Rosemarie Romero’s Porn Nails

I traveled to Gainesville for Gaze back in January. The festival was organized as a platform to celebrate work by women-identified, non-binary, trans-feminine, trans and cis women creatives. The festival featured musical performances, art, and a panel discussion, all focused on an exploration of female and femme identities. I was particularly drawn to Rosemarie Romero’s interactive performance and installation, Porn Nail$.

photo by Andrew Chadwick

I sat at a small table with Romero across from me, under the protective gaze of a Virgin Mary wall hanging, bathed in the pink glow of a neon, Miami-kitsch flamingo wall decoration. As she removed my already chipped polish with acetone-drenched cotton, Romero asked me what colors I wanted for my manicure. I chose a deep turquoise lacquer, with chartreuse glitter for an accent nail. As she expertly applied polish to each digit, Romero explained that her color palettes are inspired by Miami, in its “Tropi-camp” glitz, as well as nail art she observed in 1980s erotica, and an exploration of the aesthetic politics of gender.

photo by Rosemarie Romero

Romero uses materials and processes that are gendered by our culture, such as sewing, fabric, nail art, jewelry, fashion, and the “hyper feminine” as a method of infiltrating spaces with exaggerated femininity. “I want it to smell, I want to stink up the place with feminine products, with acetone…I’m from Miami, and there are a lot of places that are male dominated, and you know because of the stench, like cigars, and cologne, you know.”

photo by Shayna Aviva Posses

Romero contextualizes Porn Nail$ in the tradition of painting, subverting the male-dominated canon, and elevating nail art into a fine art context, with an awareness of the politics of race, class, gender, sexuality, and work. She likens nail art to the tradition of miniature painting, with a unique culture and skill set particular to the discipline. After completing her MFA at University of Florida in Gainesville, Romero attended a Spanish-language program to become a licensed nail technician. Her experiences working on nails for the public in this program informed and bolstered Romero’s interest in a real-life application of relational aesthetics. She described having genuine and emotional interactions with women while working on their nails, and channeled this into Porn Nail$, with an interest in re-creating this specific space of empathy and exchange. “I’m fascinated by art that is subversive and political, and that you have to experience directly with your senses. It’s a feeling of connection with another person, a feeling of empathy. You have to hold people’s hands and have a conversation, and communicate. The name Porn Nail$ is a play on that. On touching, and contact. We need more of that.”

installation, photo by Zeke Romero

Equal parts mobile nail salon and experiment in relational aesthetics, Porn Nail$ creates a space for human interaction, empathy, humor, dialogue, and “radical chusmeria”— according to Romero, “being too loud, too sexual, too queer, as a model for pleasure, empowerment, and feminist resistance. I love the idea of party as a revolutionary, radical form. To bring people together.”

You can see more at: RosemarieRomero.com

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