in the City Patricia Field sold These Pink Lips in her New York boutique before it closed and now sells the line on her online store. Last fall, she selected Bonner as one of a handful of designers to show for her ArtFashion show in New York Fashion Week, the Berlin Alternative Fashion Week and Art Basel Miami. In January, Field said she will be "exhibiting" [Bonner's] work this summer during Berlin Fashion Week.
"She communicates the women empowerment message in a very current way to a young audience, who definitely get it, as she is building up a following through art," said Field. "Iris' art form is unique and catches the eye of the younger female population." Field added that during Art Basel, she "experienced many of [Bonner's] fans coming to visit and see her work.”
Bonner described her showing at Basel, where millions are spent on art from around the world, as "amazing."
"I sold art and clothes. I sold so many pieces I had to go home and paint more to send to Miami. My rack went from being super full to almost empty. Black and white women, men and children, were all buying my clothes. That was the best feeling ever!"
Cardi B wears Bonner's designs for performances, music videos, editorial photo shoots and to special events, regularly shouting out Bonner on social media. Cardi could not be reached for this profile, but she regularly makes known her feelings about These Pink Lips on her Instagram page. "My favorite outfit ever," she captioned one photo taken at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors, for which she wore a fitted dress painted with breasts and a topless woman eating a banana, complemented with a matching jean jacket.
For her REVOLT Music Conference performance, Cardi wore These Pink Lips head to toe: a bodysuit painted with a face, shorts covered in the word "pussy" and thigh-high stiletto boots that demanded "Suck Off!" On Halloween, she was costumed as a prostitute and wore those same boots to complete her look.
Later, in November, she wore a fitted white dress with "Look, Don't Touch," painted in bold black paint from top to bottom and captioned "MADE BY @thesepinklips a dress that makes a STATEMENT."
Such moments have the effect of the wearer and These Pink Lips feeding off each other, giving each other power, as the art is presented by the wearer who, simultaneously, is expressing themselves that much more by wearing their beliefs on their body.
"It's cool because I like [Cardi]. She's crazy," said Bonner. "I'm like, 'These clothes are perfect for you.'" Bonner continued that when Cardi and others, like Rose, wear her pieces, it's always uplifting.
"I feel like we are helping each other because every time they wear my stuff, they are really supportive. [And] I like how they don't give a shit about what nobody thinks," she said. "That's how they got to where they are. If you walk around with 'pussy' on your shirt then you got to be like, 'Whatever.' A lot of stuff I do is because it will get a reaction out of people. That's how I like my work to be. I want you to look at it and be like, 'What the hell is that?”
Later this month, on March 25 in Philadelphia, Bonner will be holding These Pink Lips' 'Black Light District 2' show, described as "a collection of provocative and symbolic works...a penthouse fully decorated in Thesepinklips aesthetic with art/fashion live elements, installations, furniture, lamps and paintings [with] live art and body painted models all illuminated under dozens of black lights." Tickets are available here.