GILF! is the tag name of American conceptual artist Ann Lewis, whose work focuses on creating positive social changes, especially in urban communities. GILF! was a word that was part of a secret language that she and her friends came up with, when they were six or seven.
I like being able to present facts to people of which they may not otherwise be aware. Facts about our violent culture, institutionalized racism, and corporate greed and destruction. I hope to stir emotions on a deep level. Whether people are sad or furious I hope that my work can be an impetus for them to change their way of life, belief system, or participate in their communities in ways that they wouldn’t have in the past. I use art to push society forward towards a more loving, free, and healthy existence for all. – Ann Lewis, aka GILF!
Education and Early Career
Ann Lewis planned on becoming an engineer. Her father owned a car dealership and she envisioned designing cars. Lewis said that she hated math and was really bad at it, so she switched to art and received her BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004. After taking an introduction to 3-D design, Lewis’ focus turned from art to an interest in furniture design.
It was around 2008 when political events spurred Lewis to begin making art that reflected her social views and ideas. She worked, and still works, in a wide array of medium and styles, depending on the message she wishes to convey.
Career and Current Works
In 2013, Lewis lived and worked in an artist’s loft in a building in the Bushwhick section of Brooklyn. The building was sold to a hedge fund company. The tenants were given 30-day notices and Lewis and the other building occupants were told to be out of the building just before Christmas.
Lewis and some of the other tenants obtained legal counsel and settled out of court with the new owners, who gave them enough money to move to new residences. The incident inspired Lewis to begin an ongoing project called Define Progress, highlighting issues surrounding the gentrification of communities and the aftermath that displacements creates.
Her first project was done in early 2014 and gave Lewis national media attention. She installed an oversized police tape banner that read GENTRIFICATION IN PROGRESS at the former graffiti mecca, 5 Pointz in Queens.
In 2014, Lewis focused on the issue of mass incarceration. She wore an orange, standard issue prison jumpsuit for thirty days to engage the public, and encourage conversation, about the prison system. Much of Lewis’ work is of commissioned murals with hidden words, letters and subliminal messages.
Her work was exhibited at the White House in the fall of 2015 during the Obama Administration’s reflection on mass incarceration and has been acquired by the New York Historical Society Museum and the US Library of Congress. Ann Lewis is the 2018 Artist-in-Residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute Residency for Equal Justice.