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Only the Finest of Fifis

May 20, 2017
4:00 pm—6:00 pm

Join us for an afternoon of real talk with artists Kenya (Robinson)—the first artist to participate in our pilot residency program—and Illya Szilak as they investigate the sexual experiences of incarcerated people in the U.S. prison system. Informed by materiality and institutional medicine, their project centers on sex objects—specifically fifis, also known as “fleshlights.” These homemade sex toys have featured surreptitiously in private homes and government institutions, serving both as therapeutic devices and vernacular assemblages.

From May 8 to 20 as part of our artist residency pilot program, NURTUREart’s gallery is converting into a studio workshop with a culminating public event. Focusing on risk-taking, creative mistakes, and experimentation, our adaptive space program supports the exploration of untapped ideas and the development of early-phase projects. The space then transforms into a public site, where audiences gain access to creative processes, ideas, and conversations.

(Robinson)’s residency will be a manufacturing site to create a collection of drawings, photographs, and sculptures that use the fifi as an artistic model. On May 20, she will lead an open dialogue—which invites audiences to explore the objects, learn about health and sexuality in prisons, and engage in conversation—with Szilak, an artist and practicing physician at Rikers Island.

This event contains adult material and is free and open to the public.


Kenya (Robinson) is a multimedia artist whose work includes performance, sculpture and installation. (Robinson)’s work depicts themes of privilege and consumerism, exploring perceptions of gender, race and ability. Combining a variety of audio-visual elements and live performance, her work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, The Kitchen, The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, and the 60 Wall Street Gallery of Deutsche Bank. (Robinson) has received residencies at Triangle Arts, Fountainhead, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She has lectured at Hampshire College, Long Island University, and the University of Florida.  She earned her MFA in sculpture from the School of Art at Yale University in 2013. (Robinson) documents her work on her Instagram account kenya9.

Illya Szilak uses open source media and collaborations forged via the Internet to create transmedia novels. Shaped by her experiences as a practicing physician, her artistic practice explores mortality, embodiment, identity and belief in a media inundated and increasingly virtual world. Her first novel Reconstructing Mayakovsky was selected for the second Electronic Literature Collection and was a jury pick for the Japan Media Arts Festival in Tokyo in 2010, and at Filmwinter in Stuttgart in 2011. The animation for the novel has been shown in eight film festivals around the world. Her second novel Queerskins was recognized by the Webby Awards in the category of NetArt in 2013 and was exhibited at the 5th Digital Storytelling Conference in Ankara, Turkey and at the Bibliotheque National in Paris. It is included in the third Electronic Literature Collection. She was recently the recipient of a BANFF digital narratives residency. She has presented her work at Princeton University, Brown University, the University of Colorado, Boulder, the Kitchen, Bard College and the Université Paris-Sorbonne.

Photograph of the Kenya (Robinson) by Anastasiya Shelest, 2017